Porsche, with their 16 overall victories, has won more overall honors at the 24 hours of Le Mans than any other manufacturer. However, since Porsche’s last victory in 1998 fellow VW-group constructor, Audi, has dominated the top step of the podium and the stallions from Stuttgart have been noticeably absent from the top prototype class.
But, all of that is about to change.
At the recent Geneva Auto Show Porsche finally unveiled their latest prototype contender, the 919, in full race livery. We have been teased with promotional videos and photographs of the car wrapped in shape hiding camouflage for months. We have heard rumors about the car’s technological capabilities, but now, finally, the world has been given the full picture of what this car is all about.
Let’s start with the power plant. Porsche has forgone the big diesel engines we have seen over the last decade which have dominated the P1 class, first from Audi, then Peugeot and most recently from Toyota. Conversely, Porsche have gone with a high-revving, turbocharged, petrol powered 2.0L V-4 producing approximately 500 bhp.
But the story doesn’t end there. Because the ACO/WEC rules for LMP1 cars this year require them to carry some sort of hybrid technology, the 919 also boasts two energy recovery systems. The first system works by capturing the heat energy from the engine’s exhaust gasses as they pass through an electric generator. The second is similar to an F1 style KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) which captures waste energy generated while under braking. All this recovered energy is converted into electricity and stored in liquid-cooled lithium ion batteries. It is then used to provide additional power while also virtually eliminate turbo lag. It can also be used at the driver’s request to provide drive to the front wheels through an electric motor powering the front axle, temporarily making the 919 all-wheel drive.
Porsche will field a pair of 919s at this year’s Le Mans race around the clock and the driver lineup is nearly as impressive as the technical specifications of the new car. The number 20 will be piloted by Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and ex-F1 star Mark Webber. While the number 14 car will have another Le Mans winner behind the wheel in Romain Dumas partnered with established P1 contender Neel Jani and Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb.
Porsche is, of course, hoping for a positive result at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they are also taking a realistic approach to the company’s return to the prototype ranks.
“Within two and a half years we built the infrastructure, assembled our team and put this highly complex race car on wheels,” Explains Friedrich Enzinger , head of the 919 project, ” [However], we have the greatest respect for the lead our competitors have in racing experience. Our objective in the first year is simple: to finish races and be competitive.”
Realistic expectations aside, if any manufacturer has the resources and racing know-how to knock Audi off the top step it’s Porsche.