Porsche’s big push for glory
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.