Despite not being a part of Formula 1, Porsche has leveraged similar technology to develop its own hybrid race car, due to debut next month at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show before being put to competition use in this year's Nurburgring 24 Hours endurance race on May 15.
The new race car is the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid and is based on the 911 GT3 RSR. Unlike conventional hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, the 911 GT3 R Hybrid uses a system similar to the F1-style Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) in which an electro-mechanical flywheel is used to store kinetic energy created under braking. The flywheel, which spins at speeds of up to 40,000 rpm and is located where the front passenger normally sits, can then be tapped to release its stored kinetic energy in the form of electricity, into a pair of 80 horsepower electric motors mounted on the front axle and driving the front wheels, while the gasoline engine powers the rears.
The system works in conjunction with the car's 480 horsepower naturally-aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six engine and provides a maximum eight-second burst of propulsion to the front wheels at the push of a button, delivering the boost necessary to maximize exit speed from a corner or to pass another car.
The new 911 GT3 R Hybrid is being developed as a testbed for future technologies under the banner of "Porsche Intelligent Performance." Its advanced drivetrain may or may not make it to the production world, but racing has historically been a source of innovation in passenger cars. There's also the chance that Porsche could return to Le Mans in 2012 under new regulations that encourage hybrid vehicles.
Porsche's Wolfgang Durheimer said last summer that an all-electric 911 might eventually be in the offing, but to become reality it will have to meet Porsche's rigorous performance standards. Spy shots of what are believed to be a hybrid 911 prototype were also caught last summer, complete with a domed protrusion on the front bonnet bearing an electricity hazard sticker, but no further word on development has come to light.