Porsche LMP project from '99-'00 has been shrouded in secrecy since its
cancellation. So what do you do when contacted by someone
with it? Well you write about it. While in no way
to my usual level of detail, the little bit extracted was considered
enough to be presented here.
The design of the '99 LMP1, known internally as the 9R3, began summer 1998 with the intent of using the tried and tested Porsche turbo flat six. By November of that year design work was completed, but the decision was made not to build the chassis. But Porsche was debating the logic in continuing to utilize the traditional flat six. While it had helped Porsche win many races over a thirty-year period, fundamentally the flat-six power plant had a number of disadvantages when compared with contemporary racing engines: its weight (about 230 kgs including turbos and intercooler), the inherent weight distribution of the car, the additional need for cooling and the adverse effect this has on the aerodynamic performance of the car, and that it could not be used as a stressed chassis member. The second major consideration was that Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes were into their second year of their then current sports car programs at Le Mans and would provide very formidable opposition. With expectations being as high as they were for this new car, the decision was made to go back to the drawing board and to re-examine these fundamental elements of the LMP design.
Unbeknown to most, in 1992 Porsche had designed and constructed a 3.5 liter V10 F1 engine in response to the very heavy and less than successful V12 engine that Porsche had designed for the Footwork F1 team. This V10 F1 engine had been developed in complete secrecy and had been denied by Porsche ever since. Given the lightweight and the compact nature of the V10, it was the perfect starting point for a new LMP power plant; modern and without the inherent disadvantages of the aging flat six. The engine was increased in capacity with possibilities for both 5.0 and 5.5 liters configurations through an increase in stroke and a slight increase in bore. The ACO mandated engine intake restrictors made the pneumatic valve system of the F1 engine redundant (with the inlet restrictors limiting revs by restricting airflow), so the system was discarded in order to fulfill the aim of longevity and simplicity of construction and maintenance.
The re-design of the LMP sports racing car around the new V10 endurance engine utilized most of the previous design work from the '99 drawing-board car. Changes were made to the suspension geometry to account for updates in tire developments and additional modifications were incorporated relating to engine installation. The design work was completed by May of '99 and chassis production commenced.
The project was actually canceled before the prototype LMP1 was completed, but the Porsche board allowed for its assembly and (brief) testing. Testing was limited to two days at Porsche's Weissach complex with both Allan McNish and Bob Wollek doing the driving. Various reasons for the cancellation have been sighted, the most nefarious being to provide engineering manpower to develop the Cayenne SUV. Conspiracy theorists sitting around the BBQ speculated that a deal was struck between Ferdinand Piech, then chairman of the VW-Audi board, and Porsche's Wendelin Wiedeking to cooperate on the SUV project. The VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne are indeed the same car underneath except for engine specifications, although this doesn't necessarily prove anything as the company was moving to cross-platform use on many of the models of the VW/Audi/Porsche line-up. And it more than likely would have been a condition for Porsche to withdraw its Le Mans project and leave the way clear for Audi to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. An interesting detail in this respect is that in 2000 Audi covered less distance to win Le Mans without any intermarque competition than they had covered the previous year with their first LMP car to come 4th against the opposition of BMW, Toyota, and Nissan. Certainly a Porsche LMP would have pushed Audi much harder in 2000 had it been present.
The rest is matter of course as the popular press reported after the Porsche's cancellation that driver's Bob Wollek and Allan McNish commented very positively about the car's potential. And so it could have been quick. Alas it all was for naught when Porsche killed the project. To this day Porsche denies the existence of the car, even as it sits in the workshops of the racing department at Weissach.