Could Fuel Efficiency Save Racing?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

With Audi and Peugeot dominating the last several Le Mans races using diesel technology to outlast the competition, it seems that the famous French race is becoming the premiere stage for developing and highlighting the latest fuel-saving technology. And why not? Most marketing of new fuel-saving technology highlights the preserved performance and enhanced reliability as much as pure energy savings alone. And leadership in this suite of attributes is about to receive a little more competition, as Toyota announces that

In 2012, Toyota will take part in several races of the FIA World Endurance Championship, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, with a prototype “LMP1” car featuring a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain.

Get Hyundai on board, and bring BMW’s new i brand into the mix, and the international racing business could be re-energized by the competition to demonstrate the perfect compromise between performance, reliability and efficiency. As many of the top racing series see declines in viewers and manufacturer participation due to their increasing irrelevance to mass-market vehicles and brands, the golden age of endurance racing could just be dawning.

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  • Tjh8402 Tjh8402 on Oct 15, 2011

    I'm a huge endurance racing fan. I watch the ALMS races online, and have attended the 12 Hours of Sebring every year since 2005. As much as I'd like to think this could be the begining of the "golden age" of endurance racing, I think its just history repeating itself. Endurance racing goes through boom-bust cycles that make the US economy look stable. The last major fuel economy crisis of the 1970's prompted the Group C formula of the 1980's, which resulted in lots of factory participation with some wild crazy wonderful cars which died out as costs skyrocketed (making alternatives like F1 and Indy look more attractive), not everyone shared in the success (ahem, Porsche), the unified World Championship ended, and interest faded. Then in the late 1990's, there was another surge of manufacturer participation featuring many of the players now rumored to be returning in the next 2-3 years (Toyota, Nissan, and Porsche) as well as other not (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, McLaren). However, after seeing the massive expenditures involved (Toyota spent hundreds of millions of $ to develop two cars that would each only race once, in 1998 and 1999 at Le Mans without winning), they decided that Grand Prix racing would provide a better return for not much more $. Then of course after spending all this $ and achieving little (in the case of BMW) to no success (Honda and Toyota), they then pulled out of F1. Now once again sports car racing, helped by exposure offered from the newly formed World Endurance Championship and publicity over the Audi-Peugeot rivalry, once again looks promising (Jaguar and Bentley are also rumored to be considering programs), until of course enough companies tire of trying to justify to their boards spending these sorts of money and having no trophies or headlines to show for it. Unfortunately, they don't always see the benefits in R&D of new technologies that can result. That said, any new factory involvement is a good thing, and from a endurance racing fan's perspective, this Toyota will be a welcome addition for many reasons. Among them is that it will help to settle the question of the diesel advantage, hotly debated right now. Yes, Audi and the Pugs have dominated over the petrol powered competition which would certainly indicate a diesel advantage, but on the other hand, no petrol powered team or manufacturer have the (human, facility, or financial) resources that the two diesel squads have. This will be the first time the full weight of a major automaker's support has been behind a petrol powered LMP1 entry since Audi with the R8, so it will be interesting to see how the car does. Despite a lack of wins, Toyota certainly learned a lot from their F1 effort and this team is being run by the same group. Also worth noting is that hybrids are nothing new here. Porsche has been campaigning their flywheel hybrid 911 for a couple years in GT racing (although not at Le Mans) and Peugeot have been testing a 908 hybrid for a couple years. As far as BMW and the i brand, they've been pretty clear that they are only interested in production based racing since their departure from F1, and even the future of their GT class M3 program is in doubt (DTM being the new priority). Hyundai would be quite the wild card catch though. Personally, I'd like to see a return to a more Group C style formula, with a set limit on a how much fuel your car can use and the races being a competition to see who can go farthest on that amount (a format favored by the endurance racing emphasis on a timed event). The 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans winning Audi went further then any previous car in the 24 Hours (beating the 1971 record set by a Porsche 917) yet saw fuel consumption improve 10% over 2000, the first year Audi won the race.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Oct 15, 2011

    I'd like to see it, with no specific advantages or disadvantages at least at first. Just let them apply the technology within the existing regulations and, if they get it right, they'll probably win. Or not. Maybe the extra components will be more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Maybe it will take a while to perfect the system. This sort of thing is what makes Le Mans interesting.

  • Tjh8402 Tjh8402 on Oct 16, 2011

    well the challenge is whether or not there are specific advantages or disadvantages within the existing regulations. Petrol cars have not been competitive since Audi debuted the diesel R10 except for those couple years in the ALMS with the Porsche RS Spyders and Acura ARX-01as in the LMP2 class, but that was with favorable rules. When run according to the European regs, the P2 cars didn't stand a chance. Acura launched their aborted effort with the ARX-02a, which never really had the chance to be developed, and Aston Martin has continued to contest, but not ever having the resources to compete. Would have been interesting to see what the latest HPD ARX-01__ could have done in Highcroft's hands with full backing from Honda this season - the car showed good form and a lot of potential at Sebring, and Highcroft is as professionally run and well staffed driver wise as you'll find, but the resources to develop it just weren't there. So without an equivalent manufacturer or team to challenge the diesels, it's hard to say where the rules and advantages or disadvantages are. Audi certainly had no trouble winning with a petrol car, despite repeated efforts to slow that car down and take away its design advantages.

  • Dvp cars Dvp cars on Oct 16, 2011

    ...EN....All the signs of a golden age are there, and it might happen, except for 3 ominous letters....ACO.........France's Automobile Club Of The West, that has controlled and manipulated "Le Mans" since the dawn of the last century. The uncannily iconic and successful nature of the event means that what is essentially a local club calls all the shots. Even the mighty FIA is forced to play ball, or risk losing semi-control of, unquestionably, the most famous roadracing event in the world, an automotive Superbowl for serious automakers. In plain French, what they say goes! And what they say is, more often than not, different from year to year, even month to month. Just the other day, dissatisfied with the recent DieselDomination, they arbitrarily slapped a 6% power reduction (a turbo variation on NASCAR's infamous restrictor plates), plus a 10% fuel capacity cut, on diesel prototypes, the top tier contenders, They've frustrated manufacturers and private entrants for 50 years, but, in the end, you play with their ball, or you don't play at were lucky to be invited in the first place, and to this day it is basically an invitation-only event. Henry Ford II, and Corvette Racing, among others, managed to bite their tongues, suck it up, and win nevertheless, despite numerous surprise rule changes. On the bright side, and more pertinent to your article, the ACO has a long history of recognizing fast, high mpg racecars. Your own Murilee's "Index Of Effluency" is a comic reference to the "Index Of Efficiency" awarded to the finisher judged to make best use of resources (or something like that, I never could figure out the parameters, but for many years it was sarcastically referred to as "Best French Car", as the rules were constantly massaged to ensure at least one French class winner). If the club gets onside and comes up with a formula to roughly equalize gasoline, diesel, hybrids of both, and, someday, pure EV's, we may see that golden age yet. But entrants beware, you're just's the ACO's party. my exhaustive 5 minute refresher course on the ACO, two remarkable things stood out. In their 106 year history, they are only on their 7th president.......and they still insist on a "gentleman racer" in certain classes (each car has at least 3 drivers), "gentleman" means fabulously rich amateur......shades of the famous "Bentley Boys" circa 1928