Porsche’s 919 Hybrid, an instant classic from the moment it took the fight to Audi and Toyota in 2014, will fire up for the final time in World Endurance Championship competition on Saturday.
Endurance racing’s most interesting engine – scratch that – motor racing‘s most interesting engine, a turbocharged V4 with dual hybrid systems, will fall silent after six hours of racing in Bahrain, and for those of you who share my love for the spirit of innovation, bidding farewell to Porsche’s all-conquering 919 will be a sorrowful event.
The accolades are easy to compile for the German prototype: the 919 has amassed an LMP1 triple-double with three straight overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three consecutive Drivers’ titles and, as of today, two Manufacturers’ championships on the trot.
Depending on how the Bahrain race plays out, Porsche could close the 919 program with its third Manufacturers’ honors – a clean sweep of every major award Le Mans and the WEC has to offer since 2015.
The 919 project extended Mark Webber’s career after Formula 1, made F1 star Nico Hulkenberg a Le Mans winner on his first try, took Brendon Hartley from the doldrums of racing a Daytona Prototype with Scott Mayer in 2013 to a place where he used the success earned with Porsche to land an F1 drive with Toro Rosso, and even Marc Lieb, one of the brand’s GT aces, was able to adapt to the warp-speed power and grip to add his name to the legends who’ve won the world’s greatest endurance race.
But those opportunities would not have been possible without the raging creativity and technology contained within the best-of-its-generation 919 Hybrid.
Upon its decision to enter to the LMP1 class, Porsche took the R18 turbodiesel concept that sister VAG brand Audi had used to such great effect, singled out its two greatest weaknesses as the primary areas to explore, and birthed a chassis that only new-car reliability woes kept from dominating its debut season.
The Audi’s powerful but stupendously heavy diesel motor served as the inspiration to create a miniscule 2.0-liter V4. The feather-light motor, with its impossibly short architecture, nestled itself against the 919’s carbon fiber tub to such a degree that it’s easy to miss. And thanks to the lack of weight and size, fitting a thermal-based hybrid system that takes its charge from the turbocharger exhaust was added without any cost the car’s handling performance.
During the same creation period for the 919, Toyota’s TS030 and TS040 held value with its slippery aerodynamics that clearly inspired the aft section of the Porsche, but little else was highlighted for consideration in its design offices.
Combined with the most powerful axle-driven hybrid system in the class, the 919 set a new standard for exploding off corners when maximum megajoules and more than 1000 combined horsepower was deployed. Deft on its four Michelins, the Porsche was remarkable in fast, sweeping corners as its balance and optimized weight distribution carved through esses in breathtaking fashion. Introduced with F1-style interlinked suspension, the 919 controlled body roll and also featured supple ride control that allowed the car to settle under braking and acceleration in an instant.
An engineering marvel, created with hundreds of millions of VAG dollars for our sustained amusement, the 919 Hybrid brought the brand its 17th, 18th, and 19th victories at La Sarthe. The program’s mechanics, engineers, drivers, and all the rest have or will find work elsewhere within the company, or at new racing teams. Their personal legacies will continue. Sadly, the most amazing prototype from the LMP1-Hybrid era will not.
Be sure to tune in for its swansong on FOXSports, and if you want to hear the 919’s war cry for nostalgia’s sake, ambient audio from the WEC’s visit to Circuit of The Americas in 2016 might do the trick.
(The pair of Porsches can be heard in isolation starting at 49m32s during qualifying.)