With Volkswagen Group cousin Audi out, Porsche is now the dominant force in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and its signature race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Porsche won the legendary endurance race in 2016 and 2015, and is looking to extend that streak this year with its upgraded 919 Hybrid.
Unveiled at the Monza racetrack ahead of preseason testing, Porsche says the 2017 version of the 919 Hybrid is “60 to 70 percent” different from its 2016 counterpart. The big changes are in the area of aerodynamics. A new front end, rear air intakes, and other tweaks are meant to compensate for 2017 rule changes that put more restrictions on aerodynamic aids for the top LMP1-class race cars.
While the body may look different, the powertrain remains a hybrid system based around a 2.0-liter turbocharged V4 engine. The gasoline engine powers the rear wheels, while an electric motor mounted to the front axle provides supplementary motivation. Porsche says the V4 is good for 500 horsepower on its own, while the electric motor adds 400 hp and temporary all-wheel drive, but only short bursts when the car is accelerating out of corners.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid can recover energy to feed its lithium-ion battery pack under both acceleration and braking. A Formula One-style Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) harvests heat energy from braking, providing about 60 percent of the car’s electrical output. The rest comes from a small turbine fitted to the exhaust, which spins at more than 120,000 rpm and acts as a generator.
In 2017, Porsche is looking to extend its record number of Le Mans wins to 19, and the defend the WEC drivers’ manufacturers’ titles. It will have to do that without star driver Mark Webber, who retired at the end of last season. Earl Bamber will replace Webber as teammate to Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard in one of two cars Porsche plans to field this season.
With Audi gone, Porsche’s only competitor is Toyota. The Japanese automaker nearly won Le Mans last year, but a technical glitch snatched victory away in the final minutes of the race. Unlike Porsche, Toyota will run a third car at Le Mans this year, and two cars for the rest of the WEC season.
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