New rules for maximum efficiency and safety
When the new LMP1 regulations come into effect in 2014 a large number of fundamentals will radically change. In more than 100 years of motorsport, the rule-makers typically endeavored to restrict engine outputs in order to prevent excesses. Contrary to established practice, the new WEC regulations no longer limit engine output through cubic capacity restrictions, the number of cylinders or the use of air restrictors. Instead, the energy consumption of the race car is now taking center-stage. The idea takes getting used to. Until now, the turbo diesel engine of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro was limited to 3.7 liters of displacement while the permissible maximum size of gasoline engines used by LMP1 race cars was 2 liters (turbo engines) or 3.4 liters (normally aspirated engines). As of 2014, displacement no longer numbers among the limiting factors. In the past, the engine was supplied with air through an air flow restrictor (45.1 millimeters in the case of Audi’s V6 TDI). In the future, gasoline and diesel engines will be allowed to ‘breathe freely.’ While in the past moderate boost pressure restrictions applied to turbocharged engines (diesel: 2.8 bar; gasoline: 2.5 bar), 4 bar is now allowed – a new challenge.
Energy and its consumption are becoming the key feature. In the future, energy charts will define the maximum consumption per lap. Automobile manufacturers have to choose one of four energy classes. The chart allows a maximum of recovered hybrid energy, which may be reused in a certain way, in combination with absolute fuel consumption per lap. Flow meters in all the race cars check these consumption levels and transmit the data to the stewards of the meeting on each lap. The same happens with the energy amounts of the hybrid system. This makes a tactical distribution of fuel consumption over the entire race distance impossible. Instead, anytime the prescribed maximum levels are exceeded, the excess consumption must be compensated for within three laps, otherwise penalties may be imposed. Therefore, when it comes to covering the longest distance within a given period of time, the only things that count are the most efficient race car and the corresponding driving style of the driver.
Further steps are changing a few previously valid basic dimensions. For the first time since Audi entered prototype racing in 1999, the width of the LMP1 race cars has been reduced from the maximum of two meters to 1.90 meters. The wheels are significantly slimmer in 2014 as well. The weight of the race cars may be lowered to 870 kilograms.
Safety is another focal point of the new regulations. The seating position of the race drivers has changed in order to improve vision from the cockpit. The drivers are now sitting in a more upright position in the cockpit; their angle of forward vision has been enlarged. Cutouts at the rear ends of the fenders optimize lateral vision. In addition to active safety, passive safety has been further improved. The monocoque has been designed for higher loads. Special exterior layers provide protection against the intrusion of pointed objects. Wheel tethers help prevent wheels from separating from the suspension in accidents. From 2014 LMP1 race cars, for the first time, will also be equipped with crash-boxes at the rear of the vehicle in order to better absorb energy in rear-end collisions.
Motorsport has seldom seen such fundamental rethinking. The aggregate of all the requirements imposed by the new regulations forced Audi, like the constructors of all the other entrants, to build a completely new race car. Photo credit: Audi Sport Communication / Media