The first tangible evidence of Porsche's planned return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 surfaced this week when its new LMP1 sports prototype was given an initial shakedown run at the automaker's Research and Development Center in Weissach, Germany. According to Fritz Enzinger, who heads the team of 200 charged with bringing the LMP1 program to successful completion, development on the car is proceeding several weeks ahead of its original schedule. Still without an official name and seen running in full camouflage wrap, Porsche's latest dream machine was driven by 2010 Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard. Bernhard and his winning co-driver Romain Dumas have been tabbed to handle all of the subsequent testing and to pilot this new Porsche at the 24 Hours as well as in the entire 2014 World Endurance Championship.
Although Porsche still holds the record for overall Le Mans victories with 16, Enzinger also noted that with the 2014 Le Mans regulations being primarily based on efficiency "the competition amongst engineers is more interesting and presents us with completely new challenges." The last time Porsche won this classic enduro was in 1998, which also happened to be the last time it mounted a full factory effort with that goal in mind. Given the recent domination at Le Mans by its Volkswagen Group corporate sibling, Audi, it should be most interesting to see how that family feud ultimately plays out next June. At this time, all that's been confirmed about the drivetrain in Porsche's new car is that unlike the diesel-powered Audi, it will be fitted with an engine that burns gasoline. However, given the rules, it will almost certainly pair that primary motivator with an F1-style KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) electric hybrid booster.
While the task of striking a delicate balance between efficiency and performance is admittedly daunting, Matthias Müller, Chairman of the Executive Board, Porsche AG, pointed out that a good deal of the basic knowledge gleaned from the company's new LMP1 program will have implications that reach far beyond any racing circuit. "The engineers were able to start with a blank sheet of paper in the design of the new LMP1 car. Hence, they were able to apply many new technologies within the framework of the regulations that will also benefit the customers of our road-going automobiles in the future. After all, there's a race car in every Porsche."
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