Monday, March 4, 2024

Ferrari 499P LMH technical analysis

The last Ferrari to battle for top honours in the crown of endurance racing was the Ferrari 312PB, some 50 years ago in 1973. Although, the brand has been represented successfully in GT racing by the Squadra Corse arm of the company for over 20 years, in partnership with Amato Ferrari’s AF Corse team. This relationship will continue as the new cost controlled Hypercar regulations introduced in time for the centenary running of the Le Mans 24 hours, was enough to draw the prancing horse back to the elite of sportscar racing.

The Ferrari 499P Prototype has seriously impressed during the 2023 WEC season. Finishing on the podium at Sebring, Portimão, Spa Francorchamps and Monza, the red hypercar also claimed victory at this year’s historic Le Mans 24 Hours. The dominance of Toyota in recent years in WEC highlights how special this achievement is for Ferrari. So how did the Italian manufacturer take the fight to Toyota with minimal experience in modern prototype racing?

Red and yellow #51 Ferrari LMH car with both doors open moving through the pitlane with people celebrating
Victorious #51 Ferrari working its way through the guard of honour on the way to parc ferme. CREDIT: XPB Images

A brave new era of hypercar regulations

Ferrari had previously stated they would not enter another category of motor racing until it had fixed the issues within the struggling Formula 1 team, without championship success since 2007. The long-waited hypercar class, born from the coming together of the ACO and the FIA was the turning point. A set of cost sensitive regulations, with cars eligible in both WEC and the American run IMSA sportscar championship enticed a number of manufacturers back to the category.

The hypercar class is made up of Le Mans Hypercar (LMH), and Le Mans Daytona Hybrid (LMDh). Although similar in appearance, there are differences beneath the styled aerodynamic surfaces. A balance of performance would ensure a level playing field however. More importantly, the new aero regulations specify that the car has to be designed to hit a certain point on the lift/drag graph, which is relatively easy to achieve, allowing the cars styling to represent a manufactures identity, without risk of aerodynamic disadvantage.

These regulations, perhaps coupled with the recent cost-cap rules introduced in Formula 1, made the timing right for Ferrari to enter the new hypercar class.

Powering to victory

As is tradition for Ferrari prototypes, the name 499P is a nod to its engine capacity. 499cc is the displacement of a single cylinder of the V6 layout. The engine itself was based of the architecture of the 296 GT3 engine, a V6 3.0-litre, with the turbo’s mounted within the 120-degree vee banks, making it a “Hot V”. The significant difference is the requirement of the engine to be a fully stressed member, with the gearbox and subsequent rear suspension loads running through the engine. It was therefore a ground up design.

‘There is no reward for using a production-based engine [from regulation or performance perspective],’ explains Ferdinando Cannizzo, head of Ferrari Attivita Sportive GT. ‘It is an engine derived from production, so it shows that the technology in the road car is already looking like it is ready to race. We had a quick look at a bespoke engine, but we never considered it in terms of reality.’

Despite significant differences between the LMP and GT3 engine, Cannizzo is keen to feedback the lessons learntfrom the reliability testing and application of the hybrid system back into the road car department to improve reliability.

Ferrari 499P LMH with cutaway showing the engine and cooling radiators
Cutaway of the Ferrari 499P LMH showing the layout of the engine and sidepod radiators

The hybrid system

An area of change for the new hypercar regulations was focused on the hybrid system. The combination of the cars from WEC and IMSA categories required a levelling out of the hybrid rules to ensure parity. The impact of the four-wheel-drive system from the previous top tier of sportscar racing has therefore been vastly reduced.

Regulations dictate that an LMH car can still carry a front axle mounted MGU-K. The deployment speed of the hybrid however has been raised to 190km/h, effectively removing any advantage offered during cornering. This allows a more level playing field with the LMDh cars, with the hybrid element mounted on the rear axle by regulation.

> How the ERS and 4WD work on the Ferrari 499P LMH

Design of the 499P hybrid utilised the experience of the Ferrari Formula 1 team as explained by Cannizzo. ‘The battery is collecting the experience from Formula 1, but the system is completely different. We have four-wheel drive with one electric motor, and Formula 1 is different. But in terms of controlling the electronics, yes, there is a crossover.’ With the drive for reliability from the off, Ferrari opted for the proven sportscar experience of Bosch on the electronic systems, over its usual technical partner Magneti Marelli.

A cutaway view of a red and yellow Ferrari 499P LMH, showing the internal detail of the hybrid system
The hybrid system on the front axle in the Ferrari LMH 499P. CREDIT: Ferrari

The combination of both engine and hybrid systems approaches a possible maximum of 1000bhp (700kw) of power, 200kw of which is delivered from the hybrid. ‘The FIA WEC’s technical regulations, however, require us to limit the power delivered at any one time to around 500kW overall, a distribution that maximises performance when the four-wheel drive is activated,’ explains Lucio Calogero, Ferrari’s Endurance Race Cars Power Unit Design and Development Manager.

Transmission

At the concept phase of the 499P, Ferrari considered the use of an existing gearbox in the search for reliability. This notion was soon dropped to meet the regulation enforced minimum weight of 75kg. It also avoided compromising the rear suspension design by constraining the inboard pick-up points to an existing design. This allowed the suspension kinematics to be optimised for the new aero regulations, and for the wide range of tracks in both the WEC and IMSA championships.

‘The main reasons for making a new gearbox were to have proper pick-up points for the suspension to optimise the kinematics,’ says Cannizzo. ‘The second was the packaging of the suspension, and the third was matching the gearbox with the engine. Everything required a different gearbox specification. We were forced [to do this]. Initially, we tried to start from an existing transmission for reliability. Not GT3, because it is a different specification. We used the experience of the GT3, but were forced to make changes, first of all because of the suspension.’

