Though the Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo looks a lot like the WEC-spec 919 car it’s closely based upon, getting the most out of it takes a different approach.
In order for Neel Jani to rewrite the course record at Spa-Francorchamps earlier this year, he had to prepare physically and mentally for the task. Two months worth of neck preparation was necessary to deal with 5g-forces. In addition to the time in the gym, Jani had to hit the books. The tech-heavy 919 has a driver’s handbook roughly 40-pages long, and all of the drivers were regularly tested by the engineers to ensure they had the technical understanding to extract every iota of performance.
Braking adjustments, torque vectoring, engine settings, fuel-flow levels, and boost-pressure settings are just some of the considerations a driver must make while driving this mobile supercomputer. No wonder constant radio dialogue is needed between the driver and the team. To drive this (albeit in less potent spec) in an endurance race would be incredibly demanding, to say the least.
Though traffic and longevity weren’t considerations made when chasing the record lap at Spa-Francorchamps, driving the unrestricted version of the 919 entailed several new considerations. So much of the car’s behavior was altered by the improvements in downforce, mechanical grip, weight, and power. Now, arriving at corners some 30 mph faster than the WEC-spec car ever could, Jani had to deal with a slew of new problems. To minimize understeer or oversteer, Jani could control not only the brake bias, but the brake migration from the steering wheel. This function changes how the brakes, under pressure, move from the front to the rear — which can help balance the car.
With reduced weight, revised gearing, and more power, the rate of acceleration is astonishing and difficult to manage — even in a straight line. Therefore, to prevent the driver from missing an upshift, an automatic upshift feature is available with a touch of a steering wheel-mounted button. Even with paddles, the rate of gear changing is so rapid that it exceeds that of a 125cc-powered shifter kart; Jani states that he sometimes shifts 4 times in the space of just 2 seconds.
To eclipse Lewis Hamilton’s 2017 pole lap by nearly a second required outrageous straight-line speed, as well as cornering performance bordering on (but likely still less than) that of a Formula 1 car. For that reason, precision is paramount.
“Driving that car, you have to be absolutely awake. You have to have lots of presence of mind, you have to be right here; focused. Because, you know, Eau Rouge, we take — minimum speed right now is 303 kph. If you’re not precise, then in Eau Rouge, you will have a big moment.”
You can always trust WEC drivers to downplay a potentially fatal situation. That’s part of why they’re paid the big bucks.