CAR interviews Porsche's R&D boss Wolfgang Durheimer (2011)

Published: 01 February 2011

Dr Wolfgang Durheimer starts his new job today; previously Porsche’s R&D chief, Dr Durheimer takes up his post as boss of Bentley and Bugatti on 1 February 2011. Just before he left Porsche, CAR caught up with Dr Durheimer to discover the future he’s leaving behind at the German sports car manufacturer.

Dr Durheimer begain his career in the auto industry in 1986, working for BMW as a product manager, product development boss for the Motorrad division, and then as R&D boss. He joined Porsche in 1999, taking charge of the 911 product line, before becoming Porsche R&D boss in 2001, overseeing the development of cars like the Cayenne, Panamera, and next generation of 911, Boxster and Cayman sports cars. 

Durheimer on the Porsche 918 Spyder

Work on Porsche’s Carrera GT successor is, of course, ongoing, and Durheimer declared that the company would finalise the production specification of the 918 Spyder in the first quarter of 2011. ‘It will be a Spyder,’ he told CAR. ‘With a two-piece roof section made from carbonfibre like the Carrera GT's.’ He also revealed that just as Porsche’s stillborn Le Mans 5.5-litre V10 grew to 5.7 litres in the Carrera GT, the RS Spyder’s 3.4-litre V8 will be increased to ‘above 4.0 litres’ to meet the necessary emissions regulations. We hear it’s a 4.7…

Durheimer on Porsche's lightweight future

The 918 will be a carbonfibre supercar, but although Lamborghini has shown the all-carbon Sesto Elemento Dr Durheimer does not believe the price and manufacturing processes are anywhere near affordable for cars like the 911. Nor can Porsche’s rear-engined icon be built out of aluminium. ‘With the flat six engine there is not the space for an aluminium body,’ said Durheimer. To provide the same strength as steel, a greater volume of aluminium is needed, which can’t be done with the tight packaging requirements of the 911. Instead Porsche will continue to use high-strength steels, plus aluminium and carbonfibre parts where appropriate.

Durheimer on Porsche's hybrid future

A Porsche Panamera Hybrid will go on sale in 2011, but between that and the launch of the plug-in 918 Spyder Dr Durheimer declared that the company would not launch any other hybrids. That doesn’t mean they’re not in development though. ‘All our future sports cars are be prepared to get hybrid applications,’ Durheimer stated.

The new 911, Boxster and Cayman won’t be electrified from the start of their lives, either, but as the platform underpinning all three must last for two generations, it’s being engineered to eventually take hybrid powertrains. It’s the same step Audi has taken with the new R18 Le Mans – it’s not a hybrid, but it’s been readied so it can become a hybrid when the technology is ready for racing.

Meanwhile, Durheimer believes that the gains made by plug-in hybrids are so dramatic that they will eventually be rolled out across Porsche’s range.

Durheimer on Porsche’s flywheel technology

The GT3 R Hybrid will continue to race in 2011. ‘We will gather more information and data, and we will continue to improve it,’ said Durheimer. ‘It brings with it a new aspect: the new profile of the race engineer. It is quite a challenge but a lot of fun, as we have to refine our race strategies, select different mappings, decide if we should go slower but therefore finish the race without a pit stop.’

Durheimer can see the technology being applicable to rally cars, but not Dakar racers. And what of road cars? According to Durheimer, only the GT2 RS would currently work with the flywheel set-up…

Durheimer on Porsche's racing future

As well as heading up Bentley and Bugatti, Dr Durheimer will also oversee the entire racing activities of the VW Group. ‘I haven’t begun the job yet, but I need to sit down with a very big table,’ joked Durheimer. ‘Only then can I look at all the brands and make suggestions to the board.’

Thankfully, he reckons Porsche is best suited to competing for an outright victory at Le Mans.

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

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