The greening of motorsport promises to take another significant step this spring when Porsche puts its first dedicated hybrid racer on track following the car's debut on the automaker's show stand in Geneva. Set to begin testing in a series of lesser endurance contests at Germany's famed Nurburgring complex, this new Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid will get its ultimate baptism by fire in a grueling 24-hour event on the legendary 12.9-mile Nordschleife circuit this May 15-16.

Unlike the more conventional parallel hybrid system in its upcoming Cayenne and Panamera production vehicles, this competition-specific gas-electric configuration matches the GT3 R's 4.0-liter/480-horsepower naturally-aspirated flat six that drives its rear wheels with a pair of electric motors mounted on the front axle, each of which are capable of producing an additional 82 horsepower (60 Kw) for short periods of time. In place of a heavy battery pack, the GT3 R Hybrid is fitted with special electro-mechanical flywheel unit located beside the driver.

Positioned low in the car to help improve the center of gravity, this trick motor/generator unit can alternatively feed the kinetic energy stored in its internal rotor back to the motors as electricity -- and then, in turn, be "recharged" and spun back up to its 40,000 rpm max using energy culled from regenerative braking. The driver has access to this additional electric boost for a period of six to eight seconds after each full charge up. Beyond contributing extra power, the system can also increase the GT3 R Hybrid's overall fuel economy, although Porsche offered no specific information on that aspect of its performance.

Porsche intends to use this 911 GT3 R Hybrid as a "racing lab" that will serve to spearhead technological development and help create a hands-on knowledge base that can be applied to its future racing and road-going hybrid sports cars. While not anticipating a victory in the 911 GT3 R Hybrid's first 24-hour enduro, there's definitely a lot more leg lurking in this high-efficiency long-distance runner. Michael Macht, the automaker's new boss, has promised a major announcement early in 2010 that insiders say will confirm Porsche's plans for a return to Le Mans in the near future. If --and when -- it does, the system being tested in the 911 GT3 R Hybrid will be incorporated into a new purpose-built racer that will vie for an outright win at that ultimate 24-hour classic.

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