Dutch race car designer Wiet Huidekoper doesn't have the name
recognition of say Tony Southgate or even Nigel Stroud, the cars he's
designed certainly do; Lola T92/10, Porsche 911 GT1-98, the Dallara
LMP1, and the Porsche 9R3 LMP900; the stillborn Porsche LMP from
1999-2000. Our focus here is decidedly that car.
Huidekoper's relationship with Porsche began back in 1994. In 1992 Huidekoper's company, Motorsports Design Consultants (MDC) Ltd, had been commissioned by Dauer Racing to convert a Porsche 962 into a road legal road car. It was Dauer's intention to create road going super cars based on the eminently successful Porsche 962 race cars. Design work was begun in the fall of 1992, recalls Huidekoper, “The engineering included changes to the structure, mandatory visibility areas and such, as well as re-making the re-styled bodywork and adding creature comforts such as air conditioning, a fully upholstered interior, etc.” The car was completed and then presented at the IAA auto show in Frankfurt in September of 1993. Porsche's Norbert Singer took interest after seeing the car at the show, and by February of 1994 the decision was made to utilize the road-legal Dauer 962 as the basis for Porsche's 1994 Le Mans assault. Given the very shortened time frame, Dauer insisted on Huidekoper and MDC's involvement in the re-conversion of the Dauer 962 in order to aid Porsche with the more advanced composites.
Complicating the time schedule was the need to completely redesign the road car's aerodynamics in order to comply with the ACO's insistence on a flat bottom underbody, as well as the desire to optimize the car aerodynamically. “The ACO forced us to change to a flat bottom, as the Dauer version of the car still had the 962 Group C venturis. This called for a swift and all-out reaction. Singer went into his model wind tunnel and initially I was consulted to create downforce despite the flat underside. To cut a long story short, the overhangs had to be longer, double rear wing had to be added, which resulted in all new bodywork. In addition, the road car had to be road legal in this new format by late March of 1994 in order to even be eligible for Le Mans.” The Dauer Porsche 962 was Huidekoper's trail by fire. “It was a giant effort, but we got it done. We tested the car at Weissach in late March and then took it to the south of France to Miramas, a former racing track then owned by Goodyear and used as a private testing facility. The car won Le Mans that year, and the rest is history.”
“This is how Porsche and I got to know each other, so when they were planning their first GT1 in the summer of 1995, Singer rang me to ask if I was available to do the composite engineering once more as they did not have their own people for that. I agreed and MDC was once more deeply involved to create a part of Porsche history. The relationship continued to developed with the subsequent 1997 Porsche GT1 car. This was the first time that the Porsche racing department dared to rely 100% on CAD design and engineering. Their old process involved making clay models by hand from which they would eventually pull molds from. Singer had no confidence in the CAD and CNC process, but he trusted me and went along with it. It all worked out well and we set a new standard for them from then on.”
In 1997 Huidekoper was asked to lead Porsche Motorsport's design team following Horst Reitter's, Porsche's long time Chief of Construction, retirement. Huidekoper would direct the car's overall mechanical design, as well as directing the production detailing, with Porsche's Norbert Singer handling aerodynamics and car performance. This working relationship, established with the Dauer 962, was continuously developed with the 1996 Porsche GT1 and subsequent follow-on GT1 cars in 1997 and 1998.
Which brings us to post-Le Mans 1998 and the Porsche LMP. Porsche recognized that in order to continue to be competitive at Le Mans in the current rules structure would require a bespoke prototype. And with that in mind, design work had begun that summer with the idea of using the venerable Porsche turbo flat six as the power plant for the new LMP. This work was was completed by November, but then Porsche decided to not build the car.
Internally Porsche was debating the logic in continuing to utilize the traditional flat six, “If looks could kill I would not be around anymore, when I mentioned the traditional Porsche flat-6 engine as the design's major weakness!” recalls Huidekoper. In November Huidekoper sat down with Singer and Herbert Ampferer to discuss the LMP's design. “Previously this engine concept had been their strength, now it was old fashioned and their weakness. During this discussion I compared it with an average large capacity V8, giving the same horsepower and torque within these regulations, but typically weighing approximately 160kg, and being able to be structurally loaded.” Furthermore, 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. Huidekoper, “Looking at it like that, there was no choice; three days later the 1999 LMP900 car was officially canned.”
But that wasn't the end. Huidekoper, “In March 1999 I was asked to come to Weissach for a meeting. They showed me their 3.5 litre V10 F1 engine, produced for 1993 in great secrecy. A beautiful engine, proper compact F1 architecture, between 700 and 800bhp and with full pneumatic valve gear.” Porsche had supplied 3.5 liter V12 engines for the Footwork F1 team in 1991. They had a less than successful year; the Porsche engines were late, heavy, under powered, and unreliable. Zero for zero. Footwork would switch to Ford DFR power before mid-season and the Porsche engine contract was nulled. But Porsche being Porsche, they constructed the V10 engine as a post-Footwork design exercise. And there it sat until March of 1999 and a possible new purpose. Huidekoper continuing, “The question was if this would be a good idea for a new endurance engine. That was the re-start of the LMP900 project there and then, but now with the 5 litre version of the V10 engine and a new transmission, and it would compete in 2000 as we were too late to develop it all to compete effectively in 1999.”
Given the lightweight and small nature of the V10, it was a very good 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 car, Huidekoper, “The car was largely the 1999 LMP, but we reworked the suspension to suit the latest tire developments and made improvements in detail as we had more time, and it was of course made for the new engine installation. The designs were completed by the end of May 1999 and production could commence.”
But it never would. The LMP project was actually canceled before the prototype was completed, though the Porsche board allowed for its completion and brief testing. Testing was limited to two days at Porsche's Weissach complex with both Alan McNish and Bob Wollek doing the driving.
Various reasons for the cancellation have been stated, the most nefarious being to provide engineering manpower to develop the Cayenne SUV. Today it is accepted, and confirmed by insiders, that a deal was struck between Ferdinand Piech, then chairman of the VW-Audi board, and Porsche's Wendelin Wiedekin to co-operate on the SUV project. The VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne are indeed the same car underneath except for engine specification and exterior styling. At the same time it was agreed that Porsche would halt its LMP project, and withdraw from top-echelon sportscar racing for a 10 year period.
The rest is matter of course as the press reported after the Porsche's cancellation that driver's Bob Wollek and Alan McNish commented very positively about the car's potential. And so it could have been quick. Alas it all was for naught when Porsche canceled the project.
Interestingly, the LMP's engine ended up in the Porsche Carrera GT supercar. Furthermore, the engine had a healthy racing life too, albeit with two-less cylinders and 4 liters of capacity, in the Porsche RS Sypder LMP2.
Wiet Huidekoper didn't get to see out the Porsche LMP project due to illness and had to bow out for a period, thus he never got to see it run. In 2004 he spoke with Norbert Singer at Le Mans, “When I asked Norbert Singer during our long, long, long, conversation at Le Mans, the Friday before the race, if I could come to see it, he said that it would be impossible as they are under instruction to deny its existence.” And while I hope Wiet is able to see it one day in the flesh, here's to Porsche for finally taking the tarp off.