The Next Generation Tuner Car

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, USA
Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation

Hybrids demand respect from the performance community.

Race cars with hybrid propulsion systems have become the dominant force in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class in the. This is achingly apparent at the most well known and storied event in endurance racing: 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hybrids were the only powertrain of choice. Diesel has even lost its stranglehold on competitiveness it has had in recent years. Spark ignition in combination with electric motors and batteries were able, in the case of Porsche, to complete an incredible twelve better laps than the Audi R18 diesel hybrids. It is undeniable that this mixture of power and efficiency will make the hybrid the king of speed in the 21st century.

It was inspiring to follow the Toyota TS050 with its 2.4 liter twin turbo V6 and an 8 megajoule electric motor/generator, known as an MGU in the WEC, combination making 986 horsepower trading the lead with the Porsche 919 with its 900 horsepower 2.0 liter V4 plus MGU. Massively powerful yet extremely efficient, both of these cars represent what is possible once you let go of the preconceived notions of what is racing and what it wasteful noise and exuberance that doesn’t win championships.

Toyota – and not Porsche – should benefit the most from the dramatic battle it fought at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There is a path, however convoluted, between the TS050 and its distant domestic cousin – the Prius. Hybrid propulsion systems in the consumer market always meant fuel economy and horrible driving dynamics. With the 2016 Toyota Prius, it has been deemed worthy to have a completed revised suspension set-up that includes a double wishbone independent rear suspension. In any other car, an owner might be thinking coilovers, bigger tires, and, hey, they might even consider taking it to an autocross event. Why can’t the Prius or other hybrids do just that?

When I think of a hybrid, I think of something else specifically: the turbocharger – A.K.A. the original displacement amplifier. Electric motors and batteries function in much the same way. They allow a much smaller engine to propel a car as if it was powered by a much larger engine. Just like tuners use custom Engine Control Unit tuning to create more power who is to say that an inspired tuner might rework the power flow from their battery to their electric motor to create more power or a meatier torque curve? Everyone loves to emulate a champion and the lowly hybrid dominated all comers in one of the most grueling races ever devised.

What do the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 Spyder have in common? They are not just supercars, but hybrid supercars. Hybrids that produce 874 to 950 hp and can reach 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds. Supercars don’t tell you where the market is right now, but where it is headed. Turbocharging and supercharging might be the technology of today, but with the reality of increasingly strict emission regulations there will be a need for the car community to venture into unknown territory in a quest to lay down faster lap times at a local autocross or track day.

This is not the end of car culture or performance driving. Instead of the whine of superchargers or the whoosh of turbochargers, it will be the buzz of electric motors creating and regenerating power that will become the defining feature of autocross and track days of the future. Instead of just looking for ways to create more power by burning more fuel, power can now come from the flow of electrons.

The LMP1 teams of WEC have thrown down the gauntlet for tuners out there. The potential of hybrids seems untapped by the car community. It is obvious that electric power is the edge that racing teams at the top of their sport were looking for. A new generation of tuners and car builders should not blind themselves to the writing on the way. Instead they should embark upon a quest to balance the need for power and the need to become a more responsible and socially aware car community.

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