Please excuse me while I devolve into an assortment of adoring grunts and drool-splattered mumbles. Porsche just debuted their 2016 919 Le Mans prototype, and I still love this car.
I won’t try to hide that I’m a big fan of Porsche’s World Endurance Championship effort. I have a 944. It does 24 Hours of LeMons races. It’s always been easy to spot my desk because it’s the one with Porsches all over it. If you are a big Porsche dork, the best possible present that the Easter Bunny could drop are photos of Porsche’s newest Le Mans car.
Porsche was the LMP1-class team to beat last year, winning both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the season championships. As Toyota and Audi have made their cars a bit more like the 919 for 2016, the 919 is keeping the faith in what served it well in 2015. Porsche’s own release on the new car says “there is less need to change” for this year. Why shake up a winning concept too much?
Like Audi, they won’t give an exact figure for how much power it’s making, although Porsche Vice President of LMP1 Fritz Enzinger says it has “over 900 horsepower.” Audi, for the record, said theirs had over 1,000 hp. Is Porsche sandbagging in their own press release? Either way, over 900 hp is still plenty in a tiny car that weighs as much as a Chipotle fart.
Just how tiny is the Porsche 919? Take a look at the front of the car. Porsche put a crest on the front that really shows off the miniscule size of its flagship racer. The crest is a tiny little spot on the nose of the 911, but here, it takes up a significant portion of the middle of the car’s nose.
Tiny prototypes are nothing new, however, I think we tend to forget just how small these things are until someone digs up that photo of a 917 being dwarfed by Porsche’s tiny 914 road car, or sees one in person.
Porsche went all out on optimizing the car this year, developing three different aerodynamic packages (the maximum number allowed under the WEC rules) for different tracks on the schedule. High downforce will reign for the start of the season, extremely low downforce will be used at Le Mans, and a third, different high downforce package will appear later in the season.
The 919's turbocharged two-liter 90-degree V4 engine has been lightened and made more efficient to suit the WEC’s mandate that all LMP1 hybrids use less fuel per lap this year—eight percent less, in the Porsche 919's case. This drops the energy output of the combustion engine down below 500 hp, whereas last year’s engine had well over 500 hp. Porsche estimates that the drop in power could cost them up to 4 seconds more a lap on the 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.
Thus, beefing up the electric drive was key to the 2016 919. The 919 plans to run the WEC’s highest-powered 8-megajoule hybrid spec. Porsche recovers braking energy from the front axle as well as exhaust energy to feed its hybrid system. Exhaust pressure drives turbines that are connected to an electrical generator in the car. Lithium-ion batteries save the energy produced by the front axle KERS and the exhaust turbines.
At full boost, the hybrid system adds over 400 hp to the front axle of the car, helping the 919 pull itself out of turns at insane speeds.
Likewise, the rest of the car has been optimized to be lighter. The chassis itself is more rigid, and The aluminum gearbox has been lightened as well, although it remains a seven-speed for 2016. The front and rear axles have been revised as well for better set-up options.
Even the livery is an evolution of last year’s “Porsche Intelligent Performance” wordmark, but this also means that all three LMP1 teams’ cars are some variation of grey, black, and white with red accents. I know LMP1 is one of the most secretive classes in motorsport, but come on—did no one in this class check with the others to make sure they weren’t all running the same general color scheme? For Pete’s sake, can we get a lilac LMP1 up in here? At least give us the sweet Salzburg 917-inspired red version again.
Porsche will run their two-cars as No. 1 and No. 2, not because of a joke I’m not too immature to make right now, but rather, in celebration of their 1-2 result at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. Bizarrely, Mark Webber ended up with Timo Bernhard and Brendan Hartley in the No. 1 car despite the fact that he’s famously “not bad for a number two driver.” Manning 919 No. 2 will be Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas.
In the meantime, here are a few more photos of the new car, which is a lot like the old car, but I don’t care—it’s still great. Enjoy.
[Correction, 3/24: Toyota’s press release for the 2016 TS050 Hybrid confirmed today that they would also be running the 8MJ hybrid spec, and this has been corrected above. Even though Toyota had confirmed this before, I misread one line in Porsche’s press release yesterday as insinuating that Porsche would remain the only 8MJ car for 2016. My apologies for the mix-up.]