Hybrid vigour ... it figures
HYBRID cars are taking over in the world of motorsport. Australia still has the roaring dinosaurs of the V8 Supercar era but things are changing fast at the top end in Europe.
Petrol-electric hybrid power is now the bottom line in Formula One and it’s a similar story, with a couple of twists, in longdistance sports car contests including the blue riband 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In F1, engines have shrunk to 1.6 litres in capacity, yet still liberate about 500kW, abetted by previously lost energy from braking and exhaust gases. That energy is channelled into on board battery packs.
At Le Mans, the hybrid cars from Audi, Porsche and Toyota combine outputs of 750kW plus and incredible economy, at least for racers.
But they take vastly different directions. Audi uses a diesel engine with a flywheel for energy storage, Porsche has a V4 petrol engine with lithium ion battery and Toyota pairs a 3.7-litre petrol V8 with a supercapacitor.
The three brands raced wheelto-wheel at Le Mans last weekend, taking turns as the frontrunner. Toyota had the outright fastest car and was the hare, Audi relatively speaking) was the tortoise and Porsche took the middle ground.
With two hours to go, Aussie hero Mark Webber looked set for an unlikely win in his Porsche, after turbo failures on two Audi R18 e-tron quattros, before his petrol engine packed up. The quickest Toyota had earlier caught fire.
Watching the contest was a reminder that the car world is changing — fast. I’m not a fan of the Toyota Prius, or the awful little Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but the Le Mans hybrids are hero cars that have technology that’s being accelerated into a showroom near you.
At the end of the day — and it is 24 hours of full-on action — Audi maintained its unbeaten hybrid record at Le Mans with a 1-2 sweep ahead of the remaining Toyota TS 040.
Even without the flywheel hybrid package, Audi engineers say we’ll soon be sitting behind the same turbo diesel technology that won on the track. It’s the latest proof that racing improves the breed.