Friday 15 April 2016

WEC Silverstone: LMP1 preview


Will Porsche be able to dominate again after clinching all titles in 2015 ? To do so, they 'll have to beat Audi and Toyota again, but both challengers are racing with brand new cars this season. Amongst the updates in the regulations are a restricted fuel flow to get to an even higer fuel efficiency, a maximum of three aero packages for the whole season and a maximum amount of time for road and windtunnel testing. Despite those new 'restrictions', the laptimes at the prologue were very impressive and it's beleieved that all factory cars will have a combined power (engine + hybrid) of 1000 hp or even more. 

Defending champions and Le Mans winner Porsche introduced a new 919 Hybrid last year. No new car for Porsche this year but a heavily revised version of the 919.  For the new season, the car has had some significant aero and performance upgrades to take on the competition of both new challengers presented by Audi and Toyota. The powerplant of the 919 is still the impressive 2-litre turbocharged V4, combined with two energy recuperation systems, one at each axle. Porsche stays in the 8 megajoule class just as last year. 

Improvements to the engine are a significant weight and fuel consumption reduction. Also both energy recovery systems of the hybrid drive have been improved in terms of efficiency.  Porsche immediately showed their speed at the Prologue last month and was outright fastest during all sessions. 

No change in the driver squads with Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber in the #1 and Romain Dumas, Neel Jani & Marc Lieb in the #2 car. 

Audi was the first to show its new R18 at the end of last year and immediately started their extentsive test program at Sebring. The all new R18 has been completely redesigned and features new and optimised aerodynamics, more efficiency and a completely new hybrid system. 

The engine is still the 4 litre V6 powerplant, with an increased efficiency, resulting in a much lower fuel consumption. The current V6 TDI consumes a massive 32,4% less fuel than the first generation in 2011. Audi stepped away from their flywheel hybrid system on to an electrochemical storage system with batteries, comparable to the system Porsche uses. With the use of this new technology, Audi steps up to the 6 megajoule class, enabling the energy system to recover 50% more energy. 

No change in the driver line-ups; Marcel Fässler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer will race the #7, the #8 will be driven by Lucas Di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loïc Duval. 

At the prologue, Audi's R18 wasn't clear of technical gremlins, will they have had time enough to resolve those and have a reliable machine at the start of the race on Sunday ? 

© WEC -
Toyota Gazoo Racing struggled last year to keep up with the pace of the Audi's, and more important of the Porsches. Early in the season the decision fell to stop the development of the TS040 and start working on its successor, the TS050. Toyota's new weapon made its debut at the prologue at Paul Ricard last month. 

The TS050 Hybrid is – just as the Audi – a completely new car, with a new engine and new hybrid system. No more screaming V8 in the back of the car but a 2,4 litre twin turbocharged V6 petrol engine and an 8 megajoule Hybrid system, putting Toyota in the same hybrid class as Porsche.  Toyota also switched to a battery operated hybrid system, recovering energy under braking or drawn from the engine though 2 electric motors.  

During the Prologue last month, the TS050 already showed some very fast pace, putting in several (very) quick sector times, but never seemed to push throughout for a whole lap. It's also not clear in which aero configuration the car ran, practice and qualifying at Silverstone will really show how fast the TS050 is. 

The #5 will be in the hands of the 2014 World Champion Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima again. After the retirement of Alex Wurz at the end of last season, Kamui Kobayashi will take his place in the #6, sharing the car with Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway. Wurz has been named Grand Marshall at Le Mans in June, but is also listed as reserve driver for Toyota.

LMP1 (privateers)

Rebellion racing retain their Rebellion R-One, powered by the twin turbo AER P60 V6 engine. As opposed to last year, Rebellion uses an earlier version of the engine, which is less powerful but has proven itself more reliable. 

ByKolles Racing is the final competitor in the LMP1 class, with the CLM P1/01. Kolles worked hard to improve reliability and speed of the car, let's hope they can hook themselves up to the tempo of both Rebellions. Simon Trummer and Oliver James Webb will race the complete WEC season, together with Audi driver Pierre Kaffer. As Kaffer has other racing commitments during Silverstone and Spa, he will be replaced by James Rossiter at the first two races of the season. 

Kristof Vermeulen
Prologue pictures by Lofty.