Following a fifteen-year absence from the top tier of prototype racing on the world stage, Porsche officially returned to the LMP1 class in 2014 with the 919 Hybrid race car. Preparing a race car like the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Le Mans was no simple task, and so we have explored what was needed in this feature, Logistics Part III.
The way the WEC was set up when the Porsche 919 Hybrid entered the fray in 2014, saw a class structure where only the big motor manufacturers played in the top class, such as Audi, Porsche and Toyota. Nissan tried but failed. This class was known as LMP1-H. Race cars in this class were the result of a huge amount of investment, testing and manpower just to get the car to a race-ready position. Added to this was the mandated introduction of hybrid technology which was astronomically expensive and required vast teams of specialists to perfect. Located just below this class was the privateer class LMP1-L, where private teams entered their race cars that used a manufacturer’s engine such as Toyota, but did not require the huge investment that a hybrid car attracted. These race cars were faster than the LMP2 class cars, one level down, and had to meet certain performance criteria such that they slotted in, performance-wise, between the LMP1-H and LMP2 classes.
Generating hybrid power
In the 2016 Le Mans race, a sizeable 32.11 gigabytes of data were transmitted to the pits from car #2 during the 24 hours. For 327 of the 384 laps, the #2 car was able to proceed at full race pace, while on the other 57 laps, either the safety car was on track or a slow-zone was in place. The Porsche 919 Hybrid recuperated and used 2.22 kWh (8 megajoule) of energy per lap at Le Mans in 2016. If this system was a power plant, a family home could be supplied with electricity for three months. The winning car was refuelled 30 times and used eleven sets of tyres in the race, and the winning Porsche’s gearbox mastered 22,984 gear changes during the 24 hours. For the best possible visibility, the prototypes had four tear-offs on the windscreens, which were removed one after the other, during pit stops.
In 1982, the winning #1 Porsche 956 of Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell covered 359 laps at an average speed of 126.840 mph (204.129 km/h). Ickx set the fastest qualifying time of 3:28.4 seconds at a speed of 146.265 mph (235.391 km/h). In 2016, the #2 winning Porsche scored a dramatic finish when it racked up its 18th overall victory at Le Mans. The average speed of that winning Porsche was 134.4647 mph (216.4 km/h).
The organising, planning and logistics of getting a race car to the circuit in 1982 was for the team every bit of a challenge back then as it was for the 919 team in 2014. If anything, the quantity of spares and highly specialised equipment needed for the 919 was even greater, not to mention the much larger contingent of staff. During the years that the factory entered its works cars in Group C at Le Mans, the number of entries yo-yoed between two and three cars. Porsche raced two 919s in 2014, 2016 and 2017, but in 2015 Porsche entered a trio of works 919s. In keeping with trends, the Porsche LMP team was a highly-integrated part of the Porsche Research and Development Centre, with the goal of pushing the technology transfer between race car and road car development. When it competed, 260 employees worked on the LMP1 programme alone with 160 of those being engineers.
Racing around the world
In 2016, the work force on site at Le Mans was around 90 people including drivers, medical staff, marketing and press department. However, for the 6-hour races, the operational staff was limited by the WEC regulations to 65 people.
For the European WEC rounds (Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps and Nürburgring) the team travelled with five semi-trailers carrying the cars and equipment. For Le Mans, even more equipment was needed, especially to set up storage and a work shop at the back of the garage. As a result, for Le Mans, it was necessary for the team to hire a further three semi-trailers.
Entering the two highly complex Porsche 919 Hybrids for the overseas WEC races was not without its challenges for the Porsche Team. Although the air freight needed soared to 30 tons, only indispensable items were taken on board. The team’s hospitality centre, for example, wasn’t regarded as essential, and so the works team would eat in the paddock canteen for the fly-away races.
