“The new FIA WEC LMP1 prototypes represent a major step into the unknown that has been overshadowed by talk of the new Formula 1. With only Silverstone and Spa separating us from Le Mans, there is much hard work to be done.”
Those are the words of DSC’s Paul Truswell, in a recent article discussing the different facets of endurance racing – and they’re a neat way to introduce a feature about AER’s new LMP1 engine.
For the Basildon, Essex-based company this engine is a natural progression – but it’s still a huge step forward.
The basics first. The P60 is a twin-turbocharged, direct injection, V6. It’s a clean-sheet design, created in-house at AER, and it builds upon the company’s long-standing experience with small, high-output designs.
AER boss Mike Lancaster reveals that “we’re a long way forward with dyno work. We’re on the third performance iteration, and it’s performing extremely well, so far.”
What he’s not prepared to reveal at this stage is the cubic capacity of the engine.
As we know, fuel consumption is all-important with the latest regulations.
“This aspect is absolutely vital now, and the key to success,” explains Mike Lancaster. “The engine has to work within a maximum quantity of fuel per lap and a maximum peak flow rate. The key parameter is BSFC (Brake Specific Fuel Consumption) and the target is to produce a lot of power for a small amount of fuel consumed.”
There are clear parallels here with F1, and the way European racing is heading generally. In due course, other markets are likely to open up for the P60. But AER’s development to this point has certainly been accelerated by its work as consultants with a major F1 team. This is real cutting edge stuff.
Mike Lancaster is convinced that this new era simply cannot be embraced with a development of an existing, normally aspirated V8. “We believe an old-style engine will be uncompetitive,” he says.
“The manufacturers are mandated to use energy recovery (2, 4, 6 or 8MJ). Privateers can avoid the cost of energy recovery and also as a result get a small weight saving and a little more fuel is allowed per lap (although no more fuel in the tank). The manufacturers, with their big budgets, will be expected to do well. That said, with the correct (and this is vitally important) choice of engine, a good privateer could now be competitive and capable of fast track performance.”
But this new era makes the engines “significantly more complicated – but that suits us,” continues Mike Lancaster. “We’ve spent a decade developing advanced small, very lean, turbocharged engines and almost seven years developing simulation software, and that has enabled us to produce a carefully-optimised engine size and configuration.” Hence his reluctance to reveal the size of the engine…
Complications necessarily include the use of two, quite expensive (mandated) fuel flow meters in each LMP1 car. “If you exceed the fuel limit, you will get penalised, so everything has to be extremely precise. We use our (Life Racing) electronics to optimise the fuel use at every point on a track and it has to be incredibly precise. We believe it’s no longer possible to develop a modern LMP1 engine in the traditional way. It has taken a massive effort and investment to get this far.”
Mike Lancaster is sure that his company has arrived at “a small, fast, reliable unit,” but one that incorporates technology that has been tested on track and “we know works.”
The first customer for the engine is the Kolles Lotus team, and the plan is to see the team’s first car racing at the opening WEC race at Silverstone in April, powered by the AER P60. Even the manufacturers have got a lot of work to do before that point is reached, but Mike Lancaster is quietly confident that all his company’s background and research will pay dividends.