Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid

Electrically-boosted Le Mans race car is mechanical test bed for the forthcoming 918 Spyder.

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The unique GT3 R Hybrid is a racing laboratory, built to test ideas and refine world-leading technology. Porsche believes it is at least a year ahead of rivals with its KERS development. The lessons learned on this programme will influence future cars – and as the innovation is already delivering significantly increased efficiency, performance and excitement, this incredible car proves that a cleaner, greener future should hold no fears for Porsche fans.

Think ‘hybrid’ and the chances are the Toyota Prius springs to mind. But Porsche Motorsport’s amazing 911 GT3 R Hybrid looks set to change all that.

Made to compete in last May’s Nürburgring 24 Hours in Germany, it’s a pure racing car that doubles as a rolling laboratory. It’s built around a 480bhp GT3-spec 911 racer, but with a pair of electric motors driving the front wheels on-demand, the GT3 R Hybrid has an extra 160bhp, at 640bhp.

The motors are powered by a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), similar to that featured in Formula One last season. Put simply, the 911’s KERS uses a generator mounted between the front wheels to gather energy that would otherwise be wasted during braking.

This energy spins a flywheel at speeds of up to 40,000rpm, and when you pull the steering wheel-mounted paddle, the stored energy powers the motors on the front wheels.

It takes an incredibly complex system to harness such simple physics, but the upshot is you have a 30 per cent power boost at your fingertips, for eight-second bursts. We drove the car at the Eurospeedway near Berlin, and found out just what this feels like.

It takes a few laps for the KERS to become fully charged – you hear it whirring away menacingly from the passenger side of the cockpit. But once the dashboard indicator is lit, a quick tug on the small metal paddle delivers a tremendous and immediate surge of acceleration.

As the GT3 R is powered by a 480bhp 4.0-litre flat-six petrol engine, it’s hardly sluggish – yet when you pull on the magic lever, it’s as though you’re being hurled along by an unseen hand.

It takes a lap or two to find the confidence to unleash the extra go in anything other than a straight line. However, when you do the added power and torque are deployed seamlessly. Indeed, far from upsetting the GT3 R Hybrid’s handling, it can actually aid it, such is the supplementary propulsion being transmitted through the front wheels.

The downside is the extra weight – the KERS adds a total of 150kg. Still, pulling that paddle is addictive, and would bring a new dimension to a high-performance road model. We might just find out with the launch of the 918 Spyder hybrid supercar late this year.

Rival: Audi e-tron Another rolling test bed for Audi’s future sports cars, the e-tron concept isn’t a hybrid, as it uses pure electricity. The eco version of the R8 is on sale in 2010, for around £120,000.

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