Porsche 919 Hybrid Le Mans racer shown off on London streets
One thing you don’t expect to see on your rush-hour commute is a hybrid Le Mans prototype. We’ve witnessed Porsche take its 919 Hybrid to the streets of the capital
Can driving at 220mph ever be easier than driving at 15mph? It can be if you’re trying to thread a 900bhp Le Mans prototype through rush-hour traffic around Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square in central London.
Le Mans prototypes are designed to go very quickly. Their cooling ducts need a plentiful supply of air. Their downforce-generating aerodynamics only become fully effective at high speeds. They don’t enjoy inching along with buses, taxis, bicycles and joggers on public roads strewn with road signs, jagged kerbs, bumpy manholes and traffic islands.
The drive about town was a PR stunt to promote Porsche’s new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, which is set to play an increasingly important role in the car maker’s ambitious ‘e-performance’ road car strategy. The new Panamera joined its racing cousin in the rush-hour convoy.
The demonstration took place at dawn on a route of about four miles, running from Park Lane, taking in Piccadilly, Charing Cross, the Embankment and Parliament Square and finishing on the east side of Westminster Bridge.
A return leg and then a further run from Park Lane to Westminster were completed as the 919 Hybrid rubbed shoulders with the London traffic.
The all-wheel-drive racing prototype had to adhere to the speed limits at all times. The streets were not completely closed, but the Porsche convoy benefited from a rolling road block established by a team of eight police outriders.
London’s Congestion Charge wasn’t an issue because it doesn’t come into force until 7am, besides which the 919 Hybrid isn’t road registered and had special dispensation to drive inside the zone.
Webber completed the runs using only the 919 Hybrid’s 2.0-litre V4 internal combustion engine.
“This wasn’t a trivial show car run. I had a few things going on,” he said. “The car itself put up a bit of a challenge in terms of being able to go that slowly. The 919 Hybrid is built to be a flying machine and take in a lot of air for cooling. It’s fitted with a downforce package specced for 220mph, so to drive it at between 10mph and 15mph for a long period of time was a little bit of a concern. I was tempted to floor it and get into second gear, but I had nowhere to go.”
Webber wasn’t able to enjoy London’s iconic landmarks during his cruise around the city: “Visibility was tricky, especially when it was nearly dark, although the lights on the Porsche 919 Hybrid are awesome. They’re good for 220mph, so I didn’t have to worry too much about that.
“The windscreen is essentially cut in half because of the sunshield we need for endurance racing, so I couldn’t see the top of Big Ben or much of Trafalgar Square, for example. I got a good panoramic view, but I was keen to miss cyclists, traffic lights, junctions and kerbs. The kerbs were a nasty height for that car, so I couldn’t risk touching them.”
The Australian racer also had to contend with a bumpy road surface and tight street corners: “There was a bit of bottoming out on the road, but that wasn’t too much of an issue, because we tend to experience that on race tracks at high speeds, too.
“There were a few black spots for us in terms of steering lock. I had to take really a wide arc to make the junctions. Right-hand corners were easier, because I can’t see much out of the car on the left-hand side.”
Webber participated in several Formula 1 street demonstrations when he drove for Red Bull Racing, but he said the London run was a much bigger challenge.
“There were a lot of firsts for me. The length of the course was unique [compared with other street demos] and it was dark, which we could obviously never do in an F1 car.
“This was the most optimistic route that I’ve done, so that was impressive from Porsche and the City of London. To do things like this is great. London is a global city and there’s always something interesting that pops up. This time, it was us.”