The French Bugatti company built some of the lightest, nimblest race cars of the teens and 1920s. For decades, the Type 13, Type 35, and Type 57G dominated races across Europe–including the 24 hours of Le Mans. Sadly, World War Two put an end to Bugatti racing. In the 1950s, the company closed its doors for good.
The newest incarnation of the Bugatti company has built several incredible supercars. But the Bolide is Bugatti’s first purpose-built race car in decades. So will we ever see the Bugatti Bolide race at Le Mans?
The Bugatti Bolide Race Car is Engineered for Le Mans
Le Mans’ changing rules are shaking up the famous 24-hour race. Recently, the new hypercar class (LMPH) replaced the LMP1 class. Instead of custom-built race cars, the fastest cars at Le Mans now must be based on production hypercars. There is a short list of manufacturers even capable of building such a car, and Bugatti is one of them.
It appears that Bugatti engineered its 2020 Bolide prototype to return to the famed Circut de la Sarthe. The car is a track-only two-seater capable of high-pressure fueling and equipped with a fire extinguishing system–ticking every major box for LMPH class. In addition, Bugatti’s engineers labored over finned wheels designed to draw maximum air through the brakes and keep them cool during an endurance race. The Molsheim engineers even did away with the Chiron’s adaptive spoiler–illegal at Le Mans–to fit the Bolide with a fixed-wing.
But what tips Bugatti’s hand is the appearance of the Bolide. The car wears a French-racing-blue livery, identical to the Bugatti Type 57G “Tank.” The famed Tank won Le Mans in 1937 and 1939. Before one race, mechanics even taped a white “X” over each of the Tank’s headlights so the lenses would stay in place. The Bolide pays homage to this early race car, not with tape, but with X-shaped LEDs instead of headlights.
After Bugatti built the Bolide, the manufacturer released some simulated numbers. According to their calculations, the prototype would lap the Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe in 3:07.1. That would make the hypercar 10-seconds faster than Toyota’s standing record. So will we ever see the Bugatti Bolide race Le Mans?
Will The Bugatti Bolide Race at Le Mans With a Privateer Team?
Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli first revived Bugatti in 1987. By 1991 the company rolled out the V12-powered EB110 GT. Then, just like now, a class reorganization at Le Mans gave road-legal sports cars an advantage. So media mogul and automotive enthusiast Michel Hommell bought an EB 110SS and entered it in Le Mans.
For the 1994 Le Mans, Bugatti engineers had to cut their supercar’s output to 600 horsepower and its weight by over 600 pounds. Mechanical issues plagued the car throughout the race: first, its fuel tank leaked, then multiple turbochargers failed. The crew even completed an incredible mid-race turbocharger swap, but the new unit failed as well. The team attempted to limp the car to a finish, but during the race’s final hours, the EB110 appeared to suffer a blowout and crashed into the wall at full speed.
Many racing enthusiasts and French entrepreneurs might consider investing in a car and team to watch a Bugatti Bolide race at Le Mans. Thanks to a recent announcement, that might be possible.
During the 2021 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Bugatti President Stephan Winkelmann announced that the company will build Bolide’s to sell to the public–at a starting price of $4.7 million.
Winkelmann mentioned that his company would try to arrange track time for these owners–their supercars will not be street legal. But it is unlikely that mere hobbyists are going to spend this kind of money. It is much more likely that Bugatti is courting private race teams.
If someone does buy a Bugatti Bolide to race at Le Mans, let’s hope they have more luck than the EB110.
Will The Bugatti Bolide Race at Le Mans With a Factory Team?
After their most recent Le Mans loss, Bugatti again went bankrupt. In 1998, Volkswagen Group purchased rights to the marque, and the modern Bugatti was born. In July of 2021, Croatian electric supercar manufacturer Rimac announced it was buying 55% of Bugatti. The two brands merged to form Bugatti-Rimac.
Some believe this means Bugatti will go all-electric. Others suggest that Rimac bought Bugatti to diversify its portfolio and sell W16-powered Chiron’s at its dealerships.
For years, endurance auto racing and Formula 1 have leveraged hybrid-electric vehicles, using regenerative braking to save gasoline. But fully electric hypercars suffer a distinct disadvantage in endurance racing: range.
While the all-electric Rimac race car has set multiple records, the 24-hours of Le Mans is still out of the Croatian company’s reach. To win this famed trophy, they would need an ICE-powered partner–like Bugatti.
Will we see a Bugatti-Rimac team race the Bolide at Le Mans? We can only hope so.