Ferrari turned to high performance transmission manufacturer Xtrac for the subsequent 7-speed gearbox, and front mounted MKU-K differential. A sensible choice, with Xtrac’s wealth of endurance racing knowledge, and many Le Mans 24 victories to their name.

Dark grey gearbox mounted to metallic silver engine, complete with cooling radiators and exhaust pipes
The V6 ‘hot Vee’ engine mounted to the Xtrac gearbox. CREDIT: Ferrari

Aerodynamics

The most striking thing about the 499P, is it looks like a Ferrari. This is in no small part due to the regulations requiring manufacturers to target a point on the lift/drag curve. This allows designers to explore more unique solutions such as the Peugeot 9X8 and gives more freedom to incorporate styling from a marques range. Gone are the days of low drag bodywork for tracks such as Le Sarthe, with the regulations calling for the aerodynamics to be homologated for 5 years in a drive for cost reduction. A successful prototype built to the current regulations requires the ability to perform at a wide range of circuits, and this was an important target for Ferrari.

The aerodynamic team worked closely with Ferraris in house styling department, Centro Style Studio to give the appearance of a Ferrari, but that’s not to say there isn’t attention to detail within the aerodynamics of the 499P. The front nose resembles that of an F1 car with a series of wings, ahead of a tea tray extending forwards from the monocoque. A number of purposeful strakes on the nose, front wheel arch, mirrors and roof, coupled with a large tail fin and wing endplates all point to the efforts of Ferrari to keep the car stable in yaw, and likely contributing to the overall aero package.

Perspective view of the red and yellow #50 Ferrari LMH Hypercar, sat in a yellow and back striped background
The Ferrari 499P styling in all its magnificent Italian glory. CREDIT: Ferrari

‘If you analyse the performance window, the range is not that big, so what is important is to minimise as much as possible the aero sensitivity and how it is in the corners,’ says Cannizzo. ‘Of course, we have to guarantee the aero stability. As long as you are constraining the efficiency of the car, that is the most important thing.’

The wide vee angle employed in the engine allowed more freedom for aerodynamic innovation in the underfloor region.  A lack of typical cooling entry points along the tightly packaged side pods would suggest a large portion of the cooling flow is coming from the floor.

Tyres

Another change in the new LMH format was the tyres. Regulations dictated the 499P had to take the narrow front/wider rear option. As part of the FIA’s drive for carbon neutral status, a tyre roadmap was introduced for the 2023 season, banning the energy sapping practice of tyre preheating. The LMH tyre supplier Michelin also developed the tyre to contain a higher bio content. The aim was to remove the energy consumed in pre-heating and increase the time penalty for taking on new tyres to encourage teams to reduce the tyre used throughout a race.

The ability of manufacturers to develop custom tyres was also removed. It was therefore important Ferrari understood the tyre characteristics during the development phase of the 499P, as explained by Cannizzio. ‘If you have tyres that you can develop, you can have a higher degree of freedom to play with. Now [with this regulation] you need to match your design to the existing tyres. One of the most important jobs, then, was to ensure the model used for simulating the tyres in the simulator was correlated with the track. That was our first priority, to clarify, and for now the results are interesting. We then started testing and feeding back, tuning our simulation.’

High profile crashes, including the Ferrari 499P driven by Fuoco at the WEC Spa 1000km, ahead of Le Mans were attributed to a lack of tyre warming. The weekend was the cold and damp, conditions often associated with the night at Le Sarthe. The ban on tyre warming was subsequently lifted but only for the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Testing

The car first took to the track for a shakedown on July 6th 2022, unsurprisingly at the Ferrari Fiorano test track. What followed was an intense testing program at Barcelona, Portimão, Monza, and an endurance test completed at Aragon. A final test saw the durability of the 499P put through its paces over the bumps at Sebring, ahead of the cars debut race at the 1000miles at the same venue.

Red and yellow Ferrari LMH 499P exiting blue and white curbs at Sebring race track, with heavy tyre marks through the corner
Tackling the bumps at the Sebring 1000miles at the 499P’s debut race weekend. CREDIT: XPB Images

The track testing was only a part of the rigorous development phase. Ferrari’s in-house facilities for both the chassis and engine were utilised to give the car the best hope of competing against its more experienced sportscar counterparts, Toyota.

‘Its performance and reliability were developed on the testbenches of the road cars factory,’ highlights Calogero. ‘We started from the dynamic benches, on which the performance and controls were calibrated, then moved on to reliability, a fundamental aspect in endurance racing to which we dedicated around 1,000 hours of development. At that point, work continued on the dynamic workbench we have in Maranello and the refinement of performance on the track.’

Developing the 499P

The Toyota GR010 has largely dominated WEC again so far in 2023, with the painful exception of Le Mans. The ability of Ferrari to win in its first outing at Le Mans, after an absence of 50 years in the top class will go down in history as one of the greatest victories of the famous Circuit de la Sarthe. A popular win across the globe, and an attendance of 65,000 people at the subsequent Monza 1000km, shows how significant this victory is for the world of sportcar racing. The future of the hyperclass looks exciting and varied as the new crop of machines continue to go head to head – and long may it continue.

Red and yellow #50 Ferrari LMH car moving fast through the Eau Rouge corners at Spa Francorchamps, framed by red and yellow curbs
The #50 Ferrari 499P carving its way through the mighty Eau Rouge at Spa. CREDIT: XPB Images

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