Lap Time: 2:06.499 min.
The electric engine of the Porsche 919 Hybrid and an audacious improvised fix enable Porsche to win the 2015 world championship.
As Timo Bernhard starts from the pole position in Bahrain for the finale of the World Endurance Championship, the odds are looking good. The Porsche 919 Hybrid has had a triumphant season. A fifth-place finish in the six-hour race would suffice for Team Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, and Mark Webber to win the drivers’ championship today. But half an hour into the race, Bernhard radios the pit crew: “No power!” The engine isn’t responding to any throttle inputs. The German squeaks into the pit on electric power alone. Mechanics dive arm-deep into the scorching hot engine bay and discover that the right throttle roller lever is broken. The audacious solution: locking the throttle body lever at full throttle with the nose of pliers and securing it in place with cable ties. After an excruciating 8:43 minutes in the pit lane, Bernhard sets off in pursuit. Will the improvised fix hold up? The engineers sweat bullets as they sit glued to the data monitors, conjuring up electronic solutions for the driving situations with speed limits, in the pit lane, or during safety car phases. And the strictly regulated fuel consumption has to be kept under control as well. Hartley is next up at the wheel. The 919 has moved up to fifth. Then Webber takes over.
The final race hour in the dark desert night commences. Then the next setback: the left throttle roller lever packs it in as well. Pliers and cable ties are at the ready—the repair is quicker this time. Webber can get going in electric mode, but racing with two wide-open throttle bodies requires the experts to reprogram the four-cylinder engine. At continuous full throttle, the car is permanently chomping at the bit. The only remaining way to control the engine speed is through the electronic fuel injection. The control unit is vexed and keeps switching off the engine—keeping it on around the circuit is a recurring drama. And how to handle the final pit stop? Webber gets instructions: switch positions, program activations, he has to enter the pit with a full battery, switch off the engine, hold down the clutch during the stop, and ease off it judiciously on the track. It’s not a smooth ride, but it works. Webber crosses the line in fifth position—world champs! The team’s strained nerves make way for boisterous cheers. Without the power of the electric motor, recuperated from braking and exhaust energy, the title would have been lost. Webber needed 2:06.499 minutes to complete the final lap. By comparison: the winning car, the second 919 with Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, and Marc Lieb, posted the fastest race lap of 1:41.893 minutes. ●