This year’s new prototype regulations are set to provide noticeable changes to the way cars look on the outside, but one of the more significant alterations the new rules bring will have a major effect on the inside of the high powered LMP1 machines.
When the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro is pitted against the Porsche 919 Hybrid, the Toyota TS040 Hybrid and the Rebellion R One in the FIA World Endurance Championship, not only will the drivers need to continue to drive to an elite standard, but also to a highly efficient one – otherwise, penalties are a possibility.
“Reproducing lap times with accuracy down to a tenth, has long been a hallmark of professional race drivers such as ours,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
“But in 2014, we’re making even higher demands on our WEC drivers. Lap by lap they have to meet an exact consumption target while continuing to battle for the best position on track. So the fans will continue to see thrilling action in the future.” For example, only a limited amount of energy per lap may be fed into the car’s powertrain through the hybrid system – 2, 4, 6 or 8 megajoules per lap at Le Mans, depending on the class. If these limits are exceeded, 10-, 40- or even 60-second stop-go penalties may be handed out. The same penalties apply if the permissible amount of fuel per lap is repeatedly exceeded. Likewise, the fuel flow rate and the engine’s boost pressure are checked.
“For drivers and engineers, it’s crucial to understand the complexity of the new rules and to apply this knowledge to racing situations in an optimum manner,” explains Leena Gade, Le Mans winning Audi race engineer from 2011 and 12.
“This requires a flawless information flow. We’ve got to keep the drivers informed of whether they’re staying within these limits over the radio.” So far, the tests Audi have carried out have been very successful. Even though taking a gentle approach to a corner effects the handling of the cars , if a driver is slowed by a vehicle heading into a turn, it may be beneficial to initially follow them to save fuel, overtaking it exiting the corner.
“The drivers are no longer putting the tyres and suspension under load as systematically as before,” says Gade “That’s why the car’s dynamic response is different.”
To Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi – who was involved in early tests of the latest R18 – the new rules provide an intriguing challenge.
“It doesn’t seem like I’d have to fundamentally change my driving style. In the past there were situations in which we had to watch our fuel consumption in order to put certain race strategies on track. Now we just have to monitor the consumption limit.” Will these new rules force drivers to be more passive on the circuit to save energy though? Lucas di Grassi, feels it isn’t an issue: “Even though consumption may heavily vary, the lap times are very similar and that’s why we’re running at similar speeds. It’s basically about saving a lot of energy in some sections without driving a lot slower on a whole lap. Our sport will continue to be great fun. It’s just that we’ll be using a lot less energy in it than ever before.”
“In 2014, though, the thinking has fundamentally changed,” explains Dr. Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Technology at Audi Sport. “Traditionally, technical regulations in motorsport have been focused on limiting engine power output – for instance though factors like cubic capacity limits, relatively tight constraints for turbocharging systems, or through air restrictors.
“By contrast, the absolute amount of fuel available for a race has typically been unlimited, and this was the case in LMP1 racing as well. But now, a maximum amount of energy per lap is specified. And we need to make the best of it.”