DETROIT, April 20, 2016 – Designing a car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the year 2030 was the hot topic at today’s 13th annual Michelin Challenge Design and Automotive Press Association design panel held at the Detroit Athletic Club.
Based on the 2017 Michelin Challenge Design theme, “Le Mans 2030: Design For The Win,” is conducted in cooperation with the Automobile Club l’Ouest (ACO), organizers of the Le Mans 24 Hour race. The distinguished APA panel included Ben Bowlby, Motor Racing Designer and Innovator; Owner Ben Bowlby Racing LLC; Doug Fehan, program manager, Corvette Racing, an 8-time winning team at Le Mans, and Dave Marek, ACURA executive creative director, Honda R&D Americas, Inc. and a long time Michelin Challenge Design juror.
The panel discussed potential breakthroughs in race car design and the types of innovations and technologies that could contribute to a 2030 Le Mans winner. The discussion was moderated by Ben Ebel, Design Coordinator, Original Equipment, Michelin North America & Co-Chair of Michelin Challenge Design
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Reflecting on developments over the last 15 years at Le Mans and projecting what the future may hold, Fehan said, “Le Mans is the most difficult race for production race vehicles and specialty race vehicles. It’s difficult to win and when you do, the world knows you.”
“With Corvette’s philosophy, we’re planning 5-7 years out. We’re building it. We’re driving it. We’re racing it. There will be a metamorphosis sooner rather than later,” said Fehan.
The Appeal of Le Mans
“From a designer’s point of view, Le Mans is the most interesting, open and relevant competition in the world today. Look at all of the great marques that have built credibility and image through their participation at Le Mans,” said Marek.
“There is such a diverse range of vehicles and Le Mans has something for everyone,” said Bowlby. “Le Mans is especially technologically relevant. The endurance aspect remains an important headline.”
Future Designs and Powertrains
“It’s difficult to predict the future,” said Bowlby. “We might see very exciting powertrains. There could be an absolute revolution. Equally there may simply be continued evolution of what has been traditionally used to win. Maybe the significant changes will be in the level of autonomous or remote control of the cars? We need to work out what the objective of racing in 2030 is and what the rules will be. Only then we can determine what the race car will look like.”
“Tweaks in powertrains and emissions will happen. Interesting though will be the electric revolution that is gathering incredible momentum,” said Bowlby.
“Electrical storage for racing powertrains is still all about the challenge of large volumes and the imperative to weigh less to achieve competitiveness against what is racing today on liquid fuel. There are different, but valuable elements to consider for the future: sustainability and integration with modern living, plus pleasure, durability and performance. Legislation at the government level will affect Motorsports more than ever,” said Bowlby.
“For current and aspiring designers and fans, the Michelin Challenge Design ‘Le Mans 2030’ theme provides an incredible opportunity to be bold and innovative in presenting their vision of the future,” said Marek. “My advice to them is to be brave and use their imaginations and creativity.”
With Ford’s dramatic return to Le Mans in 2016, a total of 14 marques will now compete at Le Mans and/or in the North American based IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “I don’t know who the next company will be to enter Le Mans,” said Bowlby. “What Le Mans does, however, is bring credibility and legitimacy. So, if a new company wants the sense of ‘I have arrived’, they will enter.”
“Short term I expect more production cars coming forward,” said Fehan.
The Michelin Challenge Design/Automotive Press Association forum is the first of several milestones in the Michelin Challenge Design initiative. Entries are due on August 1. A distinguished panel of automotive designers will judge the entries in late September. The winners from the competition will be honored at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2017. The grand prize winner will be recognized at the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hour race.