Fritz Enzinger grew up just a stone’s throw away from the Österreichring—now known as the Red Bull Ring—in Spielberg, Styria, Austria. It was the proximity to that racing circuit and the events that took place there that, according to Enzinger, ignited his tremendous passion for auto racing. Pursuing his calling relentlessly, Enzinger studied mechanical engineering in college and accepted a position at BMW in Germany upon graduation.
After five years in chassis development in Munich, Enzinger progressed to the BMW Motorsport department where he held management positions over projects that included touring cars, sports cars and, eventually, Formula One. He was content with his Head of Sporting Organization role at BMW until the Bavarian automaker pulled out of F1 in 2011. It was at this time that he let his inner circle of friends in the industry know that he was looking for a new job.
By coincidence, just as Enzinger was looking at leaving BMW, Porsche was just about to undertake its effort to return to LMP1—the top class at Le Mans—in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with the then yet-to-be-made 919 Hybrid. After a 16-year hiatus from top-level endurance racing, Porsche’s experience curve in this area had disappeared. Starting from scratch, it had to acquire someone with the knowledge and experience to take on this mammoth task. Enzinger was the obvious candidate.
Arriving in Stuttgart in November 2011, Enzinger took up the task at hand with fervor. The burden of living up to the huge expectations for the new Le Mans program at Porsche did not appear to weigh on him. With calm and meticulous dedication, Enzinger assembled a skilled and capable team that he handpicked himself. Even after growing from 15 to 260 members in size, the Porsche LMP1 team still functions superbly.
In 2015, in just the second year of its new Le Mans effort, Porsche scored overall victory at Le Mans and the overall WEC Manufacturers’ Championship. Porsche 919 drivers Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber also brought home the Drivers’ Championship. Winning six out of eight races and starting on the front row for all eight, Porsche’s outstanding performance in LMP1 can partly be attributed to the culture within the team shepherded by Enzinger.
To learn more about what makes Porsche 919 program work and what motivates the man behind it, we recently met with Enzinger in his sparse office in Weissach. The first thing we spotted was a victory laurel from Le Mans hanging on his wall…
Excellence: We can clearly see the ‘Spirit of Le Mans’ is all around you. With a victory at Le Mans achieved one year earlier than targeted, as it were, how does it feel to be stepping into your little office and being greeted by the—albeit wilted—laurel wreath from June 2015?
Enzinger: For weeks, I felt kind of pleasantly inebriated, or should I say exhilarated due of the strong odor emanating from the wreath. But now it no longer smells of either laurel or champagne…
Excellence: Porsche has won everything there is to win in LMP1 in a breathtaking span of time. What were your expectations when you took this job? Was there any secret plan for winning so early?
Enzinger: My immediate plan certainly was to establish a personnel structure I felt convinced would work. However, the success we had last year is hardly predictable, even though right from the start we intended to build cars capable of winning, and winning as early as possible.
In order to be prepared for success, you need a suitable personnel structure, for which I believe it was elementary to keep it simple. So we have two separate units, one for development which, until the
end of March, was headed by Alexander Hitzinger as Technical Director, and the other unit for testing and racing with Andreas Seidl acting as Team Principal. To have had this set up and confirmed to such an extent in the second year is quite something.
Above all, I think to have ended our first season with our maiden win in São Paulo under our own steam was decisive. To me, that clearly confirmed we had been pursuing the right track with the layout of our 919 Hybrid cars. Plus, we had managed our roll out for 2015 in time, with already our second concept (having moved from six to eight megajoules, i.e., to the top energy category) proving a great success.
To then win every single race in the second half of last year’s season is obviously something that you cannot plan, but it certainly proves to each one of us that there is a lot we had done right.
Excellence: After this tremendous success, is there room for improvement?
Enzinger: Our engagement in WEC is about developing our prototypes further. In other words: every single component, every detail of the car is being closely scrutinized and motivated by the relentless endeavor to make it even better. This is what spurs us on, which is why we did our endurance test as early as at the beginning of December 2015, immediately after having won last season’s last race in Bahrain. Besides, with the other two manufacturers—Audi and Toyota—developing on the topmost level, we cannot afford to lean back. Essentially, we never lost sight of or slackened pace in developing the car for 2016.
Excellence: In 2016, Audi and—to an even greater extent—Toyota have new drivetrains, whereas Porsche is banking on its winning system from last year…
Enzinger: The reliability of our car might work in our favor. The more the others have changed in the course of developing their new cars the higher the risk of losing out on reliability. They have a new drivetrain, new batteries, new hybrid technologies—as we know from past experience, a lot can go wrong in such highly complex systems. By contrast, the concept of our car has been confirmed, there are no major changes. It truly is an enhanced version of last year’s car.
Excellence: A lot has been said about improvements in battery technologies in general. How does that affect LMP1?
Enzinger: It is routine to try to develop battery performance, also power density and to reduce weight. And when it comes to battery technology we have managed to develop a groundbreaking concept in our Le Mans prototype. It’s a really path-breaking concept and especially important for models that are currently being decided upon by Porsche. We are pioneering this technology.
