Find or Sell any Parts for Your Vehicle in USA

CAR meets Porsche’s 2014 Le Mans chief

Wed, 11 Dec 2013

By Ben Pulman

First Official Pictures

11 December 2013 14:50

Porsche is returning to Le Mans in 2014 for the first time since 1998 with an all-new LMP1 prototype, and with ex-Red Bull Racing Formula One driver Mark Webber as its star driver. Audi has dominated Le Mans for the past decade, but new-for-2014 rules allow for any engine size and configuration, and instead focus on energy consumption per lap.

With the slate wiped clean, 2014 will be Porsche’s best chance to beat its fellow VW Group member, and the strong Toyota team.

After Webber’s first stint behind the wheel yesterday, Porsche has revealed that the new racer uses a four-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine, boosted by a hybrid electric motor that drives the front axle. The driver chooses when to deploy the boost, which is stored in a battery charged by on-board energy recuperation systems.

CAR has caught up with the man charged with overseeing Porsche’s return to Le Mans. Read on for our interview with Fritz Enzinger, head of Porsche’s LMP1 programme.

CAR: What’s your motorsport and racing experience?

Fritz Enzinger: After I finished my studies at university I went to work in BMW’s development department for three years, and then in 1986 I moved into the Motorsport division. I worked on European Touring Cars, DTM and FIA GT1 racers, and then I spent 11 years working in Formula One. The last thing I worked on was the M3, ahead of BMW’s return to the DTM in 2012.

My last Le Mans race was in 1999, with BMW and the V12 LMR. When BMW decided to go back to Le Mans I was in charge of coordinating between Williams, the Schnitzer team, and BMW.

How did your new role at Porsche come about?

I had a meeting with [Porsche boss] Matthias Muller and [R&D boss] Wolfgang Hatz two years ago, and it was a big chance to build a complete car with Porsche. I took the job, but we had no people and no facilities; now we have two buildings, the offices and the workshop, and 215 people.

I was the first employee, and as well as a lot of Porsche employees, I called a lot of BMW colleagues from the LMP Le Mans project, and some people from Peugeot as well. We have 150 engineers in one building – all the engine and aerodynamics departments and everything else – and the workshop and factory are right next door.

How do you develop a Le Mans racer from scratch?

In the first months we did a lot of simulation work, meeting each week – the first decision we had to make was about the engine, the second was regarding the aerodynamics. When we started the regulations weren’t 100% clear, and even when more information came out about the hybrid regulations in September 2011, it was not enough. But the latest regulations came out in June 2013, which is when we finished the car and it had its big rollout, and now we really push.

There were two possibilities for the engine, so we built both engines. There were different hybrid solutions for each engine has well. We decided eight months ago, and it was the most difficult decision we made.

When will Mark Webber next test the car?

In January 2014 we’ll test in Bahrain with Mark, and then in Sebring in February. We’ll reveal the car in March, and it will race for the first time in April at Silverstone.

[Webber commented after testing the car for the first time at Portimão; “My first day in this fascinating project was an intense experience for me. I would like to thank Red Bull Racing for giving me the chance to join the project so early. This is a major and important step for us all. It allows me to integrate with the team quicker and to contribute to further developing the LMP1 race car. We have a long way to go and it involves a lot of hard work. I have no misconceptions about this.”]

What are your aspirations at Le Mans in 2014?

In the first year we want to finish and be competitive. It’s Porsche, so if we’re not on the podium in the second year it will be a problem.

From January, we will fix the teams and decide who is racing in each car and who is engineering each car. There’s no decision about a third car for 2015 yet.

By Ben Pulman