MONTEREY, Calif. — Porsche is changing everything everyone thinks about hybrids by proving gas-electric technology can haul ass and save gas.
The Germans rolled into the ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey race with the 911 GT3 R Hybrid and delivered a beating to every car in the GT class as drivers Romain Dumas and Richard Lietz finished 10th overall. Not only did Porsche’s gas-electric wunderkind post the fastest lap, it made just three pit stops during the six-hour event, compared to the five everyone else made.
“The start phase was huge fun, because it was relatively easy to overtake the slower competitors,” Dumas said after the race. “But it’s even more fun because we can apply superior tactics thanks to the lower fuel consumption. We are much more flexible and we made the most of this today.”
It was the car’s first appearance on the West Coast (and only its second in North America since its debut last year), so we made it a point to stop by the paddock and check it out.
The car, based on the wickedly quick 911 GT3 R, isn’t a hybrid in the traditional sense. It uses a kinetic energy recovery system, and instead of a battery, the energy is stored in a flywheel. The system stores 0.2 kilowatts of energy, which is enough to provide an additional 150 kilowatts (203 horsepower) for an eight-second burst.
“That doesn’t sound like much, but the system recharges very quickly,” said Dieter Steinhauser, head of motorsports R&D. “For performance applications, a battery recharges too slowly.”
The flywheel, mounted where the passenger seat would be, spins at up to 40,000 RPM. It provides juice to a pair of 75 kilowatt (101 hp) motors, one per front wheel. The rear wheels are driven by a 4.0-liter flat-six good for 470 horsepower.
Early in the car’s development, the system was “push to pass,” meaning the driver could tap the electric assist whenever he wanted. The system has since be revised to deploy automatically, with the added boost programmed into the engine mapping software to optimize lap times at a given track. At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for example, the extra 201 ponies are unleashed at the end of the front straight. The system is almost entirely recharged by the end of the next turn (Turn 2) and fully charged by the time the driver hits the braking point for Turn 3.
The system features a manual override so Dumas or Lietz can push a button on the steering wheel — one of 14 buttons and six knobs at their fingertips — to get a little extra oomph for passing. That proved especially helpful at Laguna Seca. The 911 GT3 R doesn’t fit into any one of the five classes in American Le Mans, so it’s essentially an experimental car. As such, it cannot participate in qualifying and must line up at the back of the grid. The car started 35th, which only makes its climb to 10th place that much more impressive.
“It’s a shame that we weren’t permitted to join the qualifying, we could have done with the extra practice for finding a good set-up,” Dumas said. “I last drove the car at Road Atlanta. Compared to last year’s version, the 2.0 has made huge progress.”
The hybrid system in V. 2.0 weighs 120 kilograms, 50 less than the first-gen system. The electric flywheel is about 90 percent efficient, and the hybrid drivetrain delivers a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy over the conventional 911 GT3 R race cars, Steinhauser said. Porsche also reduced the weight of the car, which comes in at 1,300 kilograms.
So far the 911 GT3 R Hybrid is just a showcase for Porsche’s “Intelligent Performance” advanced drivetrains, but we’ll see a similar system in the gorgeous 918 RSR race car. Porsche hopes to see the American Le Mans Series create a classification for hybrid drivetrains in time for the 2014 season.
More than that, though, the hybrid racer is a glimpse of Porsche’s future. The company has said it plans to one day offer a hybrid version of every model it makes — we’ve already driven the impressive Cayenne S Hybrid, and the Panamera S Hybrid is coming — and the GT3 R Hybrid could provide a glimpse of a gas-electric flagship from Stuttgart.
“This race car shows the potential applications for a car like the 911,” Steinhauser said.
Photos: Jim Merithew/Wired.com
The 911 GT3 R Hybrid on the track. The orange stripes are the same color as the high-voltage power cables that deliver juice to the motors.
“Someone suggested green,” Steinhauser said. “But we said, ‘No, that’s too predictable.’”