BMW hasn’t competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1999, when its V12 LMR secured the first and only overall victory for the German automaker in the prestigious race. Now, BMW might be planning a comeback, though the goal this time isn’t thought to be competing with the likes of Nissan, Porsche and Toyota at the top level of endurance racing.

Rather, Autocar reports, BMW may build a radical hydrogen fuel cell racer that could compete in the event’s standalone ‘Garage 56’ category for experiment vehicles, which Nissan used last year for its ZEOD RC plug-in hybrid. The year of competition BMW is said to be aiming for is 2018.

The thinking behind the move is said to be the marketing potential for fuel cell tech the participation could bring about, as BMW is committed to bringing a fuel cell vehicle to market around 2020 and is currently developing the technology in partnership with Toyota. Toyota, of course, already races at Le Mans in the top LMP1 category and the Japanese automaker has just unveiled its own fuel cell vehicle in the form of the 2016 Mirai.

There have been rumors of a BMW return to top level endurance racing, though the high-cost of developing an LMP1 program as well as the high bar set by rivals may be too much for BMW, whose focus in motorsport appears to have subsided since the decision was made to pull out of Formula One at the end of the 2009 season. The Garage 56 entry, then, appears to make the most sense, especially as BMW gears up to introduce a fuel cell vehicle.

Not much is known about BMW’s plans for a fuel cell vehicle. The automaker is thought to be testing a prototype drivetrain in a 5-Series Gran Turismo, but any production fuel cell vehicle from BMW will likely be grouped in the automaker’s i sub-brand for eco-focused models.

Note, BMW isn't the only automaker considering a Le Mans return. The Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] and McLaren are both tipped to be returning to Le Mans with programs based around their respective GT and 650S supercars.

Stay tuned for an update.


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