Engine 2-litre, single-turbo V4 (petrol)
Hybrid system front-axle KERS, exhaust energy recovery, battery storage
1 Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley
2 Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb
“We are convinced that we can be competitive with an updated car, otherwise we would have made a different decision.”
That is how LMP1 team principal Andreas Seidl explains Porsche’s decision to defend both its Le Mans 24 Hours crown and its World Endurance Championship titles with an updated version of last year’s 919 Hybrid.
Porsche believes there is enough room for improvement in the second-generation 919, a complete redesign of the 2014 original, for it to remain on top in the WEC battle. Rather than producing an all-new car like its rivals, the Stuttgart manufacturer has opted for a major overhaul of its championship winner that has left little unchanged apart from the monocoque.
“There have been updates on the aerodynamics, the suspension, the weight and the hybrid system,” says Seidl, who has for the moment taken over the duties of departed technical director Alex Hitzinger. “We have improved the engine in terms of combustion, gas exchange and frictional losses. We believe we have made a good – or let’s say reasonable – step from last year.”
Hitzinger offered a similar assessment before leaving Porsche for new pastures outside motor sport at the end of March. “We know there were big gains to be made with our package and we know what they are,” he said.
The step of which Seidl talks added up to a car that proved to have the legs of the opposition in the opening WEC round at Silverstone in April, or at least the no1 entry of reigning champions Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard did before it crashed out. “We have proved that the car is fast, that is the most important thing,” said Porsche LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger after a race in which the sister car inherited victory on the exclusion of the winning Audi for a technical infringement (see page 163).
The Porsche drivers appear happy with the gains that have been made at a time when conventional engine power is down courtesy of a reduction in fuel flow.
“We have definitely lost a lot of power, but we have recovered a fair chunk of performance in terms of aero and the hybrid system,” says Neel Jani. “Understeer was always our problem. We improved for 2015 and I think we’ve made another good step in that direction for this year.”
Porsche runs two cars rather than three at Le Mans this year, which means that 2015 winners Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber return to the manufacturer’s GTE Pro line-up for Le Mans (and Nico Hülkenberg will be busy on the streets of Baku at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix). That’s the result of an agreement with sister marque Audi to reduce their respective assaults on the 24 Hours, made in the name of cost reduction in the wake of the ‘dieselgate’ emissions scandal late last year. As a consequence Porsche’s hopes rest on its two regular WEC cars, which now have unchanged line-ups for a third consecutive season.
All three cars finished Le Mans last year without major problems, though the fifth-placed car was stymied by a braking issue that sent it off the track on two occasions. This time Porsche believes it will be better prepared than ever for the 24 Hours. The revised 919 completed a pair of endurance simulations ahead of the start of the season, the first before Christmas at the Motorland Aragon circuit, and a further two were planned, one after Silverstone and one after Spa, at the same track. The definitive Le Mans aero was due to come on stream at the first of those and was scheduled to be on the cars for the second round of the WEC.
“We are going into year three, so we feel better prepared than in the past two seasons,” says Seidl. “We still have points to cover, but nothing that gives us any concern.”
Porsche’s updated P1 contender isn’t going to be leapfrogged in 2016 in the same way that Toyota was ahead of its defence of its 2014 WEC titles. Much of Porsche’s advantage last year came from the regulations. The fuel-flow rules introduced for 2014 were framed to give an advantage based on hybrid class: the bigger the system, the more energy allowed per lap. Porsche moved up to the 8MJ class and Toyota remained in 6MJ. Now that Toyota has moved up and Audi has gone to 6MJ – the optimum for a turbodiesel, it claims – they are starting out equal. Porsche also has two years of knowledge about how to get the best from a battery storage system, whereas its rivals are just starting out with this technology. That could be crucial. As could reliability. Key elements of the updated 919 – including this year’s powertrain – have been testing since before Christmas. Silverstone proved that the Porsche is still the pace-setter, at least in high-downforce trim. Webber and then Hartley controlled the race before an ill-judged overtaking manoeuvre from the latter put the car out.