• Steering Innovation. Simple Wheel to Multifunctional Control in 20 Years. • "Endurance" Movie. Porsche Documentary Now Available for Streaming. • Top Step. Robichon Takes North American Porsche Motorsport Pyramid to Top.
Event Story Lines.
Porsche Innovation. Simple Steering Wheel to Multifunctional Control in 20 Years.
Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche.
“The extreme demands we face on the race track very quickly highlight any weak points and encourage engineers to look for new and better solutions.”
Following the maxim that the crucible of motorsport drives technical development, Porsche has taken on the enormous challenge of competing in race series around the world for decades. With the development of the legendary 356 No. 1 Roadster, Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche laid the foundation for the Porsche brand in 1948: Porsche would race to better its machines. For the engineers in Weissach, Germany, this guiding principle is as applicable today as it was then. The huge stresses of motorsport demand solutions that eventually flow into the development of road-going vehicles.
Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport.
“It’s hard to believe, but developments in this regard only really took off in the year 2000. Since then, the massive progress in steering wheel development is clearly evident.”
One component that emphasizes the ongoing developments in auto racing more than most others is the steering wheel. Standard steering wheels from everyday Porsche sports cars were first fitted in the racing cars of the Stuttgart marque mid last century. Even the legendary Porsche 917 prototype featured not a single button or display function on its steering wheel.
In just 20 years, a leather-covered wheel morphed into a multifunctional controller. Drivers of the latest Porsche 911 RSR-19 used in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (GTLM class) and FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC, LMGTE-Pro class) have 30 functions on the steering wheel at their disposal. When activated in certain combinations, each button can mobilize other functions. At the Porsche Motorsport headquarters in Weissach, Germany, two specialists focus their work on finding new solutions for even more setting options as well as improved driver comfort.
Modern-day Steering: Like a TV Remote Control in the Living Room.
Timo Bernhard, Porsche Brand Ambassador.
“In 1999, I contested the Carrera Cup as a Porsche Junior. Back then, the steering wheel had no buttons, no radio, no paddle shifters, no pit speed limiter. We had to drive along the pit lane with an eye on the speedometer.”
Timo Bernhard (Germany), the long-standing factory driver and 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP1 Champion witnessed the rapid advancements in steering wheel technology firsthand. In 2001, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car used in the one-make championships received a radio button on the steering wheel. The number of control functions in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR racer fielded in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) grew to six by 2004. At that time, the switches and buttons were installed in a modified, commercially available racing steering wheel. The layout at this stage played a minor role.
Over time, as progress in this area continued, the design became increasingly important. The layout of all functions became the top priority so that the drivers could use them as intuitively as possible.
Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport.
“It’s like watching television at home. The TV remote controls are constantly being upgraded with new buttons, with apps, Amazon Prime, etc. Despite this, operating them quickly becomes second nature. If I get a different model from the same brand, I immediately know how to use it. That’s what we do at Porsche, as well. Because the layout always follows the same pattern, the drivers have no problems switching from one vehicle model to another.”
Ergonomics: Victory at Your Fingertips.
Romain Dumas, Porsche Factory Driver.
“I experienced the hard way how important it is to have the correct layout and optimal user-friendliness under racing conditions. I was driving a Porsche 911 GT3 R at Pikes Peak [in 2012] and was on course to win when rain set in and then snow fell at higher altitudes. That’s where I lost everything. Why? A control button for the windshield wiper was installed on the steering wheel. You had to press it for a second to activate the intermittent wiping function, and for three seconds to make it continuous. It was way too complicated. At Pikes Peak, it’s one corner straight after the other. By the time I got the wipers working correctly I’d lost too much time.”
Dumas (France) has earned four overall victories at the “Race to the Clouds”, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado. Experiences like this have resulted in a decisive rethink in development.
Drivers play a key role in the arrangement of the controls. They provide crucial input during the development stage to ensure the best possible ergonomics. The first step is the positioning of the four most important functions: the buttons for the pit lane speed limiter (used to hold the car to the series’ mandated pit lane speed limit), full course caution flag situations (used in the WEC in lieu of the safety car to maintain safe and even speeds across all competitors), as well as the ‘on/off’ buttons for the engine and the two-way radio for communicating with the team strategists and engineers. The other operating functions are then added following a priority list. In the process, the developers must take into account that some functions have to be activated via designated combinations – comparable to the Ctrl+Alt+Del commands on a personal computer.
