At the end of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Porsche announced they would be leaving the series, despite having a year remaining on the planned programme.
This week they unveiled the first part of of their farewell tour planned for 2018 with an evolution of the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Spa Francorchamps.
With no rules to conform to, Porsche have created an ‘ultimate’ version of their Le Mans and championship winning car.
An easy example of the changes made to the car comes with the power generated from the V4 engine, in 2017 at Spa, the 919 Hybrid could use 1.784 kilogram/2.464 litres of petrol per lap; This resulted of an output of around 500 horsepower.
Fast forward to this week and their latest evolution of the 919 produces around 720 horsepower, with restrictions lifted and updated software.
Even the hybrid system has received an update, producing 440 horsepower as apposed to the 400 from 2017.
Aside from the upgrades to the software on the engine, the 919 has undergone some aerodynamic changes, a new larger front diffuser and a new very large rear wing, both of these have actively controlled drag reduction systems, similar to DRS in F1 and DTM.
On the underside of the Evo the floor of the car has been optimised with fixed height side skirts to increase aerodynamic efficiency.
It is believed that the modifications give fifty three per cent high downforce and an increased efficiency by sixty six percent, compared to figures from 2017.
The Evo has also gained a four-wheel brake-by-wire system to provide additional yaw control along with an upgraded power steering and stronger suspension wishbones.
With the lap records as the ultimate goal,air-conditioning, windscreen wiper, several sensors, electronic devices from race control, lights systems and the pneumatic jack system were all removed for a weight reduction of 39 kilograms to 849 kilograms.
The cherry on the cake was a new compound tyre from long-term partners Michelin, developed especially for the programme.
“It was kind of an engineer’s dream come true for us,” admits Stephen Mitas, Chief Race Engineer LMP1, “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. 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 One record.”
Lap records begin to tumble
The pure version of the 919 hit the track yesterday (9 April) and produced a stunning lap time of 1:41.770 with Porsche works driver Neel Jani at the wheel.
This time was 0.783 seconds faster than the previous lap record set by Lewis Hamilton at the wheel of a Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid in 2017.
In comparison to the pace set by the Porsche team in qualifying for the 2017 6 Hours of Spa, the pole position time was 1:54.097.
“This was an absolute fantastic lap – an outstanding drivers’ performance from Neel and the result of great engineering.” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1.
“Today’s track record impressively proves the ultimate performance of the most innovative race car of its time. Our target was to show what the Porsche 919 Hybrid is able to do when we loosen the restrictions that normally come from the regulations.”
Team Principal Andreas Seidl added, “This additional success is the result of the LMP team’s hard work and a proud day for the engineers. One can only congratulate Neel and the entire crew for achieving it.
“All six 2017 LMP1 drivers contributed to the project. It was our target to show the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s abilities when we ease the restrictions that came from the World Endurance Championship regulations.”
Fresh from the track Jani admits he was blown away by the pace of the car, “The 919 Evo is brutally impressive. It is definitely the fastest car I ever drove. The grip level is at a fully new dimension for me, I couldn’t imagine this amount beforehand.
“The speed on which everything happens on a single lap with the 919 Evo is that fast that the demand on reaction speed is very different to what I was used to in the WEC. We are not only faster than the F1 pole from 2017.
“Today’s lap was twelve seconds faster compared to our WEC pole position from last year! We have had three very intense days at Spa. Today I knew on the very first lap in the morning that the car’s performance was super.
“The race engineers did a great job setting up the car and the Michelin tyres are sensational. A big thank you to Porsche for this experience.”
Beginning of the end
With the first part of this new chapter completed, the 919 Tribute Tour continues on to the legendary Nordschleife, completing a demonstration ahead of the 24 hours of Nürburgring on 12 May.
UK based fans will get their chance to see the car in action at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on 12-15 July and the Festival of Porsche in Brands Hatch on 2 September.
The final planned run for 2018 will see the 919 Evo in action at the Porsche Rennsport Reunion in Laguna Seca, California on 26-29 September.