We have definitely made a big step. It is no longer about the Porsche mechanics learning how to handle high voltage—a process we have managed to get accustomed to over the last three years. Rather, we have set certain standards with the battery that hit precisely the right key at the right time. I sincerely believe that our 919 Hybrid is a valuable technology platform, particularly when it comes to our intelligent package involving the ingredients of the battery, hybrid and exhaust. I think we can safely say we have developed something truly significant.
What is new and what further confirms our path towards further enhancing this pioneering propulsion system is the fact that Audi has also changed its course of direction to incorporate the battery technology. Toyota is also following us even more closely. In other words, we have set a new technological standard and it appears that this standard is binding if you want to be competitive.
Excellence: How then, with your 919 Hybrid can you beg to excel, as it were?
Enzinger: We have high-tech in this car that nobody else has dared to tackle. We are the only OEM to have two separately working recovery systems. The additional turbine drives the electric generator but has nothing to do with the turbocharger increasing the performance of the petrol engine. One system presses the intake air into the cylinder, the other drives the generator, both are driven by the pressure in the exhaust system. Although Formula One, too, has a kind of exhaust energy recovery system with similar functions, nobody uses it in the way we do.
Excellence: It has always been Porsche philosophy that street cars and racing cars are developed side by side, inspiring each other and sharing technologies. How about when it comes to the battery technology?
Enzinger: The concepts are fundamentally different. While series production is all about range, we focus on performance, chargeability, on the technology of the individual cells. We are therefore the ones that develop know-how, which is of high interest to our colleagues involved in our future sports car concept, Mission E.
Excellence: Will some type of hybrid technology be offered in series production models?
Enzinger: There obviously is a continuous dialogue between our engineers and those in series production. They are all reporting to the same person, i.e., the Head of Development. This is why our car serves as a technology platform; because everything that we confirm as functioning properly may well be interesting to series production.
After all, together with the Mercedes-Benz Formula One car, our 919 Hybrid is the highest-performing hybrid car there is. And naturally, all our experience with the hybrid is of tremendous relevance for all the plug-in hybrids that Porsche will offer in the coming years. It is difficult to speculate on what these cars will exactly be like because, with our 919 Hybrid, we go beyond limits, which is something that cannot be done in the road series.
Apart from anything else, costs would be unreasonable. Just think of the very expensive materials we use. You cannot, for instance, simply transplant the electric engine from our 919 Hybrid into a street car. Everything will have to be adapted. Not a single part will be taken over as it is on the 919 Hybrid.
Excellence: Coming back to the lithium-ion batteries, what kinds of improvements have you made? We hear of improved storing capacities.
Enzinger: (Smiles) Well, each battery pack consists of a certain number of cells. These cells are permanently developed further, for example, regarding their density. So each season we’re getting better. When we start, our car is fully charged. However, during the six hours or 24 hours of a race, it has to live on its recuperated energy.
The amount of energy you are allowed to use per lap is strictly limited by the FIA regulations. We recuperate with our two recovery systems, which allow us to recuperate energy both during the braking and the accelerating process. For doing so successfully, two conflicting strategies need to work side by side.
A battery has hitherto not been known for promptly releasing energy and promptly storing it, although it will store such energy for a long time without any loss. So Alex (Hitzinger) and his team were faced with precisely this Catch-22. To cut a long story short: They have found a way out of this dilemma by enabling the battery to quickly charge and discharge, and store energy for any length of time.
Already in our first season we were able to show that it works. So now, our competitors have also noticed they need to rethink their strategies in order to be able to start in the higher megajoule category. All eyes, therefore, are on the development of a new era of batteries, because neither flywheel storage (which is what Audi used before) nor supercapacitors (Toyota had them) will handle these amounts of electricity.
Excellence: Racer Derek Bell used to get hung up on putting Porsche’s technology development ahead of results in the days of Professor Bott, namely wanting to win the World Championship and not wanting to be bothered with developments that weren’t going to finish the race, as he put it. But then being told: “Derek, we have to justify every race we do and that is by developing something for the future. That is why we go racing.” Is this still the case?
Enzinger: Our paramount mission is—and has to be—to act as a technology platform, which, as I mentioned before has us constantly share our developments with our colleagues from series production. As I see it: the more we succeed in developments that can be used by series production, the more this confirms our project. WEC allows that the two targets of winning races and furthering series production go hand in hand.
Nobody has matched the speed with which we develop. The thing is you can use one car and constantly develop it further, and you can put these modifications to the test in the next race. That is pretty much ideal.
Excellence: Is there a secret to your fast success?
Enzinger: I suppose part of it is the fact that in 2012 we finally decided to run our own works team based in Weissach, rather than delegating racing to an existing team outside. I have always wanted this, so I will never forget the 16th of July 2012 when I was told I would get my own works team. This has proved to be the right decision. It also makes every single Porsche employee identify with our mission and proud of his or her employer.
Excellence: To you personally, how does it feel to be so successful?
Enzinger: I have enjoyed my work from day one, never mind that in the evenings reaching my new home in Stuttgart I would collapse on the sofa and fall asleep instantly. Reaping the laurels for all the tough work is just an incredible feeling. After all strategic decisions had been taken you suddenly realize you have assembled a team of 260 utterly committed employees that all pursue this one common goal and that is winning races. We know we can do it and we are as committed as ever to continue in this spirit.