Porsche’s big push for glory


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODMOTORING - HENRI DU PLESSIS

THE FOR­MI­DA­BLE en­durance race at Le Mans in France is still a bit more than six months away and al­ready the ex­cite­ment is thick in the air.

For true mo­tor sport fans, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has to be one of the pin­na­cles of mo­tor rac­ing, if not for its tough­ness then at least for its in­cred­i­bly rich his­tory.

Porsche is back in a big way and will take on its sis­ter com­pany, Audi, in a chal­lenge for the top prize in en­durance rac­ing, vic­tory at Le Mans.

Ev­ery year we see many Porsches rac­ing with Fer­raris and other sports cars in the GT di­vi­sions. But next year, Porsche is aim­ing for vic­tory in the high-tech­nol­ogy Le Mans Pro­to­type 1 cat­e­gory.

Porsche has al­ways been a spe­cial part of this rich his­tory. Since the Ger­man com­pany’s ear­li­est days, the name Porsche has been strongly linked to the race at Le Mans and, over the years, it has be­come one of the most suc­cess­ful mar­ques there, with Fer­rari, Bent­ley, Jaguar and Audi.

Who can for­get those heady days in the early 1970s when Porsche un­leashed the vi­cious, mon­strous, deadly 917 with its boxer 12-cylin­der en­gine upon an un­sus­pect­ing world?

One of the car’s early driv­ers had at one stage de­scribed how the car be­came air­borne to a de­gree, as a re­sult of the Heath Robin­son-style aero­dy­nam­ics of the time.

Fins and wings added later im­proved the car’s safety, but that first year, the Porsche 917 tor­tured its driv­ers with its loose­ness on the long Mul­sanne Straight at top speeds of around 400km/h.

The 917 first took to the track at Le Mans in 1969 and, due to its dodgy aero­dy­nam­ics, one of the units en­tered crashed on the first lap, killing its driver, John Woolfe of Bri­tain.

Woolfe was one of the so-called “gen­tle­man driv­ers”, an am­a­teur who bought and raced his own car.

The of­fi­cial 917s led the race for a long time, but thanks to the high night-time at­tri­tion rate, none of them made it through. In the end, an old 908 re­mained the only Porsche near the top and the race was won by a Ford GT.

But in 1970 and 1971, the 917s came through and won at Le Mans. Spec­tac­u­larly. Aero­dy­namic tweaks, en­gine tweaks, all con­trib­uted.

That was then. Now, the test­ing takes a lot longer and sci­ence plays a much big­ger role, which means driv­ers are no longer be­ing given as much of an un­wel­come sur­prise.

And the new tech­nol­ogy is mind­bog­gling, not just the track ac­tion. Next year Porsche is tak­ing on the Audis with a four-cylin­der petrol en­gine that works hand-in-hand with two en­ergy re­cov­ery sys­tems.

Porsche this week con­cluded its 2013 test pro­gramme with its new LMP1 race car. The Porsche LMP1 com­pleted its fi­nal test laps of the year on the Autó­dromo In­ter­na­cional do Al­garve near Por­timão, Por­tu­gal.

Test­ing will re­sume in the new year. Porsche will field two LMP1 race cars in the sports car World En­durance Cham­pi­onship (WEC) which starts in April, with the Le Mans 24 Hours as the high­light of the sea­son.

WEC reg­u­la­tions stip­u­late that man­u­fac­tur­ers run hy­brid ve­hi­cles in the high­est class for Le Mans Pro­to­types (LMP1). In de­vel­op­ing the all-new LMP1 race car fea­tur­ing an ef­fi­cient, high- per­for­mance hy­brid drive, Porsche engi­neers were faced with ma­jor chal­lenges that can be solved only by us­ing in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions. There­fore, the car fea­tures a hy­brid sys­tem that con­sists of a four-cylin­der petrol en­gine with di­rect in­jec­tion and two en­ergy re­cu­per­a­tion sys­tems. The re­cov­ered en­ergy is stored in a bat­tery un­til it is needed.

A pow­er­ful elec­tric mo­tor then pro­vides ad­di­tional drive to the front axle. How­ever, WEC rules limit the amount of fuel as well as the elec­tri­cal en­ergy, or “boost”, avail­able to the driver per lap.

The de­vel­op­ment of such a highly-ef­fi­cient drive will have a pos­i­tive influences on pro­duc­tion de­vel­op­ment.

Another in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment at this last test of the sea­son was that Aus­tralian For­mula One driver Mark Web­ber had joined the team and tried the car. Or shall we be ac­cu­rate and say ex-F1?

Web­ber, 37, got his first chance to climb aboard the Porsche LMP1 racer in Por­tu­gal af­ter Red Bull Rac­ing For­mula 1 gave him per­mis­sion to join his new team be­fore his con­tract was of­fi­cially over.

Web­ber joins the Porsche fac­tory team as a works driver from Jan­uary 1 and re­in­forces the driver line-up of Timo Bern­hard, Ro­main Du­mas and Neel Jani.

On the sched­ule of the fi­nal test for this year in Por­tu­gal were pri­mar­ily sus­pen­sion and tyre tests with part­ner Miche­lin.

To fol­low Porsche’s progress over the next few months as they pre­pare for Le Mans, visit www.porsche.com/mis­sion2014.

SPEED­STER: The Porsche at pace on the Por­tuguese track.

NEW­BIE: Mark Web­ber, gets a feel for the cock­pit of a Porsche Le Mans Pro­to­type 1 racer.

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