Air cargo is complex, and items had to be stacked without any gaps in the aircraft’s hold for reasons of maximising the available volumetric space, and to prevent parts or equipment moving during transit. The Porsche freight was limited to twelve units each measuring 304 x 230 cm and should not exceed the required weight, as this would increase the basic airfreight cost. Although the cargo list contained several thousand items, in order to ensure that everything fitted into the limited space, the team always had their airfreight requirements in mind when deciding what to purchase, whether this was a tool cabinet, packaging for the drivers’ helmets, or an engine box. Furthermore, whatever was needed first at the destination, must be immediately available upon arrival at the circuit. Perfect organisation was essential in order to build up the garage on time, because once the team started unloading a three-ton container in a freight-crowded pit lane, it would sit there until it was empty.
The Porsche Team purchased ten tailor made containers of which six, the so called Q7, had sloping tops, while two were the flatter Q6, and two are ‘winged lowers’, shaped especially for the lower cargo space in the aircraft. They were more efficient than anything ready-made, and saved a lot of packing material compared to stacking single boxes one on top of another. Importantly, these containers could be loaded onto the aircraft without a securing net around them, which saved another 1.3 centimetres in height. Alongside the ten lightweight containers, the remaining two units accommodated the big parts, such as the flight case with the spare chassis and the one hundred wheel rims.
Each of the twelve units had a unique worldwide number plate and each component packed inside the containers was given a QR code, so that by using a scanner everything could be easily located. This painstaking organisation doesn’t just ensure labour and cost efficiency, as customs officers, too, needed this information. Whether the serial numbers of the 100 radios, the number of chassis components, packets of screws, or rolls of tape – Porsche put a lot of effort into reliable documentation. Everything imported into the various countries also had to be exported out again. The containers are x-rayed, and customs officers may, of course, want to unpack them so time for this had to be factored into the schedules.
The two Porsche 919 Hybrid race cars don’t fit onto pallets and had to travel securely strapped down onto extra car racks. All of their fluids had to be drained, and fragile body parts such as mirrors and wings, were packed safely away elsewhere. A set of show tyres was fitted to the cars to help with moving the vehicles around. Between the races some components, for example the gearboxes, were returned to the factory on commercial flights for maintenance or repair. However, hazardous materials such as adhesives, resins, spray cans and the lithium-ion batteries for the hybrid drive system, had to be transported separately.
One of the areas with the steepest learning curve, was that of hybrid technology. At the various race tracks, an area had to be set aside where the batteries could be safely ‘disarmed’ in case of a failure. Everyone involved in the programme received general training with important basic information about high voltage items, but for those who actually worked with the batteries, they were required to have special training. The batteries required permission from federal aviation administration offices in the various countries, and although Porsche possesses considerable expertise in hybrid matters, the procedures are nonetheless time-consuming. The hazardous materials also had to stay in a secure room for 48 hours before and after every flight without being moved. This is certainly different from the ‘80s, but at the same time it had become routine to handle such high voltage equipment safely.
The team also shipped some items by sea, which was considerably less expensive, but also much slower. Equipment shipped during the season in August would only return to the factory the following January. This then tripled the equipment needed in some instances and because of the long distances, there would be three sets of sea freight on the high seas at any one time. The contents consisted of relatively inexpensive but heavy equipment, such as the metal posts for example in front of garages or to keep spectators back from the team as they worked. Instead of flying twenty of these heavy Tensator barriers around the world, it was cheaper to buy sixty of them and load them onto three vessels. The impact of spares and components being in the wrong place when needed, can be sorely felt by the team. It’s all about efficiency!
It is a different world today compared with the Group C years, as all of the team personnel in the pit garage are connected by radio. This is a logistical challenge all of its own, as the services of a dedicated radio man is required to manage the 100 radios sets used at a race. Prior to the race, the radio man would have to communicate the frequencies to be used by the team in that country, so this would not clash with the other teams. These frequencies would also need to be approved by the authorities local to the racing venue. During the race of course, the radio manager’s job would be to ensure that all of this equipment functioned correctly and that back-up batteries were available to replace depleted ones.
