In 2014, Porsche marched back into the top class of endurance racing, and announced that they were here to take the championship. Their new racer, the Porsche 919 Hybrid, was powered by a 2.0-litre V4 petrol turbocharged engine, and they proudly claimed that it held a technological advantage over the rest of their competitors. Many were sceptical, however, because not only was the Porsche power package untried, but this engine layout was not a format used in any other form of motor sport.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid was first revealed to the public at the Geneva Motor Show on 4 March 2014. However, the 919 first turned a wheel in a semi-competitive environment at the WEC Prologue at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France on 29 March 2014, but here it was only the media who got to see it.
Their two cars, #20 and #14, represented the year of their return (2014), and they very nearly did upset the applecart at Le Mans, but unfortunately podium finishes for the new prototype racer proved elusive. Clearly they had the speed, but reliability dogged them in the 6-hour races, while in the Le Mans race, it was a case of so near and yet so far. Persistence, however, paid off in the end as they won the last race of the 2014 season in Brazil, proving that their formula was a winner.
At the start of the 2015 season, the Porsche 919 Hybrid finished second in the first two races, these being Silverstone and Spa, but the Le Mans 24-Hours proved the biggest haul of silverware for them when the two of the four factory cars finished first and second. A few champagne corks popped that night in Stuttgart! As we now know, Porsche finished the season as World Champions, but 2016 would be different as they then had to defend that crown, not chase it, which required a different strategy. The Porsche Board had approved the LMP1 programme through to the end of the 2018 season, so there were three full seasons of the 919 still ahead, and for sure Porsche would want to add to their all-time record tally of seventeen (at that stage) overall Le Mans wins.
Back in 2014, the Porsche 919 boasted the most innovative drivetrain concept on the grid, consisting of a turbocharged, direct injection, 2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine driving the rear axle, an exhaust energy recovery system, lithium-ion battery technology for energy storage to serve the electric motor on the front axle, and complex hybrid management. With this, Porsche established a technological advantage in that their engine was not only the most efficient combustion engine the company had ever built, but it was also the lightest in the class. The engine was said to produce around 500 bhp and the hybrid system the same, for a total of approximately 1000 bhp. Of course no images of the engine were circulated in the media at that point. In 2015, which was only the car’s second year of competition, the Porsche 919 Hybrid, with its total system output of approximately 1000 bhp, was able to use 8 megajoules of recovered energy per lap at Le Mans, while only burning 4.76 litres of fuel per lap.
2014 – approx. 1000 bhp (combined) – 6 megajoules
2015 – approx. 1000 bhp (combined) – 8 megajoules
2016 – approx. 900 bhp (combined) – 8 megajoules
(These figures were provided by the Porsche motor sport press office)
For 2016 the regulations required a lower amount of energy from the fuel used per lap and thus the fuel flow for all the prototypes was reduced. In the Porsche 919 Hybrid, this resulted in a loss of eight percent of fuel which gave an output of less than 500 bhp by the petrol engine. Together with the electrical energy from the two recovery systems (brake energy from the front axle and exhaust energy), which served the e-machine on the front axle, the overall power system of the Porsche 919 Hybrid was circa 900 bhp. Certainly, in order to maintain similar track speeds, the Porsche engineers worked some magic on the aerodynamics for the next season.
Activities for the 2016 season kicked off on 25/26 March with the Prologue at the Paul Ricard circuit. This was followed three weeks later by the first round of that season’s WEC at Silverstone on 17 April. All three manufacturers, Porsche, Audi and Toyota, had their new cars ready to do battle, and a battle royal it was too, because Audi were licking their wounds after 2015 and Toyota was ready to unleash their new TS050. So the 2016 was the last season where three top-line manufacturers did battle in the LMP1 class…perhaps this happy scene will return one day. We shall see…
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Porsche Werkfoto