The Bavarian marque will join Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ford and potentially Chevrolet in the global series, and will contest the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time since 2011, when it competed with the M3 GT2.

BMW is believed to have evaluated an LMP1 and Garage 56 project over the last 12 months before deciding on a GTE assault as part of its expanded global motorsport programme.

The return to Le Mans

“Starting with the 2018 season, we want to further expand our activities in GT Racing and compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship," said BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt.

"This obviously also includes our return to Le Mans, which we are particularly looking forward to. The way the WEC has developed so well makes us confident that there is a big future for GT racing.

"This is also the motivation behind our further expansion in the customer racing sector. Our range is already spearheaded by a successful representative, in the form of the BMW M6 GT3."

More details about the GTE project will be announced at a future date. A track testing and development phase of the new car, which could be centred on the M5 or M6 model, is expected to begin next summer.

The 2016-spec BMW M6 GTLM is only legal for racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at present, and is expected to remain in the series next season due to the importance of the US market to BMW.

A GT3 version of the car also races in the Blancpain GT Series.

BMW has a long history of competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours, having first raced there in the 1930s. Throughout the 1970s BMW entered 3.0 and 3.5 CSLs with customer teams before supplying the legendary M1 and M1 Procar in the 1980s.

The company got its first taste of success at La Sarthe when it supplied 6.1-litre V12 engines to the McLaren GTR, which took victory in 1995.

The company won the race for the only time as a constructor in 1999 with the BMW V12 LMR design, which was designed and developed in conjunction with the Williams Grand Prix team.