Today, drivers are involved in contributing to the layout from the start of the design process – and in co-writing the instruction manuals. The steering wheel instructions in the Porsche 911 RSR-19 manual consist of 27 pages.
Matt Campbell, Porsche Factory Driver.
“It’s easy to memorize so that you can concentrate completely on driving. It goes so fast because we have the chance to provide input during the development. As Porsche works drivers, we’re mostly involved in endurance racing. Not only does it have to be intuitive to operate, but it also has to flow with as little physical exertion as possible. That’s always the goal when working on a new steering wheel layout.”
Customer sport racing also requires a great deal of thought and effort, for instance with the Porsche 911 GT3 R. The steering wheel must be easy to use for factory drivers and “gentleman” racers alike. It is essential to find acceptable compromises during the development.
Construction: Aviation on Four Wheels.
Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport.
“When comparing an old and a new steering wheel, it’s hard to believe that the new models are even lighter than the earlier ones – despite all the operating controls, displays and electronics. This is thanks to the use of aluminum and carbon fiber. Data flows in both directions over a single line. Now that is fascinating.”
In recent decades, steering wheels have changed significantly in terms of operation and functionality. The shape and materials used have also been modified over time. From a circular steering wheel made of real wood to a steel rim, a controller eventually evolved – the shape of which resembles a horizontal figure-eight, comparable to the yoke of modern aircraft.
The steering elements in modern racing cockpits can be easily removed to allow drivers to climb in and out quickly and safely. The connection between the steering wheel and the car’s electronics occurs via a so-called CAN interface.
As it has since 1948, Porsche innovation continues to push the boundaries of what is into what can be. The steering wheel is one of the most dramatic indicators of that link from past function to future functionality.
"Endurance" Movie. Porsche Documentary Now Available for Streaming.
The world’s greatest endurance races for GT vehicles within eight days – Porsche Motorsport and its customer teams faced this extraordinary challenge during the 2019 season. The 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 15 – 16, 2019 and the 24-hour race on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife just one week later put drivers, engineers and team managers under stresses seldom experienced in such a concentrated form. With spectacular images, the new Porsche documentary "Endurance" outlines the background, challenges and tireless efforts. The 90-minute film is now available on YouTube, and beginning on April 3, 2020, on Amazon Prime™ (subscription required).
British director James Routh, famous for his award-winning Formula 1 documentary “Drive to Survive”, accompanied the team, technicians and drivers for 25 days. From Le Mans preparations to test drives in Italy and a private test day after the endurance race in Germany’s Eifel region, Porsche offers impressive behind-the-scene glimpses. The spectacular driving scenes are enhanced by candid impressions from Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport. Porsche Factory Drivers Kévin Estre (France), Michael Christensen (Denmark), Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) and Matt Campbell (Australia) give spectators an inside look at the unique stresses of the largest racing events of the year. The seasoned motor racing engineer Luca Massé (Italy) also describes the everyday challenges of a Porsche race engineer.
In an exceptional way, the documentary "Endurance" showcases what endurance racing really involves: deprivation, stress, emotion and boundless dedication and passion of all involved. The main protagonists are not just the vehicles – in this case the Porsche 911 RSR and the 911 GT3 R, both based on the high-performance 911 GT3 RS production vehicle – but also the people. Dealing with tense situations and setbacks on the race track are as unfiltered and realistically portrayed as the comments from the family of a young racing driver are on the dangers and life at the limit.
More information is available on: https://www.endurance-film.com
Top Step. Robichon Climbs North American Porsche Motorsport Pyramid to Top.
One of the primary goals of both the North American Porsche Motorsport Pyramid and the North American Porsche Young Driver Academy (PYDA) is to offer young talent the tools and a step-by-step plan to work from novice to professional in the auto racing. Few have made that progression is cleanly and as successfully as Canadian Zacharie Robichon. Robichon, a 2017 PYDA graduate, used those tools to earn his first IMSA title, the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama platinum championship in 2018. He then scaled the next step on the Pyramid to join the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to win the WeatherTech Sprint Cup in 2019.
Robichon took the ride with Pfaff Motorsports, who, like the former open-wheel racer, was progressing through the stages of the North American Porsche Motorsport Pyramid as an entrant. The Canadian Porsche dealer began its exploits at the base of the Pyramid working with its clients and moved into a perennial favorite in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada. They moved with Robichon and fellow PYDA graduate (class of 2014) Scott Hargrove (Canada) to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD class with a Porsche 911 GT3 R in 2019. The program won twice last season, first at Lime Rock Park and then at Road America.
