by Luis de Sousa
Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 06:25:57 PM EST
The greatest car race of the calendar is on the road. Portuguese hopeful and pole-position taker Pedro Lamy had to park his Peugeot 908 for good with only 2h30 into the race. Listening to the the TV commentary I'm catching up on the motorsport world news. As usual rumors abound around this race and unlike the present classifications, not everything is bad news.
[UPDATE 14-06-2010] New rules for hybrid cars at the end. Full electric cars seem possible already for 2011.
There are two main trends to note: a reduction of engine volume and an all round introduction of KERS in motorsport. Le Mans series prototypes (LMP1) engines will be limited to 3.4 litres and 8 cylinders for next year, and a number of teams are already developing around KERS, notably Audi, something to be contemplated by the rules. There's also talk of a full electric prototype, though it is not easy to envision how regulation could fit it in.
KERS will be made mandatory for Formula 1 next year and plans seem to be on the table for a reduction of engine size down to 1.4 litres (!) by 2014. Formula 1 allowed for the optional usage of KERS during 2009, which was largely a flop, apart from a brilliant victory by Ferrari, at the only serious circuit of the calendar (Spa Francorchamps) and the invention of an electric-mechanic flywheel by Williams.
|KERS equipped cars won three Formula 1 races in 2009, but it was at the calendar's most demanding Grand Prix that it proved a real advantage, with Kimi Raikonen holding Giancarlo Fisichella behind him during half of the race.
While other teams worked with conventional batteries, Williams experimented with this mechanical solution that went by unnoticed in an otherwise mediocre car. Half way through the calendar Williams
opted to race without KERS; by the end of the season only 4 cars were lining up with KERS and for this year it was scraped from the rules. Luckily European carmakers have lobbied to get it back in 2011 as a mandatory car system.
Earlier this year Porsche presented a version of its production GT racer (911 GT3 R) equipped with Williams' flywheel. With an increase of only 40 Kg, the car's autonomy went up by 25%. Last month it showed up to be ahead of everyone else in the 24 hours of Nurburgring; unfortunately an issue with its internal combustion engine less than 3 hours from the checkered flag prevented an otherwise brilliant win.
|The Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid. It lead the 2010 edition of the 24 Hours of Nurburgring during ¼ of the race.|
Porsche developed a light prototype in 2008 for endurance racing in North America that went quite well in the LMP2 class. Powered by a V8 engine, it needs little modification to comply with next year's Le Mans specifications. Speculation is rife on the most successful endurance racing car maker being back next year with this V8 and Williams' flywheel.
Here's a bit of tech talk on this invention from Racecar-Engineering.com:
Like any flywheel system, to achieve sufficient energy density to make the unit small and light enough, the flywheel has to be spun very fast. Foley is not willing to say how fast but says it is somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000rpm. At these speeds, the only way to minimise windage losses and unacceptable heat build up is to run it in a vacuum. However, the big challenge is getting energy in and out without allowing air to leak in. His solution was to also make the flywheel into a motor / generator.
That way it can be spun up electrically, then used to generate electricity when the energy is needed. A stator is mounted in the outer casing and cooled by oil to remove any heat generated by the eddy current losses. However, the clever bit is the flywheel, which is a magnetically loaded composite (MLC). In order to stay together at such high speeds it has to be wound from fibre, but has metal particles embedded in it during the manufacturing process. This allows it to be magnetised as a permanent magnet. Now, as it spins, it can induce a current in the stator or be spun like a motor by a current through the stator.
The advantage, he points out, is its suitability to the requirements of a racecar. `Batteries are good for energy density if you want a car to run all day long, but their power density is poor if you want to release the energy quickly. They also have poor life and efficiency falls off if they are cycled continuously. Capacitors have good power density but their energy density is low.' He illustrates his point with examples of the ultracapacitors it would take to do the same job. They weigh 150kg each and it would take two to achieve the necessary storage capacity. The F1 version of his flywheel weighs 40kg to achieve the same result.
There are two obvious advantages over conventional batteries: lower gravimetric density and longer lifetime. If this system can be produced cheaply enough to equip conventional road cars it could be the most important breakthrough away from fossil fuels for the automobile since Ferdinand Porsche's electric wheel hybrid of 1901.
There are two wider view points to take away from these news and rumors: first of all car makers seem to be seriously tackling energy efficiency and secondly, when used correctly, motorsport rules can effectively propel practical innovation. If successful, Williams' flywheel can be the greatest development product Formula 1 ever gave to the auto-industry, after decades of what seemed a racing series disconnected from reality. May it be the first of many innovations.
And before I go check the race standings for a last time tonight, I'd like to take my cap off to Eurosport for its integral transmission of this year's race.
Sunday morning, as Peugeot blew up its cars one after the other, the portuguese Eurosport commentators gave it as certain rule changes for 2011 allowing electric cars. Apparently the Ginetta-Zytek partnership already has a car in development with such goal. So far I haven't been able to confirm this as certain.
What I've been able to confirm is the rule changes for hybrids, that where laid out by ASO last Thursday and can be found all around the internet. Here's from AutogreenBlog:
Hybrid systems will only be allowed to release up to 500 kilojoules of energy between any two brake applications and can only recover energy from two wheels. Hybrids will use the extra energy on the front wheels for all-wheel-drive in the same way that the Porsche 911 GT3R Hybrid does. No push-to-pass buttons like those used last year in Formula One will be allowed; energy can only be released by the driver applying the accelerator, much like roadgoing hybrid vehicles. The revised ACO rules will also allow new alternative energy recovery systems that use sources such as the dampers, exhaust gases or heat energy.
One restriction on the hybrid systems is that they must be able to propel the car at 37 miles per hour for at least one-quarter mile on hybrid energy.
Cars that use hybrid systems will have their fuel tank capacity reduced by two liters to compensate for the performance and efficiency advantages they gain with the new technology. All other cars get capacity reductions for 2011 as well, with gasoline-powered racers dropping from 23.8 gallons to 19.3 gallons. Diesels will be cut from 21.4 gallons to 16.6 gallons.
The American Le Mans Series has not yet announced how the new ACO regulations will affect its rules package. Over the coming months, the ACO will flesh out these new regulations, so stay tuned for further updates.
This is nothing short of a revolution. The most important thing to note here is the absence of almost all limiting rules that made the introduction of KERS into Formula 1 a failure, only an energy per break limit remains. It will put a much higher emphasis on efficiency by not restricting size or weight of the electric storage unit - there will be advantages to those able to develop lighter and/or smaller systems. Note also the apparent favouring of electric wheels, an option also left out by Formula 1 last year.
For these rules to have their full impact it is imperative their adoption by the North American championship. Known today as the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), this has been for many decades the most interesting/competitive endurance championship in the world due to an usually high number of participants (at least since the CanAm series in the 1960s). Though endurance racing has been living a resurgence in Europe since the introduction of diesel-favourable rules, the American tradition has a great deal of weight with many important races (Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta, etc). But given the cost reduction intents of the new rules, I'd say odds are for rule compliance across the ocean.
This is all pretty exciting if you're an endurance racing fan like me, but all in all I'm still expecting the demise of the automobile as it is commonly conceived during the following decades. I just don't think they'll cease to exist, they'll transform.