Steering The Porsche 919 Hybrid
We’ve been privy to a glance inside a 919 Hybrid before when the likeable and hugely talented Brit, Nick Tandy, showed us around his 2015 machine. But as usual, there was one strict rule: no cameras. Indeed, Porsche is usually acutely wary of giving away any of its LMP1 endurance racer’s trade secrets, so typically getting a detailed look at its components is absolutely off limits. Happily though Porsche has allowed an in depth look at one fundamental part: the car’s steering wheel.
The steering wheel of any modern racing car is quite a thing to behold, besieged with buttons and toggle switches, the wheel is more than a device with which to steer a car these days. Porsche’s World Endurance Championship (WEC) 919 Hybrid drivers have 24 buttons and switches to contend with on their carbon fibre wheel, as well as six paddles (the rest had to go on the dashboard), and don’t go thinking that these stay in the same place from one season to the next: for 2016 Porsche has re-positioned many of these to facilitate easy operation.
Rectangular in order to easily allow drivers of different shapes and sizes to fit underneath it, the 919 Hybrid’s wheel features a large central display capable of communicating current speed, gear, motor management and the active charging state of the car’s lithium ion battery. A driver cycles through these by pressing the ‘DISP’ button on the top left of the wheel. The most frequently used buttons are positioned on the top edge of the wheel within easy reach of the driver’s thumb. Press the blue button (top right) and the headlights flash three times, used to warn slower traffic that a fast car is approaching.
The electric motor on the front axle of the 919 Hybrid supplements the turbocharged two-litre four-cylinder combustion engine, which drives the rear wheels. Drivers can request a boost of electrical power from the battery element by pressing the steering wheel’s red button (04), but in the WEC series this is rationed per lap. Rotary switches on the left and right (TC/CON and TC R) are for traction control, TF- and TF+ (light yellow), MI- and MI+ (blue) are used to tweak the engine and hybrid settings. Brake balance front to rear is adjusted with the pink (BR) plus and minus buttons.
Rather self-explanatory, the green RAD and OK buttons allow the driver to talk to the pits, and confirm its instructions. The orange ‘DRINK’ button activates the onboard drinks bottle, while the ‘SAIL’ function engages a fuel saving mode on the combustion engine. ‘PIT’ is the pit lane speed limiter function (37mph), ‘FCY’ stands for ‘Full Course Yellow’ limiting the car to 50mph during yellow flag periods. RECUP is for the energy recovery management.
The central MULTI switch works in conjunction with the two functions at the top outside edge of the wheel, allowing multiple modes to be accessed by the driver. An instruction such as “Alfa 21” from the pits would see the driver choose ‘A’ on the rotary switch and the numeric elements of the instruction via the left hand (red) and right hand (dark green) controllers, followed by ‘OK’. We presume Mark Webber never receives a ‘Multi 21’ instruction… Lastly ‘Start/Kill’ operates the combustion engine, the gold ‘B’ controller on the left and the blue ‘S’ version on the right control the amount of energy available during a period of power boosting.
All of these switches are fluorescent (a black light lamp features inside the car). As for the paddles on the back, the centre set change gear, the bottom paring operate the clutch, the top paddles dial up boost and mirror the boost buttons on the front of the wheel giving the driver a choice between the two. Got all that? Great, now try using all those functions while you’re travelling at 200mph in the rain at Le Mans…
The next race for the 919 Hybrids is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, France, which takes place on 18-19th June 2016.