Porsche's 2014 Le Mans challenger has completed its first test today at the maker’s Weissach test track in Germany. Porsche will take on stablemate Audi and rivals Toyota in the 2014 World Endurance Championship, which sees a significant change in the regulations that may well shake up Audi’s domination of the series and its stranglehold on the Le Mans 24hrs.
So what is the Porsche Le Mans car about?
Porsche has built its 2014 challenger from scratch and although we know it's petrol-powered, Porsche has not released any more details. The LMP1 sports prototype racer lapped Weissach in the hands of factory driver Timo Bernhard and is several weeks ahead of its schedule, to the delight of board members who were watching on. Fritz Enzinger, the head of Porsche’s LMP1 progamme, said that the speedy development will allow additional testing and tweaks for engineers as the new rules come into effect for 2014. 'This makes the competition amongst engineers more interesting and presents us with completely new challenges,' he said.
What are the new rules?
For 2014, there’s an emphasis on efficiency and linking the prototypes to real world, road car technology (even if it is expensive road car tech right now). There’ll be no limit for engine capacity, number of cylinders or turbo boost pressure. Exotic engine materials have been banned, so you can’t run electromagnetic valves, for instance, reducing cost. A higher dose of KERS will be available (up from 3.5 megajoules to 8.0 megajoules per lap), but fuel tanks will be smaller as well.
The Audi R18 which won last year’s Le Mans 24hrs weighs 915kg, but in 2014 this will drop to 850kg, with private teams allowed another 20kg less. The cars will be faster, but narrower with skinnier tyres and the driver will sit higher and further forward for improved visibility. All of this bodes well for a great tussle between the factory entries. You can read more about them here.
Hang on – will Porsche and Audi be allowed to race if they’re both part of the VW Group?
Yes. VW Group motorsport boss, Wolfgang Durheimer, is a fan of intra-team competition, as he believes that it helps the brand and makes the racing more entertaining. He’s told CAR that Porsche and Audi will be allowed to fight freely on the track, with Audi allowed to beat Porsche and vice-versa.
Audi basically owns the Le Mans 24hrs though, right?
Sure – but Toyota was a genuine threat last year, and Porsche is the most successful brand at the event with a record 16 wins. Audi’s recent domination is impressive, but it’s keen to build on its 11 wins. Porsche last won Le Mans in 1998, ironically with current Audi pilot Allan McNish driving the race-winning 911 GT1.