PREDICTION: Bugatti Bolide hypercar wins the 24hrs of Le Mans 2021Age: 6 months
Sealed in 28 December 2020 05:21:31
Opened at: 12 June 2021 12:00:00
In 2021, the new Le Mans Prototype Hypercar (LMPH) class will replace the LMP1 class; the fastest cars at Le Mans cannot be custom-engineered but must be based on production hypercars instead. Only a handful of hypercar and supercar manufacturers have committed to bringing a race-ready LMPH vehicle to the 2021 Le Mans. The list presently includes Toyota's GT Super Sport, Glickenhaus' 007, Alpine's A480, an undecided car by Peugeot, and a ByKolles project currently in the works. Aston Martin expressed interest in racing a version of their Valkyrie but postponed until after the 2021 race. It isn't entirely clear what Le Mans hypercar rules will mean for endurance racing, but one brand is poised for a new era of dominance.
Bugatti is on the shortlist of hypercar manufacturers with vehicles capable of winning a Le Mans endurance race. Bugatti has already invested in a world speed record. With their Volkswagen Group parent company planning to review the Bugatti brand's future, setting themselves apart with a racing win would be a solid strategy for the French company.
The history of the Bugatti company, the modern manufacturer's mission, and the new Bugatti Bolide's design all signal the marque's intention to return to The 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ettore Bugatti was an Italian-born industrial designer from a family of artists. In 1909 he founded the Bugatti company to build racecars in the town of Molsheim.
At the time, many racecars were monstrous, with massive multi-liter engines. Bugatti famously declared weight to be his main enemy. He built light cars through elegant design and precise machining. Later he leveraged experimental metals, pioneering aluminum wheels and magnesium body panels.
Bugatti's tiny Type 13 "Brescias" and later Type 35s dominated auto racing for decades. Bugatti won the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix, and Bugattis swept Sicily's Targa Florio endurance road race for five years in a row. But Bugatti's most memorable victories were the 1937 and 1939 Le Mans, with the unique Type 57G known as the "Tank."
The Le Mans wins went down in history for several reasons: Firstly, a French team won the largest French racing event. Secondly, the Bugatti team had comparatively limited resources and only entered one car. Thirdly, Ettore's son Jean would die later in 1939 while test-driving the same "Tank" racecar. And finally, as World War Two closed that era in French history, it also meant the end of the Bugatti company for decades.
The Bugatti marque was first revived in 1991 when entrepreneur Romano Artioli bought the name and produced the EB110. The new Bugatti even entered the 1994 Le Mans. At the race, the EB110 suffered mechanical difficulty, eventually went off the track, and was unable to complete the race. The company declared bankruptcy in 1995.
In 1998, the Volkswagen Group purchased the rights to the Bugatti name. The company then reestablished a semi-independent subsidiary in Molsheim. The Bugatti Veyron and later the Bugatti Chiron boasted independent engineering, sharing no components with Volkswagens or Audis.
French pride is built into the new Bugatti company: The hypercars are hand-built in France, and many leave the factory wearing Bugatti's signature French Racing Blue. All Bugattis sit on French Michelin wheels. And the Chiron even debuted at the parade lap of the 2018 Le Mans.
Ettore Bugatti was very successful, selling racecar engines in heavier Bugatti grand-touring cars such as the famous Type 57. If he visited modern Molsheim, he would understand the commercial necessity of the Veyron and Chiron. But he might raise an eyebrow at the excess of the W16 powered 4,500-pound beasts. And he would ask: "Where are the racecars?"
With this year's Bolide, Bugatti is once again pioneering light, nimble racecars. With a new carbon monocoque body wrapped around a tuned W16, the Bolide boasts over 1,800 horsepower with a weight under 2,800 pounds. Ettore would approve of the unprecedented power-to-weight ratio. You don't have to take our word for it, check out Bugatti's specifications of the Bolide.
Every aspect of the Bolide--from the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission to the all-wheel-drive drivetrain--screams cutting-edge racecar. Bugatti claims the Bolide will be able to reach 500 kilometers per hour (310 miles per hour) and projects it to lap the Le Mans track in 3:07.1 (10 seconds faster than Toyota's 2019 record). Is Bugatti grandstanding, or do they intend to return to the Circut de la Sarthe?
Many aspects of the Bolide appear to be engineered for the 24 Hours of Le Mans: A great deal of engineering went into the Bolide's finned wheels, designed to draw maximum air to cool its brakes during endurance races. As a two-seater capable of high-pressure fueling, and with an automatic fire extinguishing system, the Bolide qualifies for the new LMPH class. Even the Chiron's adaptive rear wing--against LMPH class rules--has been replaced with a legal fixed-wing. You can read FIA's entire LMPH guidelines.
But the clearest clue to Bugatti's intentions may be in the Bolide's appearance. This new racecar wears the signature Bugatti horseshoe grille. In addition, it is painted in the same two-tone race livery as the Type 57G Tank. Finally, at one race the Tank's headlights were hastily taped with iconic white Xs to keep the glass falling out in the event of a crash. The Bolide pays homage to the Tank, not with white tape, but with custom X-shaped LEDs in the place of headlights.
Time Will Tell
Is the Bugatti company signaling to the Volkswagen Group that it's ready to re-enter auto racing at the 2021 Le Mans? Is it hoping some patriotic French companies line up to sponsor a Bugatti return to the Circuit de la Sarthe? Or is Bugatti masking its intention to keep the element of surprise over its competitors? Until Bugatti makes an announcement, your guess is as good as ours.
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