Ferrari 312PB won the title of endurance racing for the last time in 1973, over 50 years ago. Although, the brand has been represented successfully in GT racing by the Squadra Corse arm of the company for over 20 years, in partnership with Amato Ferrari’s AF Corse team. The partnership will continue because the new Hypercar regulations, which were introduced just in time for Le Mans’ centennial running on April 24, 2014, have brought the prancing pony back to sportscar racing.
The Ferrari 499P Prototype impressed during the WEC season of 2023. Finishing on the podium at Sebring, Portimão, Spa Francorchamps and Monza, the red hypercar also claimed victory at this year’s historic Le Mans 24 Hours. Ferrari’s victory is even more remarkable when you consider the dominance that Toyota has enjoyed in WEC over recent years. So, how did Ferrari take on Toyota with such little experience of modern prototype racing?
Hypercar regulations: a brave new era
Ferrari has previously said that it would not enter any other category of motorsport until the team struggling Formula 1 had been able to fix the problems within. ACO and FIA came together to create the long-awaited hypercar category. This was the turning point. The introduction of cost-sensitive regulations that allowed cars to compete in the WEC as well as the American-run IMSA championship attracted a number manufacturers back into the category.
Hypercars are divided into two classes: Le Mans Hypercars (LMH) and Le Mans Daytona hybrids (LMDh). Even though they may look similar, the aerodynamic surfaces are different. Balanced performance will ensure an even playing field. It is more important that the new aero regulations stipulate that the car must be designed to reach a certain point in the lift/drag chart, which is relatively straightforward to achieve. This allows the cars styling and identity to represent the manufactures without risking aerodynamic disadvantage.
Ferrari entered the new Hypercar class at the right time, possibly because of these regulations in conjunction with the recent cost cap rules introduced to Formula 1.
Powering through victory
The Ferrari prototype 499P has a name that refers to the engine’s capacity. 499cc represents the single-cylinder displacement in the V6 layout. The engine itself was based of the architecture of the 296 GT3 engine, a V6 3.0-litre, with the turbo’s mounted within the 120-degree vee banks, making it a “Hot V”. The engine was required to be fully stressed, since the rear suspension loads and the gearbox were all transmitted through the engine. This was a completely new design.
‘There is no reward for using a production-based engine [from regulation or performance perspective],’ explains Ferdinando Cannizzo, head of Ferrari Attivita Sportive GT. ‘It is an engine derived from production, so it shows that the technology in the road car is already looking like it is ready to race. We had a quick look at a bespoke engine, but we never considered it in terms of reality.’
Cannizzo, despite the significant differences between the LMP engine and the GT3 engine Cannizzo wants to feed back the lessons learned from the reliability tests and the application of the hybrid systems to the road car division to improve reliability.
The hybrid system
The hybrid system was one of the areas that needed to be changed for the new hypercar rules. In order to achieve parity between the WEC cars and IMSA vehicles, it was necessary to level out the hybrid rules. The four-wheel-drive system that was used by the previous top level of sportscar racing is now greatly reduced.
According to the regulations, an LMH vehicle may still have a MGU mounted at the front axle. However, the hybrid’s deployment speed has been increased to 190km/hr. This effectively removes any advantage during cornering. This creates a more equal playing field for the LMDh cars as the hybrid component is mounted on the rear wheel by regulation.
> How the ERS and 4WD work on the Ferrari 499P LMH
Cannizzo explained that the Ferrari Formula 1 team used their experience to design the 499P Hybrid. ‘The battery is collecting the experience from Formula 1, but the system is completely different. Formula 1 uses a four-wheeled drive with a single electric motor. We use traction control and a separate motor. But in terms of controlling the electronics, yes, there is a crossover.’ With the drive for reliability from the off, Ferrari opted for the proven sportscar experience of Bosch on the electronic systems, over its usual technical partner Magneti Marelli.
The combined power from both hybrid and engine systems is around 1000bhp, of which 200kw comes from the hybrid. ‘The FIA WEC’s technical regulations, however, require us to limit the power delivered at any one time to around 500kW overall, a distribution that maximises performance when the four-wheel drive is activated,’ explains Lucio Calogero, Ferrari’s Endurance Race Cars Power Unit Design and Development Manager.
Ferrari had considered using an existing transmission in its concept phase for the 499P to increase reliability. The idea was quickly dropped in order to comply with the 75kg minimum weight requirement. The rear suspension was not compromised by restricting the pick-up points inboard to the existing design. The suspension kinematics could be optimized for the new aero regulations and the diverse tracks of the WEC and IMSA Championships.
