Porsche return to Motorsport
The changes to this year’s F1 regulations will be echoed throughout FIA accredited motorsport. And in endurance racing, the changes will perhaps be most influential on the cars YOU drive. Porsche have timed their return to endurance racing to coincide with these new developments and are shouting loudly about it – and justifiably so. With the gobsmacking creation that is the road-going 918 ‘supersports’ evolving into a hybrid Le Mans challenger in the 919 – it’s about as exciting as a Motorsport launch ever gets.
The new rules will restore prototype sport to the status which has always been a hallmark of the highest class in long-distance motor racing: putting tomorrow’s technologies through their paces today in the toughest of motorsports tests. The new World Endurance Challenge rules lay down strict requirements pertaining to efficiency, safety, and sustainability in motorsports. In short: vehicles that race in the WEC need to be future-proof. In the 919, Carbon has become the material of choice to achieve this ever-evolving development efficiency. But as well as carbon fibre there is high-strength aluminium, magnesium, and various titanium alloys – all the advanced metallurgy seen in the aerospace industry, in short. Race technology has always been about shaving off the Ounces – but according to Porsche weight loss isn’t simply an end in itself. Every kilogram saved on the chassis can be used for a larger KERS, for example.
For the first time in Le Mans history, all of the teams in the top classification must compete with hybrid racing vehicles. The choice of gasoline or diesel vehicle, displacement, number of cylinders, and even the use of a turbocharger is, however, left up to the team. What will really count is how clever the respective teams balancing all the available elements. The Porsche 919’s drive system is a combination of a compact and turbocharged two-litre, four-cylinder gasoline engine supported by two energy recovery systems.
Even though the teams are given plenty of wiggle room in terms of technical development, the rules lay down a clearly defined efficiency formula which regulates the amount of energy which may be supplied per lap. The KERS is allowed to supply the combustion engine with between 2 and 8 megajoules of extra electrical energy – and the more electrical energy supplied to the drive system the less conventional fuel available for the lap. The rules also limit the energy which may be used for boosting. A side effect of this efficiency formula is that it requires all the teams to take key strategic decisions: what is the ideal ratio between conventional fuel and electrical energy per lap? Where can the driver gain a few tenths of a second by using boosting? Or in other words, who can squeeze the most out of a fixed amount of energy?
The new rules have made one thing clear from the start: it’s not necessarily the fastest vehicle that will win at Le Mans. Instead, the victory will go to the most coherent overall concept. What really matters here is the LMP1 vehicle’s aerodynamics – with the aim of achieving maximum downforce with minimum drag. The aerodynamic concept had to be fine-tuned in such a way that it would work not only on a track such as Le Mans known for high speeds, but also on all the other tracks of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The rear wing and the balance plays a key role in this respect. In a flat position it creates less drag and therefore more speed. In contrast, a steeper angle of attack increases downforce: the force which acts on the rear axle during driving and which increases stability. The optimum set-up therefore provides for an ideal balance between downforce and speed – on every race track. But when it comes down to it; the fastest car might not be the first to the finish line – and the most beautiful car might be the one that wins. But in the 919 we can detect a whiff of the greatness it is heir to in the 917 and 918. Time will tell if Porsche’s legendary cleverness will take them to victory.
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