A Race of Technology


The latest Le Mans Race is not just about men and their race cars, it is also men and their technologies. Two of the race participants, Toyota and Audi, use kinetic energy recovery systems. These systems store energy produced during braking and is used as a boost during acceleration.

The 80th Le Mans Race is a 24 hour grueling endurance race and it is considered one of the most difficult roadway races in the world. Not only does it test the mettle of the car and the driver, it also has become the laboratory for the most advanced car technologies in the world today.

The organizers of the race, the Automobile Club de l’Quest and the International Automobile Federation, have allowed new rules for the participant cars that would use environmentally friendly technologies during the 24 hour endurance race. One car would go to the extreme, the Delta Wing in car number 56 while four other cars from the two car makers would use hybrid technology at a level never before seen in the racing world.

The two car manufacturers are Audi and Toyota, who also are odd-on favorites to win the Le Mans. Audi has been a dominant force in the twenty four hour race since 2000, missing out the top spot only in 2003, when a Bentley using Audi technology won the race and the Peugeot won the 2009 race.

The race is set up by having 55 cars in four different categories running against each other for 24 hours, at speeds reaching 300 kilometers per hour or 185 miles per hour. Le Mans though has been known about endurance rather than speed but with the new elements in the race cars, it is now all about sustainability.

Toyota jumped from Formula 1 in 2009 to the Le Mans in 2010 and has become the top contender to Audi after Peugeot pulled out due to financial constraints. According to Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s Racing Director, “We were hoping to come in a little more comfortably with the two previous winners fighting it out and us coming in modestly. But things have happened a little differently.”

He adds that Toyota had joined the event due to the challenge of having hybrid technology developed for road cars and showcases the value of this technology. He further added, “The orientation towards Le Mans is directly related to several factors, including the fact that Toyota wants to be involved in global motor sport. And the arrival of the regulations in 2011 that open the doors to high powered hybrids evidently contributed to the interest of Toyota in endurance sports car racing.”

Amongst the technology being used in the hybrid cars in the race would be kinetic energy recovery systems. These systems store energy when the car brakes and then is used as a booster when accelerating out of a corner. While Formula One vehicles utilize this technology, their boosting capacity is limited to just 400 kilojoules or about 80 horsepower per go of the driver controlled system.

At Le Mans, the driver does not control the energy system and would go when the car reaches speeds of 120 kph after exiting a corner where the brakes has stored the energy. The system would generate 500 kilojoules or about 200 horsepower, a greater level of boost compared to the Formula One system. Toyota uses its KERS system, which powers the rear wheels and utilizes capacitors to store the energy generated during braking.

For its part, Audi’s car would be driven by eight time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen. The Audis for the competition have undergone design overhauls, with the hybrid cars having ninety components different from the standard vehicle. Kristensen said, “All drivers get very motivated with new technology and that is what we try to do here is develop something that will be relevant in a road car in the future. It is the 80th race in Le Mans. It is a legendary race. But we must always keep optimizing what we learn. That it is also another challenge, it is what motor sport is all about: It’s not just about getting the ball across to the other side of a line. There are so many things to it and to me that is what makes it attractive. And when the race starts at 3 p.m., the race is on.”

Racers, start your engines!