Imagine seeing one of these in your rearview mirror.
Porsche gave London commuters quite a surprise when it unleashed one of its Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid race cars onto the streets of the British capital. The car was driven by Mark Webber, the ex-Formula One driver who won the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship in a 919. The drive took place early in the morning on public streets, meaning other cars shared the road with the high-tech hybrid.
Webber, who hails from Australia, got to do quite a bit of sightseeing. The route took him from Park Lane to the River Thames, past London landmarks like Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, and the London Eye. The 919 isn’t exactly built for city traffic, but the stunt seems to have gone off without a hitch.
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While there was a time when race cars built for the 24 Hours of Le Mans shared at least some DNA with road cars, that time is long past. The 919 Hybrid and cars like it are arguably the pinnacle of current racing technology. The Porsche is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged V4 engine, which gets part-time assistance from an electric motor. The motor draws power a lithium-ion battery pack, which collects energy recovered from brake and exhaust heat.
The 919 Hybrid has had a pretty successful career so far. It won Le Mans in 2015, its second year of competition, and then again this year. That victory came at the expense of Toyota, which suffered a heartbreaking defeat when its leading TS050 Hybrid broke down with only a few minutes of racing to go, making 2016 one of the most dramatic Le Mans races in recent memory.
Porsche staged the London drive to promote a somewhat less exotic machine: the new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. It’s a plug-in hybrid version of the second-generation Panamera luxury sedan, replacing the old Panamera S E-Hybrid. While both it and the 919 are hybrids, you’ll never mistake the Panamera for a race car.