Here we go everybody, the big one we’ve been waiting for the entire winter. We watched the launches, the livery reveals, and the Prologue at Paul Ricard. It’s now time to get down to business in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.
For 2014 there has been a wholesale shift in regulations with the emphasis now being placed on efficiency. So air restrictors and maximum cylinder numbers have been done away with in LMP1 and in their place we have massive hybrid systems and a new fuel flow formula. The cars have been made narrower and have smaller wheels to increase the field of vision for the drivers, and the minimum weight for the LMP1-H cars (hybrid) has been changed from 900kg to 870kg. That as well as a radical change in the regulations concerning the front of the car that have allowed for the nose of the car to be separated from the front splitter, effectively creating a front wing. The fuel flow combined with how long the drivers can make the electric energy last between recovery zones will determine how much of the car’s combined power will be available for the lap, and thus also determine the ultimate pace of the car.
These new rules have given birth to a battle of truly epic scale. Will the Old Master Porsche return and show his younger brother Audi and the upstart Toyota that he is still number one. Will Toyota become the second Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans and finally cross off that world championship that TMG has hunted for all these years? Or will Audi continue in the form they’ve maintained since 2000? How will the non-hybrid Rebellion R-One fare against the might of the manufacturer teams? The answers lie ahead.
Audi enters the season as the perennial favorite (no surprises there), with a brand new car freed from the 4WD speed limit, a 2 megajoule flywheel hybrid system (the smallest allowed) with only one Motor Generator Unit (MGU), on the front axle, and a change from a 3.7 to a 4.0 liter V6 turbodiesel engine. The engine change and the (relatively) small hybrid system really confused me; why would they go to a bigger engine when the new regulations seem to be forcing smaller engines and bigger hybrid powertrains? I’ve come up with a few reasons reasons why: one- a bigger engine means that it doesn’t have to rev as high to make the same power thus improving efficiency, two- that they intend to rely on their engine more than they rely on the hybrid system-which is indicated by their choice of the 2MJ system, and three- that Audi has gone the conservative approach because reliability is always one of the most important of Audi’s priorities. For which they seem to have been punished in the most recent Equivalence of Technology table; with their fuel tank size shrinking from 54.8 to 54.3 liters and their fuel allocation shrinking from 140.2 to 138.7MJ. But Joest Racing’s hustle is tight, and I trust that they’ll use what they have been given to their advantage.
In testing the 2014 Audi R18 has proven to have an interesting performance envelope. It set the fastest Sector 3 time at Paul Ricard (Signes to Start-Finish) being a 44.400 seconds, and having the fastest session time in that sector in four of the five sessions, but they were never higher than fourth through Sector 2 (Mistral Straight) and they set the fifth fastest trap speed at 302.5kph, which is 37.1kph slower than the fastest car- the #14 Porsche. That and being consistently in the top three of Sector 1 (Start-Finish to L’ecole) times throughout the sessions can means that Audi simply didn’t bring a low downforce configuration (and they’re saving it to run on the #3 car at Spa) and that current aero package was developed with downforce in mind rather than minimizing drag and maximizing efficiency.
As for their drivers, Audi once again returns with their team of all-stars. Allan McNish’s retirement left a huge void not only in Audi’s lineup but in sports car racing as a whole, but Audi has named Lucas di Grassi as his replacement in the #1 car with last year’s Le Mans and WEC champions Loïc Duval and the King of Denmark himself, Tom Kristensen. And in the #2 are the 2011 and 2012 Le Mans winners, as well as 2012 WEC champions Marcel Fässler, Andrè Lotterer and Benoit Trèluyer. Both lineups are stacked, but it will be interesting to see how well Lotterer and Duval handle the double duty of a full WEC season AND a full season of Super Formula (Formula Nippon) over in Japan while they develop new cars in both series. With the restrictions placed on the car, the driver that is smoothest behind the wheel while being able to push and make up time will come out ahead in the long run.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding the Toyota TS040, with the 1,000 horsepower figure causing the first mention of the WEC on the Yahoo homepage in recent memory. This year Toyota has gone for a 3.7 liter V8 and a 6MJ supercapacitor system with an MGU installed on each axle. The 3.7 liter engine has undergone quite a change from last year’s; TMG has optimized this engine for maximum efficiency whereas before they were they were purely seeking power. It’s safe to say that the FIA has certainly helped them by increasing their fuel cell size from 66.9 to 68.3 liters and increasing their fuel allowance from 137.5 to 139.5MJ per lap of Le Mans. That allowance might give them some wiggle room, almost like finding you’ll have 60 liters of fuel left in the fuel bowser for the final hour Le Mans back in the Group C era.
