Ingram's Flat Spot On: Green Power to rule?

Ingram's Flat Spot On: Green Power to rule?

Ingram's Flat Spot On Green Power To Rule? by Jonathan Ingram Three incongruous viewpoints about the future of motor racing recently caught my attention. First, F1's reigning designer supremo, Adrian Newey, dissed the idea of the KERS...


Ingram's Flat Spot On


Green Power To Rule?
by Jonathan Ingram

Three incongruous viewpoints about the future of motor racing recently caught my attention.

First, F1's reigning designer supremo, Adrian Newey, dissed the idea of the KERS approach to hybrid power due to safety issues with cars carrying highly charged batteries. Next, Porsche indicated its intention of building a hybrid car capable of winning Le Mans over-all. Finally, I double-checked the Le Mans rule makers' stance on hybrids in 2010: they must be used only to improve fuel mileage.

McLaren Mercedes work on the car with KERS in the garage.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Here's the hottest technical topic in racing, the one realm where the sport can again lead the development of much-needed automotive ingenuity, but nobody seems to agree on how to go about it.

In F1, they've already dispatched the Kinetic Energy Recovery System after one season, even though Ferrari and McLaren each won races using hybrids with electric power stored in a battery. In addition to bona fide questions of safety, one suspects that squabbling among competing teams over issues of weight, expense and competitive balance had as much to do with postponing any further use of the KERS for another year.

If the question concerns safety, shouldn't that be a realm where motor racing is a leader?

Given the likely prospect we may well see a majority of the cars on the highway using hybrid power in another decade; motor racing should be in the forefront of its development as an efficient -- and attractive -- alternative to relying solely on the internal combustion engine.

Porsche believes that is the case. Hence the official announcement of its new 911 GT3 RSR hybrid along with eyebrows raised in the direction of an LMP1 prototype designed to win over-all at Le Mans.

Will the Automobile Club de L'Ouest, which makes the rules for Le Mans, alter its strategy on hybrids? It seems to me that would be an appropriate follow-up to the decision to entice manufacturers to build diesel-powered prototypes, which has fomented some spectacular duels between Audi and Peugeot as well as positioned Le Mans as a technical hotbed.

Rendering of the new Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid.
Photo by Porsche AG.

Doing something for the betterment of the average motorist has intrinsic value, but the idea of getting there first is what propels motor racing. In this light, Porsche has resolved the issue of battery storage with a flywheel system that can retain an electric charge generated by the braking for a period of six to eight seconds.

This methodology is a step toward better safety, lower over-all weight (another boon to fuel mileage) and points to other green issues by eliminating the use of batteries.

For the ACO, the issue is over-all safety for fans, drivers, crew members and safety personnel that may have to rescue a driver from a hybrid car equipped with a battery. But lurking, as always in endurance racing, is the thorny issue of how to equate cars with different power trains?

Equating hybrid cars to those with standard internal combustion engines under the same rulebook would be significantly more difficult than equating cars using standard fuel and diesel. That's one reason why the American Le Mans Series has been the home to the Ginetta-Zytek hybrid prototype occasionally. The ACO would like to see how it goes in actual competition without having to bet on its own 24-hour race.

It's no secret by now that Audi's success in this millennium can be traced in no small part to its ability to get off the corners better heading onto the straights. In a turbo boost-restricted and air-restricted formula, getting off the corners better is the ultimate key to success. Audi's electronic engine management, coupled with a sophisticated drivetrain, was decisive.

#48 Corsa Motorsports Ginetta-Zytek 09HS Zytek: Johnny Mowlem, Stefan Johansson.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Now there's a possible new electronic advantage. Electric power has no torque curve. It's instant-on at peak power. Given the methodology of the Porsche system, which would produce power coming into corners and use it up on the exits, clearly there's a performance advantage inherent with hybrid power.

Given that Porsche's dominance with its line of 956/962 prototypes resulted in no small part from the use of the Bosch Motronic ignition in the era of Group C fuel rules (and it didn't hurt the effort in America, either), one can assume the German company will exploit hybrid power to its fullest, beyond fuel mileage.

Come to think of it, the prospect of neck-snapping hybrid power in road cars gets more and more attractive. So one hopes the prospect of introducing new hybrid technologies (including the battery-stored type as well as the flywheel approach and who knows what else) will be exploited by the rule-makers at Le Mans.

If nothing else, that could turn the "power struggle" in F1's "Piranha club" back in favor of the KERS as the world championship turns green with envy that it's high ground on the environment, fuel efficiency and motive power has been taken by sports cars.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1 , Le Mans
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Johnny Mowlem , Eric Gilbert , Adrian Newey