The Automobile Club de l’Ouest announced the next set of rules for the top class of Le Mans prototypes in the world: LMP1. Big changes on the way include active aerodynamics, various cost-cutting measures and perhaps most interestingly, quick plug-in hybrid system charging.
But is it enough to keep Porsche around, who is rumored to be considering a move into Formula E along with an early exit from LMP1? Honestly, the move to make top-class Le Mans prototypes into quick-charging plug-in hybrids sounds like pure Porsche-bait.
There are few more road-relevant items I can think of than the need to develop a quick-charging plug-in system. Waiting for even a plug-in hybrid with a range-extending internal combustion engine to charge all the way back up to full is a royal pain that can force you to stay in one place for about an hour with today’s faster charging stations.
For mass adoption of plug-in cars to happen, they need to be as painless to live with as current-day gas or diesel-powered cars. Automakers have to hit tougher efficiency targets in the future, so they need to sell those hybrids and electrics. To do that, they have to develop faster charging systems.
Formula E isn’t a place for automakers to develop such needed quick-charging technology, as there’s no incentive to recharge cars particularly fast there. Formula E cars are always charged up to use their full charge over the course of a race, with zero recharging involved.
While teams can tinker with different power management solutions in Formula E, that series’ solution to the modern-day need to eke as much distance from an electric system as possible has mostly focused on sourcing a more powerful battery—not so much on lightning-fast charging.
Electric tech is clearly something Porsche is interested in, as they applied to be Formula E’s spec battery supplier for Season 5 on, but lost the bid to a partnership between McLaren Applied Technologies and Lucid Motors.
Now the Le Mans/World Endurance Championship crew is dangling the chance for Porsche to develop systems to charge up their race cars fast precisely at the moment when the pressure is on for hybrid and electric road cars to suck less.
LMP1 regulations for 2020 and beyond will require the cars to be able to go 1 kilometer after each refueling stop on battery power only. Teams will be able to give a quick recharge to their batteries while they refuel. Furthermore, teams must be able to finish races under electric power only. Power for LMP1 hybrids’ two energy recovery systems will not increase, staying with 8 megajoules as the most powerful system allowed.
Additionally, movable, active aerodynamics will allow teams to only develop one car per year instead of multiple aerodynamic packages as they do now, allowing them to cut costs. Limits are being imposed on testing, the number of major car components to use per season, staff sizes at race weekends and wind tunnel use. New sources of energy and biofuels may be explored as part of keeping Le Mans green. Several safety upgrades originally planned for 2018 will also come into effect. You can read the ACO’s full release on its plans for 2020 here for all the details.
While there admittedly isn’t a lot of incentive for Porsche to keep their now older and off-pace 919 around until 2020, the new regulations for after 2020 sound like exactly what LMP1 needs to do: refocus on road-relevant technologies, and slash costs wherever possible.
Even if Porsche does call it quits in LMP1 to go race much less expensive Formula E cars instead, there’s some hope that they’re also still trying to court other manufacturers to come in to the class. But given what Porsche has to develop on its road car side and its prior interest in developing battery systems to race, these new rules sure sound a lot like Porsche bait.