Two cars or three
Porsche ran two 919s in the WEC series in 2014, 2016 and 2017, but in 2015 they fielded three cars at Le Mans. “In motorsport today, it is customary for personnel to be trained to handle two cars, even at a senior level,” Andreas Seidl, Team Principal LMP1 said. When asked how they managed in 2015 at Le Mans, Seidl replied, “For the operations side of the team, it is a big advantage to have just two because with a third car, it is hard to imagine what that means in terms of the extra load for everyone. Somehow you manage with two cars, in terms of all the things that you have to keep in mind. But the first time that you go with three cars, you realise that it is not just one car more, because it adds a lot more complexity.”
In 2015, Porsche ran the #17 (red – Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber & Brendon Hartley), #18 (black – Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas & Neel Jani) and #19 (white – Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy & Nico Hülkenberg). Although Neel Jani set the fastest qualifying time in the #18 car, it was the #19 Porsche of Bamber/Tandy/Hülkenberg that snatched victory by one lap from the #17 car of Bernhard/Webber/Hartley.
When one considers the relative simplicity of the Porsche 956s and 962s from the Group C days, these cars can still be enjoyed today by their current owners and spectators alike. The Porsche 919 Hybrid, however, will never be able to claim the same kind of legacy. Speaking to Klaus Bischof in 2015 at the WEC Silverstone 6 Hours, he said that the 919 requires too complex a system of technical requirements to get it set up and started. The hybrid system is far too dangerous to release into private hands, and if mishandled, could even kill someone working on the car. Bischof said that when we see the 919 at motor shows or doing demonstration runs in the future, it is likely that the car would be running without the hybrid system. Technology would have moved on so much that to maintain the support systems needed to keep the car fully operational would become too resource hungry. This means that we are only likely to see the 919 in museums or on displays, or just running on its internal combustion engine.
Which is all rather a pity, because there is no top-level class of Porsche race car that could fill the gap in historic racing in the future, in the same way that the 956/962 does now. With the benefit of hindsight, Porsche made a tremendous case that justified the development of the 956/962, in that ten 956s and ten 962s were built at Weissach for use by the official works teams. They then built a further 130 cars that were sold to their racing customers. The substantial proceeds from the sale of those cars and the revenue generated from the sale of spares for those customers, made the 956/962 model a resounding success. And that was quite apart from the incalculable press and public awareness that came from the car’s monumental success during the Group C era.
When asked in 2016 if looking back at the legendary 917s and the 956/962s, he saw the 919 Hybrid rewriting the history books in the same way, Andreas Seidl replied, “I think we want it to continue the history and the heritage that Porsche had at Le Mans. This I think we managed already last year  with that. For sure, we want to score more victories with the 919 Hybrid, but if it then becomes a legend, it will be difficult to judge.”
It is of course pointless to compare different eras of motorsport, because of the differences in technology and what was permissible in terms of the regulations in that period. The 956/962s raced in a very different time when regulations were more liberal and innovation levels differed from one manufacturer to another, all of which made that period so exciting. But the 919 Hybrid raced for just four years, winning the World Championship in three of those years, quite a remarkable feat in itself. The Porsche 919 Hybrid came, it saw and it conquered – job done!
Comparative details: Porsche 956/962 v 919 Hybrid
|Porsche 956/962||Porsche 919 Hybrid|
|Engine type||Flat 6-cylinder||V4|
|Engine capacity||2.6-litre to 3.2-litre||2-litre|
|Engine output||620-750 bhp||<500 bhp rear axle|
|Hybrid power||N/A||>400 bhp front axle|
|Combined power||N/A||Approx. 900 bhp|
You might also be interested in reading: Porsche at Teloché, Le Mans – Logistics Part I
You might also be interested in reading: Porsche 956/962 at Le Mans – Logistics Part II
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Motorsport & Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale