WEC Preview Part 1: LMP1 Manufacturers

4.6 seconds. That was all that was between the winning Audi Sport Team Joest entrant and Porsche Team at the end of last years season opener, the 2015 Six Hours of Silverstone. Third place Toyota only 14 seconds off the lead. It was one of the finest and most captivating races I’ve ever had the pleasure to view.

Twelve months and a little while late The FIA World Endurance Championship is preparing for the 2016 season opener, once again, the Silverstone Six Hours. The question therefore is what will this season produce? Lets start by looking at the Manufacturer challengers in the LMP1 class.

Porsche

Credit- Porsche
Credit- Porsche The 2016 Porsche 919 Hybrid

Porsche come into the 2016 season as the reigning champions. Whilst last years FIA WEC season started very close, it did not finish that way. Porsche was absolutely dominant from the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June through to the season finale, and honestly no less is expected of them than another title in 2016.

The 2016 contender sees Porsche take a fairly conservative update from the 2015 car compared to its rivals. The base chassis remaining the same as the 2015 entrant which when you consider that Porsche basically built two brand new chassis concepts in a row in 2014 and 2015 respectively seems very reasonable.

The car will have a less powerful V4 2.0T unit than the previous season. Last season it was said to produce in excess of 500HP however the FIA WEC has changed the regulations for 2016 affecting all three of the hybrid programmes from the manufacturers.

Basically what has happened is after Le Mans 2015 when the manufacturer prototypes updates and consequentially Le Mans lap times took a huge leap is that the ACO decided it was time to try and slow the cars down and I’m sure that will get a few collective groans but it is interesting how this has been achieved.

The way this has been achieved is to limit the amount of fuel energy per lap and reduce the fuel flow, which according to Audi and Porsche reduces the fuel available to them by 8% and in theory therefore reduces the lap times by up to 4 seconds per lap of Le Mans. As a result of that lower fuel flow and energy, the 2016 Porsche V4 2.0l Turbocharged will produce below 500HP.

The interesting thing is what the engineers do about it to counteract any loss. Basically the way to do this is by creating more power with less fuel. Porsche has two hybrid methods for recuperating energy. The first method gathers kinetic energy on the front axle when braking. The second method is using the exhaust gas stream to power a second turbine unit connected to the turbocharger, gathering excess energy.

The energy from both methods is then stored in Lithium Ion cells to be deployed for a boost of up to 400HP according to Porsche. The Hybrid class of the 919 is in the 8MJ class, the maximum allowed under the current regulations. This years 919 should also according to Porsche benefit from strong tyre development in the offseason with Michelin.

The driver selection for Porsche includes Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb, Neel Jani, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.
Audi

Credit - Audi
Credit – Audi The 2016 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro

Audi Sport sits in the same position entering this season as Ferrari did to Mercedes in F1 in Australia. The team is coming off a strong 2015 campaign, which has given it a stronger platform for 2016 but not one strong enough to counter the dominant force in this case, Porsche. The start of the 2015 season started great for Audi but it faded and Porsche dominated from Le Mans out. Claiming victories with ever growing conviction.

2016 sees a major redesign in the history of the Audi R18 LMP1 programme. A completely redesigned aero package is immediately evident in the looks of the car compared to its 2015 cousin. It isn’t only the aerodynamics that has seen major revisions on the 2016 contender however. This years R18 retains the 4.0l V6 Turbo Diesel unit.

The team is using a Lithium-ion battery storage system this year which is the same as rival and sister Porsche. Moving away from the Flywheel concept that Audi have used since the start of the Hybrid era at Le Mans in 2012. This iteration of the R18 carries a singular Motor Generator Unit (MGU) with according to Audi a maximum power output of over 476 hp. However as previously mentioned briefly the new rules for LMP1 in 2016 play a part here.

The circuit specific limit on power usage as part of those attempts to slow the cars down mean that at Le Mans, the power output from this will be 408hp. The car can still recuperate the same amount as energy at all tracks on the calendar.

Consider this though, the maximum output of 350kw (476hp) is one thing in itself. However when the Hybrid era at Le Mans began in 2012. Audi’s original E-tron produced 204 hp and if rumours are to believed, the next generation of LMP1 regulations will allow for up to 10MJ of energy up from the current 8MJ limit then the Hybridisation in Sportscars has an interesting future ahead. Audi themselves in 2016 will be in the 6MJ class.

Audi’s 2016 drivers include Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis and Lucas Di Grassi.
 

Toyota

Credit- Toyota
Credit- Toyota The 2016 Toyota TS050.

Toyota’s 2015 season was underwhelming to say the least. The team won the 2014 World Endurance Championship with the TS040. Therefore the expectation was for at least a challenge, if not a repeat in 2015. Unfortunately for the most part, the 2015 season for Toyota comprised of finishing 5th and 6th behind Porsche and Audi.

So what went wrong? Well nothing particularly went wrong exactly. What did happen though was the huge rate of development from Audi and Porsche really caught Toyota off guard, coupled with a car that was nearing its development end with one more season (2016) potentially left in it. Toyota have chosen to bring many of the major planned changes forward a year.

The TS050 therefore features radically new aero at the front. The loud and brilliantly sounding 3.7 Normally Aspirated V8 Engine is gone having finished its development cycle. In place of this is a new 2.4l Turbocharged Petrol V6. Toyota has also dropped the Super capacitor energy storage system in place of adopting the Lithium-Ion method from Porsche, meaning all three teams are running the same method, from different manufacturers. The TS050 also features an entirely redesigned gearbox to cope with the changes in the remainder of the car.

The team retains the two hybrid KERS systems mounted on both axles as previously in the TS040 producing according to Toyota, 500PS (493 HP) The engine itself meanwhile will also match that power output.

Toyota’s driver squad includes Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi.

 

Who got it right?

We have a bit of indication of how well these concepts may or may not fare, from the WEC Prologue which took place earlier this month. The times from the prologue appear to indicate that Porsche is still the one to beat setting the two fastest times in the second afternoon session and the first of the night sessions. Behind them, if we read a lot into the times set at Ricard, which I don’t think is ever a good idea personally.It is testing after all, but the times currently show it as Toyota from Audi, with very little separating the two.

Comparing the actual times to last years Ricard test is interesting however, especially given Porsche set all four times.

Daytime times
2016 – 1:37.445 (Porsche)
2015 – 1:38.552 (Porsche)

Night time times
2016 – 1:37.487 (Porsche)
2015 – 1:37.220 (Porsche)

On that note, thank you for reading the first part of the 2016 season preview.

Tomorrow I will look at the LMP1 Privateers and LMP2 and then on Wednesday we will look at the GT classes ahead of the first round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season.