The brutal speeds on display from Audi, Porsche, and Toyota at Silverstone, Spa, and now Le Mans have managed to thrill fans and induce a heightened level of concern from the men in charge of the LMP1-Hybrid rules.
The year-to-year increase has seen lap times fall by more than five seconds at the first two rounds, and provided qualifying at Le Mans takes place in dry conditions, a similar decrease in lap time could push pole position into record-breaking territory. the remarkable leap in speeds on the straights and in the corners has inspired the ACO and FIA to look at ways to curb the rampant pace in LMP1-H before it gets out of hand.
“We are debating energy reduction at the moment because the cars are getting faster and faster,” Audi Sport head of technology Jorg Zander (LEFT) told RACER. “We’ve had something like 5.5 seconds lap time improvement in Spa over 2014. It is definitely at the boundaries. I really think that is what the boundary has to be, because in some ways, we cannot exceed the level of safety we can create for cars traveling at these speeds.”
Zander, along with representatives from the other LMP1-H manufacturers, has been working with the rule makers to get ahead of the explosive speeds before they become a problem. RACER also spoke with key officials from the ACO and FIA, who confirmed some form of speed cap is in development for 2016. It’s unclear whether the final changes would slow the LMP1-H field, or simply keep them from surpassing their present pace. It is known, however, that lap times in the 3min20sec range have become an informal benchmark for outright performance at Le Mans.
“We work together in the one forum with the Technical Working Group, and whenever we get together, we talk to each other and try to find good solutions for making the cars interesting for the future but without allowing the speed to become unreasonable,” he said. “In some ways, we’re trying to not manipulate the cars but improve them and have a handle on this.”
At the speeds the LMP1-H cars are now achieving, limited reaction times in the faster sections have become a genuine concern.
“You know that cars achieve a certain cornering speed where it’s really difficult for the driver to act in case something happens, so you have to do something—make some changes–to make sure at least there is a chance to get out of it in one piece,” Zander said. “Certainly here at Le Mans, we achieve top speeds beyond 330 kph, it’s definitely something that needs to be looked into. You get cornering speeds of 280 plus kph, and it’s the corners where the danger is present.”
The options available to the ACO and FIA for speed reduction include turning down engine and hybrid power, cutting downforce, and reducing tire widths. It’s believed the preferred method being championed is further restricting fuel flow—which would drive horsepower figures down.
Taming the R18s (ABOVE), 919s, TS040s, and GT-R LM NISMOs is a priority for 2016, and could include changes to hybrid power delivery and possibly aero configurations.
“You look into energy per lap, bring that down to a certain extent,” Zander confirmed. “You could do more fuel flow limits, and on the other side, you may want to look at improving or increasing hybrid energy a little bit so you get a little bit of a different balance there. You’re talking about an increase of energy from the hybrid side but at the same time you consider to perhaps limit the power to boost, boost your recuperated energy system. In all these things we are discussing at the moment.
“We are thinking about slight aero restrictions, but not as much to question the whole concept of the car, but the concept of these particular prototypes at Le Mans. There’s obviously quite a lot of experience built up in the concept of the car with regard to safety, and we do not want to lose this.”
The ACO/FIA’s Equivalence of Technology (EoT) formula allows a car like Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro, which uses a heavier turbodiesel engine, to compete with Porsche’s featherweight 4-cylinder V4 turbo in the 919 Hybrids, but if the speed reduction methods favor one package over another—a lighter engine, for example, it could force manufacturers to spend vast sums to build new cars and engines to remain competitive. Adjusting the current rules to allow the existing cars to continue, albeit at a pace similar (or slightly slower) than they are at present, would be preferred by Zander and the TWG.
“If we would end up where one technology has a massive advantage and would be on top of all the other technologies, then you may find a picture of a series perhaps similar to F1 with the same type of engine in every car, and people over time could just lose interest,” he noted.
“As I said before, it would force other manufacturers to go the same route and then you end up with the technology where there’s no variance and there’s no difference. Looking at the regulation as it stands today and what we consider to do in the next, say, two years, diesel technology is fine. This is not something we would want to have changed in one year, and this is the way all the manufacturers have spoken.”