Recently, Porsche completed a 36-hour test of its 963 at Sebring International Raceway, surpassing its overall mark of 6,000 miles of on-track testing of the new car.
It isn’t alone. The other three manufacturers planning to enter the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season — Acura, BMW and Cadillac — also are well underway with on-track testing and computer simulations of the new hybrid-based LMDh car in the GTP class for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
The deadline approaches, but the work for all four manufacturers is organized and focused, the mood calm and resolute.
“(It) is an ongoing process,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Porsche’s vice president of motorsport. “We continue testing our car at different U.S. racetracks. We aim for a perfect preparation for the 2023 Daytona 24-hour race. That said, there is still a long way to go. Not everything is sorted yet.”
That’s true for all four manufacturers. The arduous task of assembling and testing a new car and new technology has multiple complications, the main one being a short time frame.
When asked last month how many miles BMW had completed in on-track testing, Maurizio Leschiutta, project manager for the BMW M Hybrid V8 LMDh, said simply, “I would say not enough.”
When asked his goals for testing, he was just as brief:
“Mileage and keeping the car off the walls,” Leschiutta said, noting a crash involving the BMW M Hybrid V8 in late September during a test at Watkins Glen International. “We experienced an accident … that put the team under stress.”
Stress is something all four manufacturers understand, in part because — even if they’re accustomed to hybrid technology — this particular aspect of it is new to the engineers working to refine it.
“It’s such a level of integration that it’s probably beyond anything I’ve seen,” said Kelvin Fu, vice president of Honda Performance Development, which is working on the Acura ARX-06. “It’s pushing HPD, too, which is super exciting. From our point of view, it’s a lot of work to do.”
As testing continues, company executives have noticed an uptick in interest in their brands through the new technology and bold designs of the new cars. Cadillac, which announced in September that it plans an all-electric lineup of production cars by 2030, sees the hybrid racing technology as a suitable fit in its future production plans.
“We’re bringing it to life in a pretty authentic way,” said Meagan Quinn, Cadillac’s product marketing manager. “We’re really bringing people behind the scenes into the development of the program and the car. From that standpoint, everything we’ve seen and heard has been really well received.”
Likewise, Porsche, which has been running hybrid systems in motorsports since 2010 — including the successful Porsche 919 hybrid that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017 — sees the importance of further honing the technology.
“The hybrid technology is not new to us, but very important,” Laudenbach said. “Porsche is using a triad of engine technology for the road cars in this important transition era in the automotive industry, with fully electric cars like the Taycan, different hybrid powertrains in our range and the internal combustion engines in our sports cars. We would like to showcase the whole triad in motorsports as well in Formula E, IMSA/WEC and GT racing.”
The on-track element of preparing the car is just a fraction of the work that’s been done. Computer simulations — and not just the type involving drivers — are important steps in the process. All four manufacturers have logged hours on dynamometers, non-driver computer sims and live driver sims to get to the on-track point.
After the on-track work, the gaps are closed by further simulation.
“Nothing prepares you for getting out on the track,” Fu said. “That’s where you really understand how it all goes together. That’s where the engineers find the gaps in their sim. Having the sim has massively accelerated what we can do, but now that we’re at the track, we’re finding out that some things weren’t quite what we expected them to be or that we have to fix things. This is where you close the loop and then fine-tune in simulation.”
And the clock is ticking. Less than three months remain before the Roar Before the Rolex 24, the annual test session before the season opens with the Rolex 24 on Jan. 28-29.
“We’ve got a long mountain to climb before we’re ready for the 24,” Fu said. “The level of sophistication with these cars is incredibly unprecedented.”