It’s been 16 years since Porsche competed at the top level of endurance racing at LeMans and it’s been 37 years since a factory Porsche in the LeMans race was powered by a four cylinder engine. Porsche returns to the la sarthe circuit this year with a factory LeMans prototype team, campaigning a car that features a four pot engine, only this time their race car will have something no Porsche car has had at LeMans before. That four cylinder engine will be augmented with a hybrid powertrain. So far Audi and Toyota have raced hybrid prototypes at LeMans. The new Porsche race car will be called the 919, a nod to the hybrid 918 production supercar and to the legendary 917 that gave the company its first overall victory at LeMans in 1970.
“The vehicle name 919 hybrid follows on from the tradition of the Le Mans-winning 917, but it is also with a view to the 918 Spyder, and acknowledges the company’s embarkation into the hybrid future,” Porsche R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz said in a statement. “Maximum efficiency in energy consumption is the directive of the new WEC regulations for the works-entered class 1 prototypes–and that is also the direction for the automobile future.”
Full details haven’t been released but earlier the company revealed that the 919’s drivetrain includes a four cylinder direct injected gasoline engine and two different energy recovery systems. That energy is stored in a battery that powers an electric motor on the front axle.
Audi’s two-time LeMans winning hybrid R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 car uses a six cylinder turbo diesel for the combustion side of the hybrid equation and a F1 style KERS system that stores power in a flywheel that is used for an electric motor, again on the front axle. The Toyota TS030 LMP1 car uses a V8 and stores energy in a supercapacitor that powers an electric motor that helps drive the rear wheels.
Porsche completed their 2013 test program with the new car with their new endurance driver, Mark Webber, behind the wheels at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve near Portimão, Portugal. Webber, who is technically still under contract to the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team, got clearance from his soon to be former F1 team to participate in the testing. It was the first time Webber has been in the car and he said, “My first day in this fascinating project was an intense experience for me. I would like to thank Red Bull Racing for giving me the chance to join the project so early. This is a major and important step for us all. It allows me to integrate with the team quicker and to contribute to further developing the LMP1 race car. We have a long way to go and it involves a lot of hard work. I have no misconceptions about this.” Fritz Enzinger, who heads Porsche’s LMP1 team, thanked Red Bull, “I’m delighted to have Mark in the team so early. Red Bull Racing has helped us considerably in allowing this!”
Enzinger is pleased with the progress of the new race car: “Between the roll-out of the completely new car in June and now we have made significant progress. Every single kilometre was important, providing us with new data that brought the development forward. The whole team has worked extremely hard and I would like to express my sincere thanks for this. Our efforts will continue unabated in 2014. Until the start of the season at Silverstone mid-April there is still a lot to do.”
Wolfgang Hatz, who heads R&D for Porsche AG, added, “We always knew it wasn’t going to be easy to return to top endurance racing after 16 years. Hence, our efforts in developing a competitive Porsche LMP1 race car are immense. Up to this point, our engineers in Weissach, the drivers, and the entire team have performed impressively. We are finding new approaches in the development, implementation and application of leading edge efficiency technologies. This also leads to further improvements of the entire hybrid technology in our production cars. Ultimately, our customers will benefit the most.”