More details on the 2011 Le Mans technical regulations, now with hybrid power

Peugeot 908-HY hybrid prototype – Click above for high-res image gallery

On Thursday, June 10, the Automobile Club de L'Ouest (ACO), which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, held its annual press conference and announced new technical regulations for the 2011 event as well as the European Le Mans Series. The ACO has long encouraged a variety of powerplant configurations, which is what prompted first Audi and then Peugeot to develop diesel-powered prototypes. 2011 will bring the official introduction hybrid power to Le Mans racing in all of the new classes.

Next year the club will move even further in the direction already pioneered by the American Le Mans Series with its "green racing" initiatives. The top LMP1 class will adopt what are essentially the current LMP2 rules, with gasoline racing engines limited to 3.4 liters normally aspirated or 2.0 liters turbocharged. Diesels can displace no more than 3.7 liters. The current LMP1 cars will be allowed to compete in 2011, but performance will be restricted by as-yet-unannounced means that will likely include more weight and smaller air restrictors. Check out the rest of the changes after the jump.

[Source: Automobile Club de L'Ouest]

A new LMP2 class will be established with the goal of lowering costs. ALMS launched the LMP Challenge class in 2010, featuring lower-cost spec chassis developed by Oreca and a sealed V8 engine based on the Corvette LS6. The goals of the new LMP2 are similar but the chassis and engine are essentially open to any manufacturer. New LMP2 cars must be powered by a production derived engine with the cost limited to €75,000 and the chassis is limited to €325,000. The current LMPC cars are priced at $400,000 ready to race.

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Honda Performance Development immediately announced the availability of a new twin-turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 based on the engine used in the Accord and many other models. Existing chassis can continue to run in LMP2 if they switch over to a production-based engine. LMP2 engines will have to run a minimum of 30 hours between rebuilds in 2011, 40 hours in 2012 and 50 hours in 2013.

Interest in the GT1 class has dwindled in recent years, with only eight cars starting this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The class has already been eliminated from ALMS in 2010 and the big GT cars won't be able to run at Le Mans in the future, either. A single GT Endurance class based on current GT2 cars will form the production-based class for 2011. The only significant technical change is that the new GT cars will now be able to adopt steering wheel-mounted paddle shift systems.

While this adds some performance and up-front cost to the car, it tends to save money over time because the mechanized sequential-shift gearboxes are less prone to missed shifts and over-revs, which damage hardware in very expensive ways.

Within the GT Endurance ranks, there will be two sub-classes, both adhering to the same technical rules. The GT Endurance Pro class will be open to all marques and drivers. The GT Endurance AM class will limited to cars that are more than one year old, with at least two "amateur" drivers. The amateur drivers must be classified in the bronze or silver categories (as defined under LM P2 LMS 2010 regulations).

The other big technical change for 2011 is the approval of hybrid drive systems. It's not clear whether hybrid systems will be allowed in the GT cars, although the ACO announcement seems to imply that they are. At the very least, prototypes can use kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) to supplement engine power and reduce fuel consumption. ACO is allowing both electrical and mechanical energy storage systems, so we could well see a new Audi prototype that employs the Williams-developed flywheel-hybrid used so successfully by Porsche recently.

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Hybrid systems will only be allowed to release up to 500 kilojoules of energy between any two brake applications and can only recover energy from two wheels. Hybrids will use the extra energy on the front wheels for all-wheel-drive in the same way that the Porsche 911 GT3R Hybrid does. No push-to-pass buttons like those used last year in Formula One will be allowed; energy can only be released by the driver applying the accelerator, much like roadgoing hybrid vehicles. The revised ACO rules will also allow new alternative energy recovery systems that use sources such as the dampers, exhaust gases or heat energy.

One restriction on the hybrid systems is that they must be able to propel the car at 37 miles per hour for at least one-quarter mile on hybrid energy.

Cars that use hybrid systems will have their fuel tank capacity reduced by two liters to compensate for the performance and efficiency advantages they gain with the new technology. All other cars get capacity reductions for 2011 as well, with gasoline-powered racers dropping from 23.8 gallons to 19.3 gallons. Diesels will be cut from 21.4 gallons to 16.6 gallons.

The American Le Mans Series has not yet announced how the new ACO regulations will affect its rules package. Over the coming months, the ACO will flesh out these new regulations, so stay tuned for further updates.

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