With international motorsports organizations charging toward the dreams of “green” credibility, strategic partnerships between vehicle builders and component suppliers continue to reshape the racing environment. The gap between visionary racing technology and production reality continues to close.
Diesel-powered race cars, especially in the high-stakes endurance racing series, have stolen the majority of the fanfare. Specifically, the Audi R10 TDI and Peugeot 908 HDi FAP have logged multiple victories in their respective series. When their paths have converged, the rivalry has been tumultuous. Audi wrapped up a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the third consecutive year and Peugeot has been biting at their heels for 2008.
The latest news, however, is of hybrid hype. Per the allowances from the Automobile Club De L’Ouest (ACO), the entity behind Le Mans, teams will be able to enter hybrid powertrains in 2009, with full points-scoring competition from 2010 onwards. The rules stipulate that the technology must comply with “electrical systems already fitted or likely to be fitted to series production cars.”
Peugeot recently revealed their 908 HY concept. Based on the present counterpart, this diesel electric hybrid will feature a 60kW electric motor capable of delivering a temporary boost of power captured from regenerative braking, summoned by the driver on demand. Other kinetic recovery systems (KERS) will have similar characteristics.
Corsa Motorsports of Salt Lake City and U.K.-based Zytek Group Ltd. unveiled their Corsa Zytek Hybrid prototype in an aggressive campaign seeking a competitive advantage in endurance series. The joint venture will aim to build upon an established foundation of hybrid technology and look to advance the components for road use. In 2007, Zytek secured a contract to supply KERS systems to Formula 1 teams for the 2009 season. Corsa Motorsports hopes to bring the car to the American Le Mans Green Challenge in October.
Likewise, other teams are advancing forward with hybrid technology. Lithium Technology Corp. and Hybrid Racing AG finalized a deal to develop and market lithium-ion batteries designed specifically for racing vehicles. Their first full-fledged research and display vehicle is a plug-in hybrid-electric race car based on the Apollo exotic car. Earlier this year, the vehicle embarked on the 24 Hours Nürburgring and successfully completed the race without problems attributed to the electric motor or battery system. The conventional transmission, however, removed the hope for a competitive victory.
Motorsports has always been touted as a proving ground for innovation and a source for “trickle-down” technology to passenger vehicles. In some cases, the opposite is true, but those in the manufacturing sides of the industry need to keep a vigilant eye on how this type of technology translates from experimental to conventional uses.