A reminder of the first Le Mans KERS effort

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tags :  alternative-energy

kersThere has been much time, effort and money expended in bringing kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) to Formula One. The much-heralded introduction saw many of the teams developing a system at great expense and not choosing to race it, or those racing with KERS not really seeing a huge benefit.

At the end of the 2009 race season, the media seemed to be of the opinion that the team that had achieved most from KERS, having used the most successful system, was McLaren. Its KERS system was developed in conjunction with Mercedes and Zytek.

While Mercedes was new to racing hybrid systems, the same could not be said of Zytek, which had developed a system to race at Le Mans a decade earlier. The Panoz hybrid, raced in 1998, and known as 'Q9', really was revolutionary at the time, and Race Engine Technology's editor Ian Bamsey covered this in issue 47 (June/July 2010) of the magazine.

The Panoz was quite an individual car, being the only front-engined entry racing in LM GT1, which at the time was the premier category in endurance racing. This was exclusively for roadcars and for which a number of manufacturers - including Panoz, Porsche and Mercedes - produced limited numbers of very high-specification roadcars for homologation purposes. The Panoz car formed the basis of their subsequent open-top prototype that remained competitive for a number of years.

The Q9 system was based around a liquid-cooled permanent-magnet motor-generator, designed and produced by Zytek, which also developed the power electronics for the project. The motor was mounted on the gearbox and was capable of supplying some 120-150 kW at 18,000 rpm.

Tests at Zytek on a specially developed dyno showed that this had real potential, but the battery technology wasn't mature enough to match the motor's potential performance. At the time, none of the batteries (which were assembled by Zytek from cells supplied by Varta) approached the promised 120 kW, although significant progress was made from the initial battery that was able to discharge at a rate of about 60kW. Battery technology has advanced further since then, especially given the development of hybrid roadcars by many car manufacturers and the recent foray into KERS by Formula One teams.

The weight penalty of carrying the motor, battery and power electronics was considerable, and the heat generated by the battery - which sat where the passenger seat would normally have been - meant air cooling was required. The car's cabin would have been quite an uncomfortable place to be.

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An attempt to qualify the car at Le Mans during 1998 was the first time it had run in anger with the KERS, and there were serious problems with the main shaft in the motor, which broke, leaving the car to qualify with a significant weight penalty but no hybrid assistance. Further development after Le Mans involved a redesign of the main shaft in a stronger material, and the car qualified and raced strongly in the US later in the year, finishing third in class in the Petit Le Mans race.

The project was stopped at the end of that year, but Zytek has continued to develop its hybrid system and has been racing this recently in ALMS.

Fig. 1 - The 1998 Panoz Q9 was equipped with a Zytek-developed KERS hybrid system

Written by Wayne Ward

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