HOW fast could a regulated race car go if you just tore up the rule book? Porsche has found out, sending its semi-retired 919 Hybrid LMP1 endurance racer around Spa for one last, unrestricted lap.
The result? The three-times Le Mans winner is faster around the 7.004-kilometre circuit than a Formula 1 car. So fast, in fact, it has claimed the record; a 1:41.770 minute lap of the Teutonic Gods, at an average speed of 245.61km/h and a vmax of 359km/h.
Have a listen as Porsche works driver Neel Jani sets the lap record at Spa.
The lap has etched Porsche works driver Neel Jani’s name in history, ousting the previous lap record set last year by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel of his F1-hardened W07 Hybrid. The difference: a mere 0.783sec. Hamilton’s time, remember, was set in qualifying trim during the battle for front-row honours on the Spa Francorchamps grid ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.
To claim the title, engineers removed the 919 from the technical regulations that helped build parity onto the WEC field, and ensuring close racing between the Porsche, Audi and Toyota-badged prototypes. It’s dubbed the “Evo” version of the racer. The record tilt used developments that would have been rolled out to the 2018 WEC contender had Porsche decided to stick with the top tier of endurance racing, as well as a larger front splitter and rear wing, both featuring an active drag reduction system.
“The hydraulically operated systems trim the trailing edge of the front diffuser and opens up the slot between the rear wing main plane and the flap respectively in order to increase the aerodynamic efficiency of the Evo,” Porsche said. “Underneath the Evo the turning vanes and floor have been optimised with fixed height side skirts to increase the aerodynamic performance again as efficiently as possible. In total the aero modifications resulted in 53 percent higher downforce and an increase in efficiency by 66 percent compared to the 2017 Spa WEC qualifying.”
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No mechanical changes were made to the 2.0-litre V4 hybrid drivetrain, but removing the WEC-mandated fuel flow cap, set at 2.464 litres per lap, upped power from 373kW to 537kW. The amount of energy the 919’s hybrid system could scrape from braking and feed to the front-mounted electric motor was upped from 6.37 megajoules to 8.49 megajoules, giving the front axle a performance bump from 298kW to 328kW.
The brakes also swapped across to a brake-by-wire system giving Porsche more control over yaw. The power steering was modified to take the higher loads the extra downforce and poke put on the race car, stronger suspension wishbones were added, and everything that wasn’t needed for a single full-noise lap – air conditioning, the windscreen wiper, sensors, race control electronics, lights and the pneumatic jacks – was removed to save 39 kilograms for an overall 849kg race weight. Tyre supplier Michelin also did its bit, optimising the tyre compound to handle the extra grip requirements.
“It was kind of an engineer’s dream come true for us”, Stephen Mitas, the 919’s chief engineer – and an Aussie – said. “Having developed, improved and raced the car for four years, the guys had a very close relationship to it. We all knew, no matter how successful the 919 Hybrid was, it could never show its full abilities,” he said.
“Actually, even the Evo version doesn’t fully exploit the technical potential. This time we were not limited by regulations but resources. It is a very satisfying feeling that what we’ve done to the car was enough to crack the Formula 1 record.”
Will more track records fall? The Spa Francorchamps time attack was the first stop in what Porsche describes as a “919 Tribute Tour” that will have the race car hit the 24 Hours of Nurburgring track, the Earl of March’s driveway at Goodwood, and the circuits at Brands Hatch and Laguna Seca before it is parked up as a living museum piece. We’ll have to wait and see.