Next year is going to be such an exciting one for global sports car racing. That’s when the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, Peugeot, Acura and Cadillac join Toyota on the world’s circuits, campaigning everything from the World Endurance Championship to IMSA and, of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Among that group is BMW, which has set its sights on the 2023 IMSA title. We’ve known the car has been coming for some time, and we’ve even been treated to official renders. Now, we’re getting a peek at it in the flesh.
Meet BMW’s prototype LMDh-class challenger for the future. The brand tweeted the above teaser image on Tuesday, along with a save-the-date for June 6, when we’re told we’ll get a “first look” at the final product.
Dare I say — and I haven’t felt this way about any vehicle, for the street or track, bearing the BMW roundel in years — it actually looks pretty attractive from the front. Sure, those kidneys are going to be massive, which we already knew from an earlier render. That’s definitely going to frustrate fans of the brand, as we go through this cycle every couple of weeks with BMW.
But this prototype is different, and I’ll tell you why. See, it’s not really the size of the kidneys that has been the problem for BMW design. I mean, sure — when they’re overly tall or wide, they become an easy and deserved target for criticism. Regardless, the scale masks the real issue with this trend, which I reckon is down to the shape of the grille and how it fits into and informs the overall front-end design.
Illustration: BMW Motorsport
If we boost the teaser and compare it against BMW’s first render, it’s easy to see that the kidneys pretty much run from headlight to headlight, with a thin separator in between. That column bridges the front splitter, through the pair of octagonal apertures, to the top of the nose. And that line continues in the form of a depression all the way to the windshield. This nose treatment has been a hallmark of motorsport for decades, visible in everything from prototypes to F1 cars alike. That’s why it works.
The venerable Ferrari 333 SP did it, too.Image: Ferrari
See, here BMW hasn’t tried to shoehorn kidneys into a face that wasn’t built for them. Race cars have massive apertures for airflow — be it intakes or passages to deliberately, precisely funnel air. The designers here went for a more slanted perimeter to those openings and split them down the middle to evoke kidneys. It makes perfect sense, and also blends seamlessly into the other elements of the front. On this LMDh chassis, the inner edges of the headlight clusters follow the same angle as the outside slant of the kidneys, which definitely is not true of almost any new BMW you will see on the road over the next few years.
Look at the new 7, for example. The slits for lighting are at odds with the grille, which is brick-like even though everything around it is horizontal. That’s why the luxury sedan’s face instantly looks a little better when my colleague Steve DaSilva squishes the kidneys in Photoshop. The M4 has a similar problem but exacerbated, with its skeletal nasal cavities bisecting wide eyes.
Sure, race cars don’t have to conform to same dimensional and safety regulations road cars do, but they certainly have rules of their own they are required to abide by. I think this LMDh teaser proves BMW designers could incorporate the kidneys as prominently as they feel they must for marketing purposes, without making something that makes half the population want to ralph on sight. Then again, that seems to be precisely what they want.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on a — let’s be honest — pretty vague glimpse of BMW’s forthcoming prototype that will contest the 2023 24 Hours of Daytona. Perhaps when we see more of the car this coming Monday, there will be some aero or design element concealed in those shadows that will completely destroy the cohesiveness of that front end. We’ll just have to wait and see. Right now, I think there’s reason to be optimistic.