Porsche used Geneva to give the world its best look yet at the new 919 Hybrid prototype that will mark the factory's official return to the top LMP1 category at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The car - which will be challenging the eminently successful R18 e-tron hybrids from sister company Audi for overall victory in the French long-distance classic as well as in the World Endurance Championship Series - features a unique gas-electric powertrain configuration the automaker hopes will give the 919 Hybrid a competitive advantage relative to all of its other LMP1 rivals. In presenting the car, Porsche AG Chairman, Matthias Müller, noted that under the new 2014 rules, pure speed will be less important than ultimate energy efficiency. Referring to the 919 Hybrid as "our fastest mobile research laboratory" he also admitted that it was the most complex race car the firm had ever built.
Primary motivation for the Porsche 919 Hybrid comes from a new gasoline-fueled 2.0-liter turbocharged V4 linked to a Formula One-style energy recovery system. Compact, lightweight and serving as a structural member of the chassis, the engine is boosted by a single turbo and develops "around 500" horsepower that gets sent to the rear wheels. Exhaust gases are used to recoup thermal energy which is converted to electricity fed to a motor/generator unit (MGU) that can enhance power as well as virtually eliminate turbo lag. The 919 Hybrid also features a secondary drive system for the front axle. Its MGU uses regenerative braking to create electricity which is stored in the same water-cooled lithium ion battery packs located next to the driver that also hold any excess energy from the engine's recovery system. When extra boost is needed during acceleration, available electric power gets sent to the forward MGU where it can be properly transferred to each front wheel via a differential.
Although optimistic about the 919 Hybrid's ultimate potential, Friedrich Enzinger, Head of the LMP1 program also is realistic: "We have the greatest respect for the lead our competitors have in racing experience. Our objective in the first year is simple: to finish races and be competitive." Audi -- which also will bring a comprehensively revamped R18 variant to Le Mans -- has dominated the legendary 24 Hour enduro of late, winning 12 times since its first victory in 2000. But Porsche still holds the absolute record there, topping the podium 16 times.
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