All-New RSR: Mid-Engined 911 Revealed
At the L.A. Auto Show Porsche has revealed its first true mid-engined 911 in the model’s 50-year history – the all-new RSR race car. But just why has it abandoned the 911’s traditional engine layout philosophy?
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The RSR has enjoyed numerous successes over the past three-years, but in more recent times things have been tougher. Porsche’s results in 2016 with the 911 RSR, the firm’s full-fat endurance racing 911 designed to compete in the GTE class of the World Endurance Championship and the IMSA SportsCar Championship, might register as just that. Back in June the Head of Porsche Motorsport, Doctor Frank Walliser, broke down in tears at a press conference ahead of the Le Mans 24-hours, not purely because his RSRs were not fast enough, but rather as they were competing in what he saw as an unfair environment.
That Porsche had improved its cars ahead of the high profile 24-hour race was not in question, they were half a second quicker than they had previously been at the official Le Mans test day earlier in the year. Rather the issue was that Porsche’s rivals, chiefly Ford and Ferrari, had made a far larger step – gaining almost five-seconds per lap. One cause for the vast performance gap was that Porsche had been unfairly penalised by ‘Balance of Performance’ (BoP) regulations, a somewhat objective set of rules created to promote close racing.
The Balance of Performance
Adding ballast to a fast car, lowering boost pressure (in the case of force-induced cars) or fitting air restrictors to engines, and regulating fuel capacity, has become an accepted way to slow quick cars in some modern endurance and touring car racing formula. It allows race officials to slow the faster cars down in order to level the playing field – in theory guaranteeing closer racing. But it’s not an exact science and it’s open to foul play or a creative interpretation of the rules. During test or practice sessions, a team could easily disguise its outright pace, appearing slower than it perhaps is, in order to circumnavigate rule-makers imposing BoP penalties. Just how do you determine if this sort of thing is going on? Each team makes it data available to the authorities, but it’s how that data is interpreted which is the problem. Walliser’s emotion this summer suggested pure frustration born out of these regulations.
One might imagine it was at this point that Walliser and Porsche Motorsport’s design team began thinking rather radically – perhaps it was time to revolutionise the 911 in order to make it quicker? As radical, perhaps, as moving its engine placement around? In reality though the car revealed at this week’s L.A. Convention Center gathering has been in the works since the end of 2015. We know this because Porsche had to telegraph its intentions to move the RSR’s engine forward to the motorsport governing body, the FIA, as the new layout would require technical homologation waivers given that it differed from the layout of its 911 road car.
So, the all-new RSR has its engine placed in front of the rear axle, the first* 911 (*aside from the GT1 which won Le Mans in 1998, itself loosely based on a 911) ever to sport such a layout. It goes without saying that Porsche has a long history of creating competent mid-engined race and road cars, but this new car marks the first instance of utilising the concept underneath a 911 body – read a body bearing more than a passing similarity with the road car. Out goes the faithful (yet now underpowered) old ‘Mezger’ engine, but with its replacement Porsche has not gone down the turbocharging route like its rivals – the RSR remains normally aspirated. Placing its new 510hp 4.0-litre DFI flat-six engine in the middle of the car offers improvements to weight distribution, handling balance and available grip. A car with its engine located amidships might also offer more weight distribution options when it comes to adding ballast too – think about those aforementioned BoP regulations. Porsche says the new car is the most extreme 911 yet.
The new mid-engined layout has allowed for a larger rear diffuser to be fitted to the car, mounted the same way as found on the 919 Hybrid prototype affording the 911 improved aerodynamics and increased downforce. The new RSR also benefits from the new generation of engines, although Porsche is suitably vague here simply stating that its six-cylinder Boxer produces ‘more than 500hp’ – estimates put it at around 510hp, that’s 50hp more than the old car but take all these figures with a pinch of salt. As before the engine is mated to a six-speed sequential gearbox with paddle shift, a multi-disc locking differential and a carbon race clutch also appear. What Porsche calls its ‘new design language for Porsche Motorsport’ debuts on the new RSR too, a car which we can expect to see competing around the world throughout 2017 in 19 races, most notably in the IMSA series and at Le Mans.
Dr Walliser said: “The new 911 RSR is a completely new development: the suspension, body structure, aerodynamic concept, engine and transmission have all been designed from scratch. The engine concept has enabled the designers to install a particularly large rear diffuser.” The weight of the car is 1243kg, ensuring it conforms with LM-GTE class regulations. State-of-the-art assistance systems on the new 911 RSR include: a radar-support collision warning system (to avoid clashes between it and faster machinery, such as LMP1 cars), a new safety cage, and a new rigidly-mounted seat. The new RSR can also be worked upon more easily and quickly: certain carbon-fibre body parts can be swapped in a far shorter time thanks to quick-release fasteners. Changes to the suspension setup can be performed more efficiently, too. Smaller details, such as a new multi-function steering wheel, LED lights and an updated air-conditioning system also feature.
Porsche’s all-new 911 RSR will make its debut at the Daytona 24 hours in late January 2017. Marco Ujhasi, Head of GT Works Sport, said: “Since its first rollout in Weissach in March this year we’ve covered 35,000 test kilometres on racetracks in Europe and North America – that’s more than in the development of any other Porsche GT racer.” But the big question is this: can a mid-engined Porsche really be considered a bonafide 911?