Last weekend's American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca had enough in the way of story lines with five classes and two championships that were decided.
Although it ran unclassified, Porsche's 911 GT3 R Hybrid was among the race's stars, even if technically it didn't have any competitors.
The hybrid has come a long way since its initial appearance on U.S. soil in the 2010 Petit Le Mans. Purely on pace, the car ran in the lower half of the GT competitors and ahead of the GTC class Porsche GT3 Cup.
But in Monterey, the hybrid driven by Porsche factory drivers Romain Dumas and Richard Lietz regularly threatened the top of the time sheets in GT and blitzed all competitors with the fastest overall GT race lap. Not to mention finishing ahead of all of them as well.
Before racing in Monterey, Flying Lizard and factory Porsche pilot Jorg Bergmeister predicted the hybrid would easily eclipse the rest of the GT field.
“Performance-wise, I would expect they'd be ahead of the GT cars, definitely, if everything runs smoothly,” he said. “But it's a development project. I would expect them to be ahead of us. They won't affect our strategy or what we're doing on track.”
Bergmeister was correct on all counts. The hybrid finished 10th overall, one spot ahead of Bergmeister's and Patrick Long's GT-class winning Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Pace was part of it – as an example, the car worked its way from the rear of the field to 19th place overall and behind only five GT cars in the first half hour – but naturally, so was efficient.
The car's electric motors – a flywheel-based restorative energy system and a 120-liter fuel cell – paid dividends. The hybrid's calling card is its ability to go farther on a tank of fuel (E-10 for this race). While most other GT cars stopped anywhere from 55 minutes to an hour and 10 minutes into the race, more than an hour and 20 minutes passed before the hybrid needed its first pit stop.
The hybrid took only three stops to its competitors' five or more. Although not eligible in the Michelin GREEN X Challenge – hybrid technology has not yet been fully homologated into the regulations – the hybrid showed its ability on how little energy the car uses per liter of fuel, said Doug Robinson, a green racing adviser to IMSA.
Of course, beyond its environmental impact, the key to the hybrid's success in year two has been various performance upgrades. Bergmeister explained: “The hybrid project is super impressive,” he said. “When I first drove it last year, I think in February, we just rolled a couple of meters on the electric engines/motors. The development of this project has not only been a lot of fun for me, but amazing for those people involved and to see the stats. Last year we were doing these manually, but now automatically. Just look at the steering wheel if you get the chance!”