Could This Porsche Hide the Secret Future of quattro in Sportscar Racing?
by, 10-07-2010 at 05:17 PM (5982 Views)
We had an "ah-ha" moment of enlightenment this past weekend at the ALMS Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta. The lone North American event during the 2010 season for the Audi Sport R15 squad, the race was by no means off the radar for Audi enthusiasts. Many tuning in probably also knew that the Le Mans winning driver trio of Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas swapped their R15 for a Porsche 911 Hybrid running outside of any ALMS class. Still, we're guessing most may not have considered the significance of the orange and white Porsche nor that it might possibly spell the return of quattro to the most top-tier Audi racing campaign.
It's been a while since Audi really pushed all-wheel drive in racing. Frankly, all-wheel drive has never been allowed during the decade Audi has been in sportscar racing and the modern era of DTM cars have been rear-wheel drive only affairs. Not so the 911 GT3 R Hybrid. Using a fly wheel design that interestingly utilizes no traditional battery for operation, this 'Hybrid' model manages to be all-wheel drive when the timing is right.
During dinner with Romain Dumas the night before the race, Audi's French Le Mans winner explained to us how the car works. Essentially there is a "boost" button on the steering wheel that offers a few seconds of added power through the front wheels effectively creating an all-wheel drive racecar. When the flywheel's power is exhausted it takes a few more braking zones for the power to be regenerated and then you're off again.
How would that sort of setup work on a long circuit like Le Mans? Dumas, who's probably one of the top experts to answer the question given he's had extensive seat time in the car and won Le Mans, suggested the setup would work well at La Sarthe. Even the long Mulsanne straight has its famous chicanes which would work well in adding some power to the reserves in a car fitted with the system.
Driving the setup takes some getting used to. Dumas explained that using it at the right (or rather wrong) time in a corner will get the same net effect an on-throttle, mid-corner all-wheel drive car will get you... loads of understeer. Still, the added power and traction is incredibly handy and also helps efficiency.
While not a traditional all-time all-wheel drive, the system is the closest thing to all-wheel drive or quattro we can ever remember seeing in sportscar racing.
Here's the PR copy about Petit Le Mans and the 911 GT3R Hybrid sourced from Porsche.
One of the many highlights of this gripping season final was the race premiere of the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid in the USA, which received huge public interest. The sports car with ground-breaking drive technology and the Le Mans winners Timo Bernhard (Germany), Romain Dumas (France) and Mike Rockenfeller (Germany) at the wheel again demonstrated its reliability, performance and efficiency. Competing in the unclassified GTH class for experimental cars, it conquered the 1,000 miles on this difficult circuit without any technical problems. For the Porsche engineers, this test outing yielded many crucial insights in order to further perfect the innovative hybrid drive.
“My job at the wheel of our rolling laboratory was a great experience for me,” said Porsche works driver Timo Bernhard. “The hybrid system worked perfectly over the entire race distance. We achieved two important goals, and these were to present this unique car to the US fans and to further develop the hybrid drive under racing conditions.” His factory pilot teammate, Romain Dumas, commented: “I’m pleased to have reached the finish line without any problems. Unfortunately, several punctures cost us a lot of time today. Still, it was a fantastic experience, because over the whole weekend the fans celebrated us like winners.” Former Porsche works driver, Mike Rockenfeller, who now drives for the Audi factory, also enjoyed this enthusiasm: “It was great to be back in a Porsche. I received a very warm welcome and felt right at home straight away. Thank you to Audi and Porsche for making it possible to be part of this extraordinary project.”
“Once again we learned a lot from racing our hybrid car,” summarised Hartmut Kristen. “I’m proud that this innovative system ran over nine hours without a single problem. From our standpoint, it is equally as important that our development engineers have again collected a huge amount of important data.”
Stuttgart. Exactly 110 years after Ferdinand Porsche developed the world’s first car with hybrid drive, the Lohner Porsche Semper Vivus, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, Stuttgart, is once again taking up this visionary drive concept in production-based GT racing: During the Geneva Motor Show, a Porsche 911 GT3 R with innovative hybrid drive is making its debut, opening up a new chapter in the history of Porsche with more than 20,000 wins in 45 years scored by the extremely successful Porsche 911 in racing trim.
The innovative hybrid technology featured in the car has been developed especially for racing, standing out significantly in its configuration and components from conventional hybrid systems. In this case, electrical front axle drive with two electric motors developing 60 kW each supplements the 480-bhp four-litre flat-six at the rear of the 911 GT3 R Hybrid. A further significant point is that instead of the usual batteries in a hybrid road car, an electrical flywheel power generator fitted in the interior next to the driver delivers energy to the electric motors.
The flywheel generator itself is an electric motor with its rotor spinning at speeds of up to 40,000 rpm, storing energy mechanically as rotation energy. The flywheel generator is charged whenever the driver applies the brakes, with the two electric motors reversing their function on the front axle and acting themselves as generators. Then, whenever necessary, that is when accelerating out of a bend or when overtaking, the driver is able to call up extra energy from the charged flywheel generator, the flywheel being slowed down electromagnetically in the generator mode and thus supplying up to 120 kW to the two electric motors at the front from its kinetic energy. This additional power is available to the driver after each charge process for approximately 6 - 8 seconds.
Energy formerly converted – and thus wasted – into heat upon every application of the brakes, is now highly efficiently converted into additional drive power.
Depending on racing conditions, hybrid drive is used in this case not only for extra power, but also to save fuel. This again increases the efficiency and, accordingly, the performance of the 911 GT3 R Hybrid, for example by reducing the weight of the tank or making pitstops less frequent.
After its debut in Geneva the 911 GT3 R Hybrid will be tested in long-distance races on the Nürburgring. The highlight of this test programme will be the 24 Hours on the Nordschleife of Nürburgring on May 15th and 16th. The focus is not on the 911 GT3 R Hybrid winning the race, but rather serving as a spearhead in technology and a “racing laboratory” providing know-how on the subsequent use of hybrid technology in road-going sports cars.
The 911 GT3 R Hybrid is a perfect example of the Porsche Intelligent Performance philosophy, a principle to be found in every Porsche: More power on less fuel, more efficiency and lower CO2 emissions – on the track and on the road.
Not referencing the Porsche specifically, we did inquire with Audi Sport chief engine designer Wolfgang Baretzky about the idea of a hybrid Audi prototype. Baretzky did not like use of the word hybrid and explained it remained to be seen whether a "Hybrid" racecar could be made to go as fast as a non-hybrid. Given the Porsche system isn't exactly a "hybrid" as most think of it and the fact that Porsche and Audi both play for the same Volkswagen team nowadays, watching the Porsche 911 Hybrid compete was a very interesting endeavor. That the Volkswagen Group chose to put its Le Mans winning driver trio in the car in a race they could never even have won given the car had no official class was even more interesting.
Could the upcoming Audi R18 make use of such a system? Audi isn't saying and since the ACO rules still aren't finalized this all remains to be seen. Still, if a similar system would be allowed in a P1 prototype we can certainly see the marketing potential of an "all-wheel drive" R18 quattro.
See more photos of the Audi R15 TDI and the Porsche 911 Hybrid in our 2010 Petit Le Mans photo gallery after the jump.