In the year following a third consecutive WEC title, Porsche is taking its World Championship winning race car around the world on a ‘goodbye tour’. The Stuttgart company is well aware that a little bit of good PR never did anyone any harm, and so in an attempt to show that the Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo is faster than Formula One, a challenge was set up. Read on and find out just how crushingly good the 919 Hybrid was during that 2015-2017 spurt, but first a little history lesson.
Forty-three years ago, on 9 August 1975, Mark Donohue put on his racing suit and helmet, and was sent out during a break in the regular Talladega 500 activities. He was driving the famous Porsche 917/30 that he had driven to victory in six of the eight rounds of the 1973 Can-Am Championships.
Donohue had been lured out of retirement by his old boss, Roger Penske, in an attempt to set a new World Closed Course speed record, the target being 217.854mph set by AJ Foyt in his USAC Coyote on the same 2.66-mile tri-oval Talladega track. Speed records are not easy to set up, and all manner of factors must be checked and double-checked in order to claim that your steed is quicker than the one that set the previous record.
Firstly, the Porsche 917/30 was not set up to master the monotonous lap-after-lap style of oval racing at full throttle, and so a pair of massive intercoolers were installed with extra NACA ducts cut into the bodywork to feed cool air to them. Next, special aerodynamic wheel covers were fitted, a cover was inserted over the passenger space so that Donohue had just enough space to peep through. The door gaps and body panel gaps were all taped up so as to reduce drag, and finally the car was ready.
Even on the day, the attempt was almost scuppered when a small fire broke out during one of the warm-up laps, but Donohue being Donohue, this did not deter him, and he set off on the record run lap. He did it, setting a record speed of 221.120mph! The speed record attempt had been successful, and everybody went home happy that the job had been done. Ten days later, Mark Donohue was killed in a Formula 1 practice session in Austria, aged 38 years. The world had lost one of its most successful sports car drivers, a fine engineer, and a much-loved personality around the paddock.
The Porsche 917/30 was powered by a 5374cc, 180 degree V12, twin-turbocharged mid-mounted engine developing 1175bhp at 7800rpm with 1.45 boost pressure. The power was driven through a 4-speed gearbox giving the car a top speed of around 240mph, depending on gear ratios. The car weighed in at just 800kg, and it could do the 0-60mph sprint in just 2.1 seconds. In its time, the 917/30 had no equal, it was just so quick and so reliable, that it has been said that the car’s domination of the Can-Am class actually killed the series.
Jump forward four decades, and the Porsche 919 Hybrid is a very different animal. Bristling with high-tech electronic driver aids and gadgets, the super-slippery body, the very powerful engine and hybrid drive gave the 919 the right combination of drive at the right time. In its WEC-winning format, the internal combustion engine, a V4 unit of just 2-litre capacity, developed around 500bhp. This was supplemented by two recovery systems, the electrical energy generated by the front brakes and the exhaust system is temporarily stored in a liquid-cooled lithium ion battery, giving an additional (approx.) 400bhp. Combined, this amounted to approximately 900bhp in a race car weighing 849kg.
Having won three out of the possible four World Championship titles in which it competed, one could conservatively say that the 919 was very successful, possibly dominant. So, it stood to reason that, with Porsche withdrawing from the WEC ranks a year earlier than planned, that a world tour would be in order for its first year of retirement. The 919 Hybrid (and other hybrids like it), are unlikely to ever be eligible for any other race series again, and to let a race car this successful just languish in a museum or do the occasional demos, was just not good enough.
And so, a plan was hatched to unshackle the 919’s power units, and to apply a few aero tweaks here and there, and to really give the championship-winning race car its head. Stephen Mitas, Chief Race Engineer LMP1, was heading the project: “It was an engineer’s dream come true for us,” the Australian admits. “Having developed, improved and raced the car for four years, the guys had a very close relationship with it. We all knew, no matter how successful the 919 Hybrid was, it could never show its full abilities.”
To prepare the record car, the 2017 world championship car was used as the base vehicle. In addition, due to the team’s earlier than expected withdrawal at the end of 2017, developments that had been prepared for the 2018 WEC season, but not used, were then also included. Several additional aerodynamic modifications were made for the record car, but for the ‘Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo’ the entire hardware of the power train remained untouched.
At the 2017 championship round in Spa, the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s final season, regulations limited the engine’s consumption to just 1.784 kilogram/2.464 litres of petrol per lap. This gave an output of around 500bhp, but freed from these restrictions and equipped with updated software, the 919 Hybrid Evo delivers 720bhp. The amount of energy from the two recovery systems permissible at Spa in 2017 was 6.37 megajoule, which was far below the systems’ potential. For the record attempt, a full boost of 8.49 megajoule was available, increasing the hybrid output by ten per cent from 400 to 440bhp.
