The Porsche 919 Hybrid Le Mans racing car was driven through the streets of London this morning (Tuesday) with FIA World Endurance Championship title holder Mark Webber behind the wheel.
The demonstration run took place at dawn on a route of about four miles, running from Park Lane, taking in Piccadilly, Charing Cross, the Embankment, Parliament Square and finishing on the east side of Westminster Bridge.
A return leg and then a further run from Park Lane to Westminster were completed as the 919 Hybrid rubbed shoulders with the London rush hour traffic.
The 900bhp, all-wheel-drive racing prototype has a top speed of about 210mph, but had to adhere to road speed limits at all times.
The roads were not completely closed, but the Porsche convoy benefited from a rolling road block established by a team of eight Police outriders. London’s Congestion Charge wasn’t an issue because it doesn’t come into force until 0700hrs, besides which the 919 Hybrid isn’t road registered.
Webber completed the runs purely using the 919 Hybrid’s four-cylinder internal combustion engine. Cooling was an issue because the racing car is not designed to be driven so slowly for such a length of time.
“This wasn’t a trivial show car run - I had a few things going on," he said. "The car itself put up a bit of a challenge in terms of being able to go that slowly. The 919 Hybrid is built to be a flying machine and take in a lot of air for cooling. It is fitted with a downforce package specced for 220mph, so to drive it at between 10-15mph for a long period of time was a little bit of a concern. I was tempted to floor it and get into second gear but I had nowhere to go."
Webber said he wasn’t able to take in London’s iconic landmarks during his cruise around the city: “Visibility was tricky, especially when it was dark, although the lights on the Porsche 919 Hybrid are awesome - they are good for 220mph so I didn’t have to worry too much about that.
“The windscreen is essentially cut in half because of the sun shield we need for endurance racing, so I couldn’t see the top of Ben Ben or much of Trafalgar Square, for example. I got a good panoramic view, but I was keen to miss cyclists, traffic lights, junctions and kerbs. The kerbs were a really nasty height for that car so I couldn’t risk touching them.”
The Australian also had to contend with a bumpy road surface and tight street corners: “There was a bit of bottoming out on the road, but that wasn’t too much of an issue because we tend to experience that on race tracks at high speeds too.
“There were a few black spots for us in terms of steering lock. I had to really take a wide arc to make the junctions. Right-hand corners were easier because I can’t see much out of the car on the left-hand side.”
Webber participated in several Formula 1 street demonstrations when he drove for Red Bull Racing, but he said today’s run was a much bigger challenge.
“There were a lot of firsts for me. The length of the course was unique [compared to other street demos] and it was dark, which we could obviously never do in an F1 car.
“This was the most optimistic route that I’ve done, so that was impressive from Porsche and the City of London. To do things like this is great. London is a global city full of international people. There’s always something interesting that pops up in London and this morning it was us.”