‘The main reasons for making a new gearbox were to have proper pick-up points for the suspension to optimise the kinematics,’ says Cannizzo. ‘The second was the packaging of the suspension, and the third was matching the gearbox with the engine. The gearbox had to be different for each application. We were forced [to do this]. We started with an existing transmission to ensure reliability. It’s not GT3, as it is a completely different specification. We used the experience of the GT3, but were forced to make changes, first of all because of the suspension.’
Ferrari chose high-performance transmission manufacturer Xtrac to build the 7-speed gearbox and MKU-K front-mounted differential. A sensible choice, with Xtrac’s wealth of endurance racing knowledge, and many Le Mans 24 victories to their name.
Isn’t the 499P the most impressive thing about it? Looks Like a Ferrari. It is not surprising that manufacturers are required to aim for a specific point on the drag/lift curve. The Peugeot 9X8 is a great example of this. Designers can explore unique solutions and incorporate the styling from any marque. In an effort to cut costs, the rules now call for aerodynamics that are homologated over a period of 5 years. This means the days of bodywork with low drag for tracks like Le Sarthe is gone. Ferrari wanted to ensure that a successful prototype could be built according to current regulations and perform well on many circuits.
The aerodynamic team worked closely with Ferraris in house styling department, Centro Style Studio to give the appearance of a Ferrari, but that’s not to say there isn’t attention to detail within the aerodynamics of the 499P. The nose of the 499P is similar to that of an F1 vehicle, with wings extending from it. A tea tray extends forwards out of the monocoque. The nose, the front wheel arch, the mirrors, and the roof all have a number of purposeful strakes. A large tail fin, as well as wing endplates, are also present. These elements indicate that Ferrari is trying to stabilize the car in yaw.
‘If you analyse the performance window, the range is not that big, so what is important is to minimise as much as possible the aero sensitivity and how it is in the corners,’ says Cannizzo. ‘Of course, we have to guarantee the aero stability. As long as you are constraining the efficiency of the car, that is the most important thing.’
The large vee angle used in the engine gave more freedom to aerodynamic innovation under the floor. The lack of cooling entry points on the side pods suggests that a significant portion of cooling is being provided by the floor.
Tires are another major change for the new LMH. The 499P was required to have the narrower front/wider back option. As part of the FIA’s drive for carbon neutral status, a tyre roadmap was introduced for the 2023 season, banning the energy sapping practice of tyre preheating. Michelin’s LMH tyre manufacturer also developed the tyre for a greater bio content. The goal was to eliminate the energy used in pre-heating, and to increase the penalty time for changing tyres. This would encourage teams to use fewer tyres throughout the race.
It was also taken away from manufacturers the ability to create custom tyres. Cannizzio explained that it was important for Ferrari to understand the characteristics of tyres during the development phase. ‘If you have tyres that you can develop, you can have a higher degree of freedom to play with. Now [with this regulation] You need to match the design of your tyres to those that are already in place. The model that was used to simulate the tyres on the simulator had to be matched with the track. To clarify, this was our top priority. The results so far are very interesting. We then started testing and feeding back, tuning our simulation.’
A lack of tyre heating was attributed to high profile crashes such as the Ferrari 499P driven Fuoco in the WEC Spa 1000km before Le Mans. This weekend, the weather was cold and wet – conditions that are often associated with Le Sarthe’s night. The ban on tyre heating was then lifted but only during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The first shakedown of the car took place on 6 JulyTh Unsurprisingly, 2022 will be at the Ferrari Fiorano Test Track. What followed was an intense testing program at Barcelona, Portimão, Monza, and an endurance test completed at Aragon. The durability of the 499P was tested at Sebring before the car’s debut at 1000miles.
Track testing was only one aspect of the intense development phase. Ferrari’s in-house facilities for both the chassis and engine were utilised to give the car the best hope of competing against its more experienced sportscar counterparts, Toyota.
‘Its performance and reliability were developed on the testbenches of the road cars factory,’ highlights Calogero. ‘We started from the dynamic benches, on which the performance and controls were calibrated, then moved on to reliability, a fundamental aspect in endurance racing to which we dedicated around 1,000 hours of development. At that point, work continued on the dynamic workbench we have in Maranello and the refinement of performance on the track.’
Le Mans is the one exception. The Toyota GR010 continues to dominate WEC in 2023. Ferrari’s ability to win at Le Mans in its first appearance after a 50-year absence in the top class, will be remembered as one of the most significant victories on the Circuit de la Sarthe. This victory was a huge success around the world, with 65,000 spectators at the Monza 1000km that followed. The future of the hyperclass looks exciting and varied as the new crop of machines continue to go head to head – and long may it continue.
The Ferrari 499P LMH Technical Analysis appeared first on Racecar Engineering.