This is the future of motorsport. Probably

Renault, Porsche and Citroen deploy their crystal balls. Exclusive renders within

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For car manufacturers, 10 years is almost tangible. New cars we’re writing about this month began on a sketchpad five years ago, and were twinkles in their designer’s eye eons before that. In motorsport, 10 years is an ocean of time, whipped up by abrupt regulation changes, technological breakthroughs and fickle fans. It’s impossible to predict where top-flight motorsport will find itself a decade down the line. But that hasn’t stopped us from prodding the greatest minds in the sport until they agreed to speculate.

It’s all Renault’s fault. Once we got wind of the R.S. 2027 Vision F1 Concept, we set about convincing the reigning Le Mans 24hrs champion, Porsche, to have the same hypothetical conversation about an LMP1 prototype for 2027, before sketching its ideas, just for us. Then we asked Citroen Racing, the most successful team in WRC history, to do the same. The results are radical, but in all cases grown from the seeds of technology that already exists – you’ll find no flying cars or nuclear fission here…

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Formula One
Let’s start with the facts and move on to the why. Renault’s racer of the future is a real thing. Not real as in Nico Hülkenberg could sneak off in it for a hot lap anytime soon, but it’s a physical model with a bevy of theoretical numbers attached. Utilising hybrid power, the Vision concept has a turbocharged V6 as well as a KERS system running 500kW (nearly five times current cars) thanks to not one, but two KERS-K units, at the front and the rear.

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These feed high-capacity batteries, which are twice as dense as those currently in F1 cars and power two 250kW electric motors on the front axle. Yep, this Formula One car is 4WD, and has 4WS. It’s also mighty powerful, as in 1,340bhp powerful, and thanks to a 3D-printed bodyshell made from advanced composites, a smaller fuel tank (capable of carrying 60kg of fuel, compared to 105kg today) and a refreshing lack of aero addenda, it weighs a mere 600kg. Should be quite a handful to drive, then, which is precisely what Cyril Abiteboul, MD of Renault Sport Racing was after.

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“We’ve started to lose a bit of interest and respect for the driver because people think they can do what F1 drivers are doing. We need to change the perception of how difficult it is to drive these cars. We must have respect for what the driver is doing and when you look at them you must think to yourself, ‘Wow, I couldn’t do that.’”

That’s the thinking behind the see-through, honeycomb-patterned closed cockpit – reducing drag down the straights, improving safety (the canopy is framed by two titanium pop-up roll-over bars that fire up in milliseconds should the car capsize), and placing the driver where the fans can see them – recasting them, not the tech, as the hero. By 3D-printing the entire fuselage, the seat can also be integrated into the shell and custom-shaped for that particular driver. Hell, the entire car could be custom-sized to the driver’s measurements, placing the wheel and pedals all in the perfect positions without a booster cushion in sight.

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If you’re a fan of the minimalist F1 cars of the past, Renault’s got your back, too. Over to Stéphane Janin, head of concept design: “In my team most of us were big fans of F1, but are a bit disappointed, to be honest, by the look of the cars now. In the past you could understand how it worked just by looking at it. We wanted to go the opposite way of these modern cars with so many little winglets and stuff that you can’t understand the shape of, hence the soft and clean body.” Beautiful, isn’t it? It just looks fast, even parked up on the grid, and the lack of obvious downforce adds just a soupçon of danger.

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Of course, it can still drill its tyres into the tarmac, but via an active pop-up rear spoiler rather than a fixed one, and the aero isn’t the only thing that’s active; the suspension is too, to allow for set-up changes mid-race. And then there’s the clever stuff. A pure EV mode allows it to creep around cleanly and silently in the pits and on formation laps, and an autonomous setting – signalled by the huge C-shaped LED lights at the front illuminating – can be activated remotely by the stewards, making safety cars redundant and eradicating false starts after an accident and dodgy overtakes under a yellow flag.

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There’s also LED lighting incorporated into the wheels that forms an image when they spin, showing what position the racer is holding, how much energy they have stored or – if the coffers are running low – providing handy advertising space. There’s even a digital display in the centre of the steering wheel that tells each driver their “fan ranking” position. This ranking is determined by spectators’ interaction on social media, rewarding drivers on the track with an additional boost of power in the last laps if they do something entertaining or exciting. But also punishing them if they’re idiots.

Renault also wants to change the race format. Friday night would see a Rookie Night Race, featuring the teams’ reserve drivers and drivers in their rookie year. The main race on Sunday would be divided into two parts: a long race and a second, shorter sprint known as the Final Sprint.

So why do a concept like this? “Because I have no doubt that F1 is a product that can be improved,” Abiteboul tells us. “I think we’ve already made a big step between last year and this year, but F1 is always about constant refinement and improvements. I’m not saying what we have today is bad, I’m saying it will have to evolve. If you don’t evolve, you’re dead.”

