Last year was a pretty good one for Porsche. It won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking down fellow Volkswagen Group brand Audi, which has dominated the legendary race for the past decade and a half. And Porsche won the FIA World Endurance Championship. Not a bad year.
Now, the 2016 racing season is about to begin, and the Porsche 919 Hybrid is back for more action. Unveiled at a pre-season event at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France, the 2016 919 Hybrid is a tweaked version of a car that debuted in 2014. They say don’t mess with success, but not messing with things is rarely an option in the hyper-competitive world of motorsports.
The chassis remains unchanged, and so do the major components of the powertrain. The 919 Hybrid still uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged V4 engine that makes 500 horsepower by itself and powers the rear wheels. The driver can also activate a temporary boost of 400 hp from an electric motor mounted to the front axle. Electricity is harvested from both brake heat and the exhaust, and is stored in a lithium-ion battery pack.
For 2016, engineers changed both axles, and tweaked the aerodynamic bits for greater adjustability. Changes to regulations also limit the rate of fuel flow, meaning cars like the 919 Hybrid that compete in the top LMP1-H class will end up using less fuel per lap. All cars in this class are hybrids, and their total output is governed by subclasses based on the amount of electricity their powertrains can recover. The 919 Hybrid is in the highest, 8-megajoule, subclass.
That means Porsche is leaning more on electric power than are the teams that choose lower-energy subclasses. The hybrid format forces teams to make a couple of strategic decisions. Better fuel economy means fewer pit stops, and thus less wasted time, but the internal-combustion engine is what produces power consistently; short bursts of electric power can’t be relied upon to increase a car’s overall performance over a long race.
Porsche’s strategy worked pretty well last year, and the Germans are almost certainly expecting a repeat for 2016. The car maker with more Le Mans titles than any other will once again do battle with hybrids from Audi and Toyota. Nissan pulled out at the end of 2015 after a single underwhelming season.