Audi has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 12 out of the last 14 years, a feat that cannot be understated, especially since Le Mans is one of the most challenging endurance races in the world. But there’s another brand whose record at the race is yet unmatched: Porsche, which has 16 wins total.
But those came during a different era. It all started with the iconic 917 in 1970; the last Porsche entry and victory was way back in 1998 with the smashing 911 GT1. This year, Porsche re-enters the Le Mans fray with a brand new car that will compete in the LMP1-H (Le Mans Prototype 1 – Hybrid) category, the spectacular 919 Hybrid car, just unveiled in Geneva.
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Porsche might have an unrivaled Le Mans history, but the 919 Hybrid is all about the future. The entire car is brand new, including the 200 or so team members who helped bring the race car to reality, along with new manufacturing equipment at Porsche Motorsport’s facility. The 919 is a direct evolution of the 918 Hybrid supercar; Porsche calls it the most advanced race car they’ve ever built. It’s a combination of Porsche ingenuity and the very stringent new regulations for the category.
Audi R18 e-tron quattro
- Advanced V6 TDI mid-engine powers rear wheels
- e-tron quattro hybrid system at the front axle (ERS-K, Energy Recovery System Kinetic)
- Hybrid system with an electric turbocharger (ERS-H, Energy Recovery System Heat)
Toyota TS040 Hybrid
- Naturally-aspirated V8 with a supercapacitor system mounted on the rear axle
- Additional supercapacitor system on the front axle for temporary 4-wheel-drive
Those new regulations for Le Mans 2014 were announced by FIA and require manufacturers to build cars that more closely represent road cars (by consumption and technology, not aesthetics). This means consumption or energy limits per lap. Diesel cars can use 3.99 liters per lap, while gasoline-powered cars are allotted 4.95 liters per lap. The fuel tank size has been reduced by 12 percent, and the cars can no longer use “super-exotic materials”, staying more in line with technology that’s available on modern road cars.
If this sounds restrictive, remember that the FIA has completely removed any regulations on engine design. Still, no one’s gonna stick a thirsty V12 in their car — think of how that would stand up to the fuel consumption rules. Teams can, however, increase airflow and turbo pressure without limitation, and the type of engine is up to the manufacturer. But the name of the game is still efficiency, and that makes building the right car harder than ever. It’s all about how well each car uses what it has to achieve victory, and the regulations are meant to bring Le Mans into the modern automotive mindset. All these changes make Porsche’s re-entry into Le Mans rife with challenges before the ignitions even fire.
One thing is certain — the Porsche 919 looks serious. But it’s less about sexy lines and beautiful proportions and more about pure speed and righteous handling. The massive vertical quad-beam headlights look like they came right out of a Pacific Rim Jaeger, while the intimidating front and rear spoilers provide the additional downforce needed for a big and challenging track. The 919 uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged V4 gas engine and adds two energy recovery systems (hence the hybrid title). The first captures thermal energy from exhaust gases; the second stores kinetic energy from braking, similar to what’s found on the 918 Hybrid supercar. The small gas engine is lightweight and spools up to a crazy 9,000 rpm. Total output is about 500 horsepower, and the 919 can even send power to the front wheels, like the Toyota TS040, providing all-wheel drive power and traction when needed.
Porsche claims that the 919 is not really about winning Le Mans. Of course, the supremacy of Audi will make victory no easy task, but we also don’t believe that Porsche isn’t serious about getting on the podium. The daunting design and engineering feats of the 919 car signify an in-it-to-win-it mentality. Porsche has always been and still is very much about victory in racing, and this new foray in the LMP1 category presents just the kind of challenge they’re looking for. Audi and Toyota should be sweating in their Nomex suits.