• Immerse Yourself in the Heaven That Is the Porsche 919 Hybrid Testing at Spa

If you think testing a multiple Le Mans winner in the wet at Belgium’s GP track is scary you’d be bang on the money

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Porsche came back to top-level sports car endurance racing in 2014 with the 919 Hybrid, a 900 horsepower beast powered by the combination between a V-4, turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine and an electric generator unit sending power to the front axle. Basically, when the batteries were fully loaded and giving all the power to the front axle, with the traditional engine powering the back axle, the 919 was AWD car but not just any AWD car - one that managed to win Le Mans three times on the trot, doubling that with a trifecta of World Endurance Championship titles.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid is at home in the Ardennes

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Porsche is inexorably linked to motorsport and, over the years, the sports cars made in Stuttgart have won some of the world's most famous races.

A Porsche came out on top in everything from the Paris-Dakar Rally, the 24 Hours of Daytona, Formula 1’s French Grand Prix, the Monte-Carlo Rally and, maybe more important than all the others, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There, in the Sarthe valley, Porsche reigned supreme throughout the ’70s and ’80s and has racked up 19 overall wins to date with the first coming precisely half a century ago in 1970.

Come 2016, Porsche was entering its third year of competing in the FIA WEC with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, an LMP1-class prototype competing in the 8 MJ sub-class which allowed it to deploy up to 8 MJ of electric juice coming out of corners and under acceleration to aid in passing, for instance. At the time, Porsche was fighting VAG stablemate Audi in the LMP1 class as well as Toyota. Each fielded two cars and, as you’d expect from some $200 million-a-year programs, the driving talent in each one of those six cars was mind-boggling.

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Of course, you need world-class drivers when the job at hand is piloting the fastest closed-cockpit prototypes that the world has ever seen on some of the world’s most famous tracks in a discipline which involves multi-class racing, meaning those Porsches, Audis, and Toyotas often had to thread the needle passing pedestrian GT cars left, right, and center. The third iteration of the 919 Hybrid was underpinned by a composite fiber monocoque made of carbon fibers with a honeycomb aluminum core.

The mid-mounted V-4 engine, a DOHC unit with four valves per cylinder, sent all of its 500 horsepower to the back axle while the front wheels were powered by an electric motor.

This motor was connected to a pair of energy recovery systems that took braking and exhaust energy saved during the car’s on-track sessions and converted it into power. The power would be stored in a hefty pack of lithium-ion batteries.

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Unless you’re a bona fide motorsports nerd, all of the above is, frankly, quite boring but we just couldn’t move on without sparing a moment to talk about just how bonkers the 919 was and still is. So what we did was dig up a video from 2016 shot by avid spotter Guillaume Taniere who was there at Spa-Francorchamps when Porsche tested its 2016 MY 919 Hybrid. The track was adequately wet and the car sported a menacing bare carbon fiber livery. Pure perfection!

What you’re seeing is the car approaching the mythical Eau Rouge-Raidillon section where you go left, right, and then left again at the top of the hill, all while rapidly climbing up, which sometimes causes the car to bottom out on the incline. But the 919 Hybrid doesn’t bottom out, nor is it in any way shape or form fazed by the standing water on the circuit and its driver is able to take Eau Rouge effectively flat out (or at least that’s what our ears are telling us).

In qualifying for the 2016 Spa 6-hour race, a car just like the one you’re seeing in the video took pole with an average lap time of 1:55.691, about three seconds quicker than what the 919 was doing here in the wet, according to an onlooker. To put it into context, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg reeled in a 1:46.744 to take pole position ahead of the 2016 Belgian GP.

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Driving a car that’s less than 10 seconds off F1 pace must be exhilarating but, the cold, painful fact is we may never get to experience the sort of speeds and G forces one would driving the 919 Hybrid. Top Gear’s Chris Harris, on the other hand, is one lucky boy and he did get a call from Porsche inviting him to test the 2017 version (the last of the breed) of the 919 and here’s what he had to say about it.

"Turns 3 and 4 at Motorland Aragon are, at best, fourth gear in a fast road car; in the 919 they are flat in sixth gear, pulling nearly 3 Gs. The car explodes out of Turn 2 and then you just try to keep the flesh from peeling off your cheekbones through a fearsome right then left, until braking into Turn 6. The aerodynamic grip is insane," said Harris.

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"Right now, the 919 feels consistent in the way it delivers all that performance, then, as you exit the slow, downhill corkscrew-esque left at the back of the circuit, the 919 performs its party trick. You’re flat-out at this point, flicking through the gears and kinking left, when the blue lights on the wheel that denote electric deployment flicker and the thing erupts down the straight. This begins at 125mph, and before you have time to react to the slam in your back, the car hits its 190mph maximum in sixth gear."

Yep, now we want a go too...

Porsche 919 Hybrid specifications
Monocoque: composite fibre structure consisting of carbon fibre with a honeycomb aluminium core. The cockpit is closed.
Combustion engine: V4 engine (90 degree cylinder bank angle), turbocharged, four valves per cylinder, DOHC, one Garrett turbocharger, direct petrol injection, fully load-bearing aluminium cylinder crankcase, dry sump lubrication
Max. engine speed: ≈ 9,000/min
Engine management: Bosch MS5
Displacement: 2,000cm3 (V4 engine)
Output: 500 hp
Electric motor 400 hp
Combined output 900 HP
Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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