Porsche Makes a GT3R Hybrid!
Two years ago, I was covering the 12 hours of Sebring, and I overheard some Porsche people talking in German. Those few years of German I took in high school came in handy, as I could swear they were talking about a Porsche Hybrid race car that would shave several stops off of a 12 or 24 hour run, with no performance compromise. However publicly, Porsche executives were saying that a hybrid Porsche sports car was a long shot.
Well, it is here. We give you the Porsche GT3R Hybrid. A purpose-built racing car, utilizing hybrid power.
In today's increasingly petroleum-shy world, every car company is developing alternative power solutions. Though electric vehicles pose some difficult safety issues in a racing environment, hybrid power presents some very real solutions and advantages on-track.
This is one of those rare cases where road-car technology has made its way to the race track. Usually it is the other way around.
In the road car marketplace, electric cars seems to making a run, but will likely be hampered by driving range limitations and recharging inconvenience for quite a while to come. Right now, there are various types and approaches to the hybrid powered vehicle.
Hybrid vehicles are everywhere now, yet still a relatively small percentage of cars on the road. Racing provides an opportunity for people to accept hybrids, and have them become something that people don't question. As they say, win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
I am a hybrid owner, and I have made a vow to never own anything else if I can help it. However, I am yearning for something that can get my automotive adrenaline flowing. I have a 2000 Honda Insight Hybrid that I drive everywhere. It is a much more fun car than one might think and handles surprisingly well, and is not an understeering sponge like a lot of road cars. In fact, I think the big battery in the back, and all that weight, is what makes it so fun to drive.
A hybrid vehicle is any vehicle that ultimately relies on more than one method of energy delivery to power the vehicle. Though the Volt is commonly referred to as an electric vehicle, it is actually a hybrid. It is a plug-in hybrid. It may just be the most practical product to hit the market, and we will be quite interested to see how it performs.
The Tesla is an all-electric vehicle that has shown us how fast and fun and electric car can be. Again, though we love this car, there are limitations that do hamper its practicality compared to a gas vehicle. Also, one could not race this car with its very limited range under full power. The heat generated from the fast discharge of the batteries as well, poses a potential safety risk and also quickly degrades battery performance.
As far as the driving public goes, we are married to the luxury, performance and convenience of our current vehicles.
Hybrids currently offer the closest thing to what we know, yet emit only a small fraction of the pollution, and stretch the gasoline (or other fuel) further. In reality, we see hybrids being the standard for a while until the other technologies can offer us something that does not drastically change what we know.
So where does this apply to the race track? Many people are unaware, and we will claim guilt in missing it ourselves...but a 24 hour race has already been won by a hybrid racing car. Toyota accomplished this feat with a Supra HV-R hybrid GT in the 2007 Toakchi 24 Hours in Japan. Yes, that was three years ago.
As we all know, F1 cars implemented hybrid power in 2009 with the KERS system, with some very successful results. It was a clear advantage to certain teams on many tracks.
So this really is not anything all that new. But for a car company like Porsche that has a huge investment and business in endurance racing to put out a racing product like this, is a huge step forward.
The car is meant to be a test lab for Porsche to finally put out a hybrid 9-series Porsche GT car. They already have a Cayenne Hybrid, so this seems like a natural next step.
The technology in this car however is much different from the hybrids we have seen before. For the GT3 R Hybrid, Porsche has designed a system where two electric motors power the front wheels while a gasoline engine drives the rear wheels, effectively giving the car a very unique all wheel drive feature.
However, we are unclear as yet if these systems work together simultaneously, or the car switches between them. If they work together, we wonder how the torque delivery is managed. If they work separately, we can see where this would be an interesting driving challenge, as the driver would have to change his technique from a rear wheel car to a front drive car, perhaps all in the same lap or from turn to turn.
Another way the GT3 R Hybrid is unique is that it has no batteries, which would add too much weight, and is actually one if the big limiting factors for any vehicles that utilize electric power of any sort. Also, the stored electric power in a battery leaves a live charge if the car should crash, creating a serious hazard for the driver and safety/rescue crew. For the GT3R Hybrid however, energy is stored using a flywheel generator that can spin at up to 40,000 rpm. Power is sent to the flywheel generator during braking and that power is available for six to eight seconds following each charge. So there would be no residual electricity in the case of an accident, as the flywheel would stop spinning by the time safety personnel would reach the car.
As for the power feature of the electric power, When the driver wants the extra boost -- as much 160 horsepower -- from the electric motors, he presses a button the steering wheel. That extra power comes in addition to the 480 horsepower produced by the GT3's 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine. The extra boost can be useful in accelerating out of a turn or when passing another car.
Besides adding power for accelerating and passing, the hybrid system can also be used to save fuel. Saving fuel reduces pit stops that take precious minutes, but it also saves weight, as the car needs to carry less fuel on board. So far, we have no figures on the mileage of the car versus it's gas-only sister.
However, we were very curious how this might pan out in a real race scenario. So we pulled up some lap charts from the 2009 12 Hours of Sebring.
By our estimation, A GT2 pitstop can be as quick as 60 seconds from pit lane entry to exit. Though the lap chart provided to us made it tough to figure, we came up with the maximum number of laps a GT2 car completed before pitting was (the Risi Ferrari) 30 laps. The average range among the other cars for normal non-yellow stops was approximately 28.5 laps. So if a hybrid car can get about 20% better mileage than the least thirsty car (which is not quite as much of an improvement as road car comparisons), that would be 35 laps between stops for the hybrid race car. Assuming all cars stop under yellow, which is a fairly common practice, and there were 3 stops under yellow last year on average, leaving 9.5 relevant pitstops (9 plus a short-fill) By our estimation, for that race, the way the yellow flags dropped, the hybrid would have had to stop under green only 8 times. The interesting part is that the hybrid would have been ahead of the Ferrari on track at the restarts, and would have a number of cars between them on track. So track position would have favored the hybrid each time. More specifically, under the last several stops, the hybrid would have stopped 5 times to the Ferrari's 5.5. That gives the hybrid about a 30 second advantage. So as long as the hybrid could stay within 30 seconds of the Ferrari, it would sail by when the Ferrari had to stop for a short-fill. So the hybrid could run about .2 seconds per lap slower and still win the race.
The other interesting advantage is that the car will have added power coming out of the corners which is key to making a pass in traffic conditions and restarts, and reduce the more risky move of passing under braking. So there are really many situational advantages to a hybrid racing car.
We are anxious to hear if anyone will be showing up on the grid at any ALMS events this year with this car. We can't wait to see how this car performs on the track. We will keep you posted.
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