While the TS040 does carry over some concepts from its predecessor, it is very much a new car. But the version tested at Paul Ricard performed a lot like the TS030 did back in 2012 and 2013. The car was consistently fast in Sector 3, while much like Audi being down on the Porsche in Sectors 1 and 2. So it’s quite clear that TMG arrived with and proceeded to test with an aero package that was more suited to high downforce circuits like Silverstone. Extrapolating that data we can assume that a low downforce package is coming for Spa or the Test Day at the latest.
TMG has retained the same driver pairings as last year, with Alexander Wurz, Stèphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima in the #7 car, and Anthony Davidson is partnered by Sèbastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre in the #8. No real dark spots anywhere but Nakajima is racing in SuperGT and Super Formula in Japan as well as in the WEC, once again we’ll have to wait and see how the pressures of testing and developing three completely new cars effects his driving. Both lineups have a nice balance of aggression, but this is their first year driving a 4WD car, and they will have to adapt not only to that, but to the different characteristics of the new energy recovery systems that are mounted on both axles and not like it was previously where it was only mounted on the rear.
It’s been Mission 2014 for Porsche ever since they informed us of their return way back when. Their concept is radical, but Porsche doesn’t show up just to test and collect data for the following year, they come to win from day one. The 919 Hybrid fills out the trio of electric energy storage systems with a 6MJ (but capable of 8MJ) battery hybrid system, with an MGU on the front axle and an F1-style MGU-H attached to the turbocharger on the very unusual 2 liter V4 turbo engine. Clearly Porsche has placed the emphasis on maximum efficiency rather than outright power.
This emphasis on efficiency is evident in the design of the car, it set the fastest Sector 1 and Sector 2 time as well as the fastest trap speed of the Prologue- a time of 30.384 and 25.183 seconds respectively in the two sectors that requires low downforce and low drag, and they were consistently the behind the Audis and Toyotas in Sector 3 where a high downforce configuration is necessary to set good times through the fast corners. That didn’t stop them from setting the fastest time of the test- a 1:41.289. Porsche ain’t playin’ folks, they will be coming out with at least two new aero packages: one for Le Mans and one for the rest of the season post-Le Mans, and one possibly for the first two races of the year.
Porsche possessed the worst kept secret in racing, that being a contract with a certain Mr. Webber, who has enjoyed his time so far with the team. He is joined in the #20 by the equally Antipodean Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. In the #16 we have Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb. When I first looked at the driver pairings, I was shocked to see that the Dumas-Bernhard team was broken up when they’ve been together since the RS Spyder days, but it makes sense when you look at it in terms of the overall performance of the team. Porsche has put one of its two most experienced drivers in each car to help mentor the two drivers who don’t have the sports car experience that they have. Mark is the only driver that’s driven a KERS equipped car, Timo and Romain were both kept in an R18 Ultra when they were at Audi, Jani was at Rebellion, Hartley has been driving an LMP2 and a DP car, and Lieb has been one of Porsche’s factory GT drivers for a while now. It’s been a long time since Marc Lieb’s driven a downforce car (opposed to a GT car that predominantly uses mechanical grip), so I would have to say the #20 is the stronger of the two lineups.
We now come to the real quandary of the LMP1 field, Rebellion Racing has yet to run their new car- the Oreca designed and built R-One; built to LMP1-L regulations, which are for privateer, non-hybrid cars. The team has in fact decided to run their old Lola B12/60s at Silverstone, and there are doubts over whether the car will race at Spa as well. All we know is that Nick Heidfeld, Nicolas Prost and Mathias Beche will drive the #12, and Fabio Leimer, Andrea Belicchi and Dominik Kraihamer will race the #13.
Season predictions: Toyota wins the Manufacturers’ championship, but the #2 Audi wins the Driver’s title. I think Audi will have the edge on the faster tracks like Silverstone and Spa, but lose out on the slower circuits like Bahrain.
That’s all for LMP1, Part 2 will cover the less advanced but no less exciting LMP2 class.