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First hybrid GT race car makes green sexy

Sep 26 2010 09:01 AFP

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Washington - She stood motionless on the pavement near Washington's National Mall, beams of late summer sun caressing her sleek body as dozens of men ogled her and made secret wishes.

'She', German luxury carmaker Porsche's new 911 GT3 R Hybrid, is the world's first hybrid GT racing car, and it was in the United States to compete in the American Le Mans Series, a proven ground for green technology race cars.

At a Washington event, it showed off sleek lines and the ground-breaking new hybrid technology, developed for racing but which Porsche ultimately wants to incorporate into its normal cars - not that Porsche does any normal cars.

"This car shows that being environmentally efficient doesn't have to be boring. It can be fast, it can be sexy, it can be competitive," Patrick Long, a 29-year-old Porsche factory driver and one of a handful of men to have gripped the wheel and shifted the gears of the new Porsche GT hybrid.

"Hybrids don't have to make no noise and drive slowly down the road. They can be loud, exciting race cars," he said.

The car has the body of a 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 R with a four-liter, flat-six, 480 horsepower combustion engine in the rear.

Up front, its unique hybrid system harnesses two electric motors and a flywheel to generate, store and release power. The Porsche is the first car to use an electromechanical flywheel as the battery, said Christoph Michalik, Porsche's director of motorsports strategy and planning.

When a driver brakes on one of the many curves on a race course, the electric motors, which are coupled to the wheels, generate an electric current that powers up the flywheel, located in the front passenger seat.

Energy is released from the flywheel during normal acceleration and automatically delivered to the front wheels to support the combustion engine and reduce fuel consumption.

Energy can also be requested by the driver - to overtake a rival racer, for example - by pushing a paddle on the steering wheel to request a "boost".

In "boost" mode, the car switches from rear-wheel to all-wheel drive, which increases traction and reduces tire wear, and both the front and rear engines are used at 100%, the combustion engine delivering 480 horsepower and the front electric motors adding another 160 - 180 horsepower.

"When you pull the paddle and get the charge, it launches you back in the seat and you'd better be ready and have your lines set up so you stay on the race track. That's roughly 30% more horsepower," said Long.

"And all that power is produced by stored kinetic energy that was created from the braking of the car," he added.

In normal accelerating mode, the Porsche GT hybrid lets the combustion engine work less, which cuts down on fuel consumption.

And the car's technology allows drivers to brake later and harder with less wear on parts like brake pads, said Long.

"In endurance races, which this car is made for, if we spend 60 seconds in the pits changing brake pads halfway through the race... no matter how fast your lap times are, if you spend time in the pits you're going to lose the race," he said.

"This Porsche is a glimpse into the future of what high-performance efficiency will be," said Scott Atherton, president of the American Le Mans Series, the only major motorsports series in the world in which cars use alternative energies.

The new Porsche GT hybrid racing car will make its US racing debut on October 2 at the 1 000-mile, 10-hour-maximum final of the American Le Mans Series. A month later it will race in Zhuhai, in China, with Long at the wheel.

In Atlanta, the Porsche will race against cars including a Corvette powered by cellulosic E85 ethanol, a Mazda that runs on isobutanol; and an Audi that runs on clean diesel, Atherton said.

But because the Porsche's technology is so new, it won't be in the running for a prize at the race.

That's because officials haven't had time to come up with rules and regulations for the sexy, green German car that only made its first outing in May at the Nuerburgring in Germany, dominating the 24-hour race until the rear combustion engine developed a problem with just two hours to go.

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