On the aero side, the engineers gave the 919 Evo a substantial make-over. The new larger front diffuser now balanced the new and very large rear wing, both of which have actively controlled drag reduction systems. Underneath the Evo the turning vanes and floor have been optimised with fixed height side skirts to increase the aerodynamic performance again as efficiently as possible. In total the aero modifications resulted in 53 per cent higher downforce and an increase in efficiency by 66 per cent.
To further expand the performance envelope, the super-fast Evo gained a four-wheel brake-by-wire system to provide additional yaw control. Furthermore, the power steering was adapted for the higher loads and stronger suspension wishbones (front and rear) were implemented. Compared to the car in race trim, the dry weight was reduced by 39 kilograms to 849 kilograms. To achieve this, everything was removed that wasn’t needed for a single fast lap: air-conditioning, windscreen wiper, several sensors, electronic devices from race control, lights systems and the pneumatic jack system.
Developing the 919 Evo to significantly exceed its regulated performance level was all good and well, but higher speeds and vastly increased corner loading would require rubber that matched its new performance. Michelin did not need a second invitation to come up with the goods, and were immediately interested in working with a car that produced more downforce than a Formula One car. Keeping the same tyre dimensions as in 2017, the target was to increase the grip level significantly, and Michelin developed new compounds to deliver the necessary grip with no compromise on safety.
On April 9, an Evo version of the Le Mans winning Porsche 919 Hybrid established a new track record at Spa-Francorchamps. Porsche works driver Neel Jani lapped the 7.004km Belgian Grand Prix Circuit in 1:41.770 minutes, beating the previous track record by 0.783 seconds that was set by Lewis Hamilton at the wheel of a Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid. Hamilton’s lap of 1:42.553 minutes dates back to August 26 in 2017 and secured him pole position for last year’s F1 race. Jani achieved a top speed of 359km/h and an average speed of 245.61km/h on his record lap.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “This was an absolutely fantastic lap – an outstanding driver’s performance from Neel and the result of great engineering. The track record impressively proves the ultimate performance of the most innovative race car of its time.”
Team Principal Andreas Seidl: “This additional success is the result of the LMP team’s hard work and a proud day for the engineers. One can only congratulate Neel and the entire crew for achieving it. All six 2017 LMP1 drivers contributed to the project. It was our target to show the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s abilities when we ease the restrictions that came from the World Endurance Championship regulations.”
Stephen Mitas, “It is a very satisfying feeling that what we’ve done to the car was enough to crack the Formula One record.”
Neel Jani: “The 919 Evo is brutally impressive. It is definitely the fastest car I have ever driven. The amount of grip is at a new level for me, I could not have imagined this level of grip before. The speed at which everything happens on a single lap with the 919 Evo is that fast that the demand on reaction speed is very different to what I was used to in the WEC. We are not only faster than the F1 pole from 2017, but today’s lap was twelve seconds faster compared to our WEC pole position from last year! Today I knew on the very first lap in the morning that the car’s performance was super. A big thank you to Porsche for this experience.”
Twelve seconds quicker than their own 2017 WEC pole position qualifying time! At this level of performance, twelve seconds is like a lifetime. Porsche doesn’t often bother with setting speed records, but when they do attempt them, the result is usually spectacular.
Comparing Mark Donohue’s record in 1975, his 917/30 produced around 1175bhp and his car weighed 800kg. Just as with Donohue’s car, Neel Jani’s 919 Hybrid Evo was also tweaked and specially prepared for the attempt, and the 2017 ‘Evo’ boasted 1160bhp in an 849kg body. The big difference was of course the two very different circuits on which the records were set, but the big advantage for the 919 Evo would be the much higher cornering ability, and the rate at which it could exit corners and get up to full speed.
Comparisons of this nature seldom provide a useful outcome, but it is interesting to see how technology has moved on, and just how much performance was available more than four decades ago. A great performance guys, both for Stephen Mitas and his team, and to ‘Woody’ Woodard and his team 43 years ago!
Note: Although all six works LMP1 drivers contributed to the development of this 919 Hybrid Evo version, only three of them – Neel Jani, Timo Bernhard and Andre Lotterer – were present at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the record attempt.
For a comprehensive review on the Mark Donohue book, click here: The Unfair Advantage
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto