Porsche's 919 Le Mans car takes to London
Mark Webber does his morning commute in an LMP1 car. How does it cope with London traffic?
“The best bit was Park Lane. I got second gear, got to give it a bit. And then I had to think, OK, I’m on cold tyres…”
This morning, Mark Webber drove his Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 car around central London. Through Piccadilly. Round Trafalgar Square. Past Big Ben. Did a lap of Parliament Square. Hit all the high points, basically.
We’ve seen race cars on public roads before, so it’s easy to be blasé about it, but don’t go thinking it’s that straightforward.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever driven the car on a public road, the first time we’ve had it in an environment that’s not a racetrack,” Mark tells me, “it’s taken some attention to get it here. Neel [Jani] did a shakedown test on it in Germany, so I spoke to him and asked “how is it at 15mph?” But trying to reenact it is not the same.
“The engine’s quite robust, but as soon as we started I was like ‘guys, quicker, absolutely, quicker’. We ran with the engine on, but we’ve got no fans on the car to keep it cool and you don’t want to ride the clutch too much.”
With the help of eight police outriders creating a rolling road block, the 919 pottered through London from Park Lane to Westminster Bridge and back, accompanied by a new Panamera E-Hybrid (two hybrids, tech transfer, etc).
Trickiest part? “The second run through Parliament square was a mess. We got the wrong side of the traffic lights. I mean we did so well on the way in past Big Ben, but all those cars had to go somewhere… with the weight of traffic it was carnage out there. The police loved it though”.
“And I had to really concentrate – kerbs, couldn’t see them, because the front arches are up here. It was a nightmare through Piccadilly. I mean it would be an awesome picture to see the car launching itself off a kerb through there, but…”
“I had to look so far ahead, but had so much going on in front of me. At one point a girl with headphones on ran between us. Didn’t even see us. She saw nothing.”
Standard day in London, then. And by 7am this morning it was all over, the car was loaded up on to its transporter by the London Eye, ready to be shipped off to a more familiar environment, the next WEC round at Fuji in just over two weeks time.
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Webber is currently lying fourth in the championship, but with teammates Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, has won the last three races on the bounce, with three of the nine rounds remaining.
That’s all very well and Top Gear wishes him luck, but what we really want to see now is a grid full of LMP1 cars charging around the local landmarks. I’m sure we wouldn’t have any trouble getting a 24 hours of London off the ground, would we…?