As with most racers, the Robichon started his career karting. He first entered into the Porsche Motorsport world in 2016 in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama series. This Porsche one-make series focuses on skill development with all drivers competing in the 911 GT3 Cup. In his rookie year, Robichon finished third in the championship. The following season, he showed his continued progress and improvement as a driver as he finished in second-place for the year. The same year, 2017, he was invited to the PYDA, where he received coaching and mentorship on engineering topics, on-camera interview and other media training, personality assessments and a full day of seat time in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car to sharpen and broaden his skills behind the wheel. Following his trend in the Canadian series, Robichon entered 2018 racing for a third year and was crowned the champion after a nearly perfect season, winning 11 of 12 races.
With a Porsche one-make championship under his belt, it was time for Robichon to progress to the next level of his career. He entered the 2019 racing season as part of Pfaff Motorsports’ IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship effort in a Porsche 911 GT3 R. In his first year of open competition, he helped bring the team back-to-back GTD class wins at Lime Rock and Road America. Pfaff Motorsports did not enter the Detroit Grand Prix round, but Robichon didn’t see the weekend as time to rest. He joined forces with Porsche factory ace Patrick Long (Manhattan Beach, California), a mentor in the PYDA, and Park Place Motorsports and helped drive their No. 73 Porsche 911 GT3 R to a second-place finish after putting the car on pole position. The combination of three podium finishes throughout the season added up and Robichon went on to be the first driver crowned the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup Championship Drivers' title. In the process, he gave Porsche the Manufacturer’s trophy for Sprint Cup in the championship within a championship’s inaugural season. The WeatherTech Sprint Cup is awarded to the driver, team and manufacturer that performs the best in races of less than four hours.
In 2020, Robichon is continuing to race for Pfaff Motorsports in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team’s “Plaid Porsche” has quickly become a fan favorite. In the season-opener at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Robichon set a record lap to start the team from the class pole position. Once the racing season resumes, Robichon, teamed with Dennis Olsen (Norway) for the full season as well as Porsche Test and Development Lars Kern (Germany) in the endurance races, is definitely targeting the GTD class’s outright championship to continue his progression of titles.
The North American Porsche Motorsport Pyramid guides drivers from club racing, through one-make series, to open competition and beyond. At the base of the pyramid is club racing, the foundation of motorsports. Club racing, including the Porsche Club of America (PCA) and Porsche Owners Club (POC), provides a safe, clean and fun environment for drivers to compete around the country in their Porsche road cars and race cars. The next natural step from club racing is a Porsche one-make series, such as the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama. In one-make series, equal opportunity meets self-belief as amateurs line up with the pros. Staying true to the motto “May the best driver win”, everything is centered on the individual driver’s skills. The parameters are clear: the teams use the exact same vehicle. At the peak of the pyramid is open competition racing. Open competition bridges the divide between customer and works racing. Here, top-class athletes battle it out against other manufacturers in various racing series worldwide. For Robichon that means the pro-am style GTD class with the GT3-specificaiton Porsche 911 GT3 R. The 510-hp machine was introduced in 2019.
Zacharie Robichon, Driver, No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
“Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge allowed me to learn about the dynamics of pushing a full body car to its maximum. It provided us with an extremely high level of competition everywhere in North America, competition that allows us as drivers to keep pushing and learning our limits. The level playing field that is brought on by a spec series allows us to know that if we are successful here, we can be successful anywhere.
It was a special feeling to win the Sprint Cup Championship. At the beginning of the year it wasn’t even on our radar to pursue it. Halfway through the season we saw it was achievable and, as a rookie, I wasn’t sure it would be possible. Once it was accomplished, I was almost in disbelief! It was a great feeling to be able to get the championship for myself and for Porsche in the first year of the new 911 GT3 R.”
Ever since I was young, I’ve loved the Porsche brand. When I first got the chance to race a Porsche in GT3 Cup Challenge I was truly living a dream. Now, to be able to continue on my development with Porsche and to represent the marque in the WeatherTech Championship, is something that I only could have dreamed of a few years ago. If it wasn’t for the support of Porsche and their one-make series, I would likely not be where I am at today.”
Porsche GT Team (North America). @PorscheNARacing
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Series Hashtags and Handles.
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Image courtesy of Porsche Cars North America, Bob Chapman