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Endurance Racing
Easily the trickiest assignment of the three, this one. Porsche was happy to sketch out its endurance racing vision, but wouldn’t talk about any of the theoretical technical details – the speculation was up to us. Boo, hiss. They were wary about two things: giving away any information about future tech that might give their competitors a leg-up, and giving the impression that this was them committing to the sport for another 10 years – they’re not, necessarily. Hard to blame them for being cautious about their future – even Audi, who stuck around for 18 years, collecting a baker’s dozen of Le Mans 24hrs wins in that time, ducked out recently, swapping its phenomenally expensive WEC campaign for the more cost-effective and squeaky clean Formula E.

Then there’s the issue that its closed-cockpit, 2016 Le Mans-winning LMP1 prototype – the 919 – already looks like something from a decade down the line, and already combines petrol and electricity (via a 500bhp 2.0 V4 turbo and two hybrid systems, producing up to 750bhp) to devastating effect.

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So where to from here? Well, fair to say top-flight prototype racers won’t be dialling down the extra-terrestrial aesthetic anytime soon. Porsche’s 2027 LMP1 racer is as alien as you’d expect, but elegant in a way that the bluff front end of the current LMP1 crop simply doesn’t permit. The gentler, more organic radius for the wheel pods and the lower, smoother roofline show the emphasis will move on from ever-increasing downforce, to reducing drag and hiking up terminal speeds on the Mulsanne Straight – even the spokeless wheels are in on it. Downforce will be present and correct, of course, just more carefully managed by fins behind the rear wheel arch, gaping Ford GT-style cavities between the fuselage, surfboard-sized side sills and rear wheels, and a socking great front chin spoiler, diffuser and a rear wing mounted on what appears to be a moving arm.

Dare I say there’s a little Aston Martin Valkyrie in the passenger cell? A sprinkling of McLaren X-1 concept in those stretched rear pontoons? Some Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo in that dorsal-fin spoiler? OK, you get the idea, it’s chocka with design cues only the planet’s most extreme four-wheeled creations can pull off.

The powertrain? No spec sheet, but the designer has all but spelled it out for us. The ‘E’ in Porsche, highlighted in red signifies significant electrical assistance, as we’d expect, and unless Mobil 1 is about to branch out from synthetic engine oils to battery coolant any time soon, the other suggestion here is (just like our 2027 WRC and F1 cars) petrol, and therefore noise, will still have an important role to play. Hip hip, and indeed, hooray.

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World Rally Championship
The World Rally Championship is experiencing something of a resurgence in 2017, and it’s not just a mildly dull F1 that it has to thank. Between inspired rule changes (that have attracted two new works teams and spawned spectacular cars with more power, more downforce, active diffs and wider tracks), four different winners in the first four races and Kris Meeke forgetting what the difference between a car park and a road is, it’s once again become the series to watch. But where does it go from here? The drivers can’t get any braver, the bobble-hatted spectators can’t get any dafter, so how does WRC stay relevant and exhilarating? We spoke to Alexis Avril, project manager for Citroen Racing’s 2017 car, and here’s how.

First off, the outrageous aero (we’re looking at you, Toyota) isn’t about to calm down anytime soon. Sure Citroen’s sketch is exaggerated for effect, but there’s clear intent there to increase the rear wing, the rear diffuser, the side sills and the protruding chin. Ground clearance appears to be a secondary consideration here, although that can always be added in later. According to Avril, “You can never have too much downforce.” Sounds like our kind of guy. Citroen’s designers have even envisaged a semi-closed, Honda Insight-aping rear wheel to reduce drag and capture vital tenths on those rarest of WRC sights – straight bits.

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Under the bonnet of this suspiciously low-slung future C3? Downsizing gone mad. “We imagine something like a 1.0-litre turbo, maybe even less. Three cylinders, maximum, with hybridisation of course to help drive the front wheels in certain specific stages. Four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering” Avril explains. So 400bhp-plus, from a 1.0-litre or less with some electric assistance.

Compensating for the weight of the hybrid batteries will be a carbon-fibre-intensive construction, and aluminium in parts where there’s currently steel – a fair reflection of the sort of materials mainstream superminis should be using come 2027, but Avril’s biggest weight-saving measure cuts 70kg in one swoop – ditching the co-driver.  It’s radical, we know, but hear him out.

“For safety, we know that having the crew close to the centre of the car is important, so why not have the co-driver behind the driver in the centre, or better still lose them altogether? Technology could effectively take over the co-driver’s job, and feed automated notes to the driver.”

Anyone that’s carved up rally stages on their home console will know a computer is more than capable of delivering the right note at the right time. And if it also improves safety and speed, then co-drivers could soon be a relic of the past.

TopGear
Author: TopGear
TopGear is the world’s best-selling motoring magazine. The Malaysian edition holds similar status, as acknowledged by the industry.

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