Tech

How Porsche is inventing a future for electric GT racing


Matthias Scholz knows what it takes to make a great car for the track. As Porsche’s director of GT Racecars, he’s certainly overseen the development of a few. He’s also spent a lot of time talking with Porsche’s customer race teams, soliciting input to make those competition cars even better. Sure, Porsche may sell more SUVs than sports cars these days, but the company’s racing program remains its soul — those SUVs fund the racing and the racing fuels the brand. Look inside any Porsche dealership, past the Cayenne and Macan models littering the showroom floor, and you’ll see walls covered in dramatic images of bewinged 911 racers hustling around some of the greatest tracks in the world.

Lately, though, the SUV sales dominance is itself under threat. Porsche’s first EV, the Taycan, is climbing the charts. With the future looking electrified, and with Porsche flexing its presence in Formula E racing, it sure seems time to bring electrification to grand touring racing. At an off-site event here in Munich during IAA, where Porsche unveiled the Mission R, Scholz took some time to walk me through how this project came to be and what it could ultimately mean for the company’s motorsports efforts.

The Mission R is a vision for a future all-electric, track-only racer. It’s built to house just one person, the pilot, cocooned in a form-fitted, monocoque-style racing seat where they’re surrounded by a carbon-fiber cage that actually makes up the roof of the car. With over 1,000 horsepower on tap and a curb weight somewhere around 3,300 pounds, it should be wildly fast. From a general consumer standpoint, the most interesting aspect of the car is that it may provide a sneak peek at Porsche’s first proper all-electric, road-going sports car. But, for now, this is what Porsche thinks its customer racing program will look like in the near future.

Yes, Porsche makes its money selling road cars, but it also sells a lot of purpose-built, track-only racers. For example, about half of the GT field in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race was made up of Porsches — customer cars, by and large, purchased from Porsche and run by independent teams. These teams are doing the heavy lifting in establishing Porsche’s current racing chops, and as the brand increasingly goes electric, so too will they. It’s Scholz who’ll ensure that process goes smoothly.

He may have a busy couple of weeks ahead, because none of Porsche’s teams, not even their most loyal, had any idea this was coming. “It was a top-secret project, so nobody knew about it,” Scholz told me at the car’s launch event in Munich. “In the next couple of weeks for sure we are inviting customers in for workshops and discussing the future.”

In some ways, the future will be a radical shift, but in others it’ll stay much the same. The tools and techniques that teams use to tune and maintain the cars, for example, won’t change that much. “To race the car itself, it’s nearly the same stuff,” Scholz told me. “The main difference for sure is mainly the recharging of the car.”

The interior is certainly a bit more futuristic than current GT offerings. 


Porsche

Yes, recharging instead of refueling will take some getting used to. The Mission R will use a variation on the company’s 350-kilowatt charging system, seen on the Taycan, a rate that’ll enable the cars to get to 80% battery capacity in less than 30 minutes. Total range? That’s not really as important here as runtime, and Porsche says the Mission R will be able to complete a 40-minute race. Sure, that’s a far cry from the annual 24-hour epic in Le Mans, but plenty enough to complete a typical Porsche Supercup series race.

That battery is not swappable, a concept that Scholz says sounds good but actually isn’t: “The idea is brilliant, but in reality the high-voltage battery is [also] oil-cooled, so you can imagine the change of a battery is as complicated as if you change a combustion engine.” Swapping out a car’s engine in a midrace pit stop? Not practical in most cases.

The Mission R borrows some elements from the Taycan, mainly the electric motors, though even they have seen cooling and construction tweaks to enable that 1,000-hp output in qualifying trim. The battery pack, meanwhile, has been situated in the center of the car, inside the roll cage, to protect it in case of major incident. Scholz told me there’s no increased risk of fires: “For our engineers, there’s no big difference if you have 120 liters of fuel or if you have a high-voltage battery. We have the same reactions if something goes wrong in the car.”

Making this a more interesting project for engineers is the fact that, unlike the usual way of doing things at Porsche, the Mission R is a clean-sheet design. “Normally we are starting with a street car like the GT3 and we convert it to a race car, like a GT3 Cup,” Scholz said. “Here we are now on a different way, because we do not have a GT all-electric car from a production line.” 

Could this reversal of the flow, a race car being developed ahead of the road car, mean that Porsche’s eventual all-electric sports car could be even more race-focused than the company’s current offerings? “Could be? I don’t know. I’m unfortunately not responsible for the street-legal cars,” Scholz said with a smile.

What he is responsible for is ensuring that his customer race teams have cars to race and places to race them. That will mean long discussions with not only tracks but race-organizing bodies such as the ACO and FIA to ensure the necessary infrastructure and regulations are in place. “It’s not only to change the car,” Scholz told me, “it’s to change everything.”

That calls to mind a Carl Sagan quote: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” Every great thing has to start somewhere, and in my humble opinion, the Mission R is looking pretty great already.



Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button