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…It is around here somewhere. Hang on. Desk? Drawer? Shelf? Filed? Certainly not. Floor. Aha! Articles! Hybrid technology. BMW, Daimler Chrysler and General Motors will collaborate on a transmission for SUVs, says Automotive News Europe. Lighter battery key to success of hybrids says the headline on Page 21. No one made hybrid parts, so Toyota designed its own it says at the bottom of the page. Did they have Zytek’s number?

Bill Gibson is planning to take this technology to a new level. While Audi, Peugeot and the like chase diesel solutions, a different grade of fuel still pumped out of the ground and still likely to run out in our lifetime, Zytek is planning a hybrid LMP1 prototype for the 2007 season.

From a foxhole to a concrete bunker…
From the outset, when Zytek Engineering bought the remnants of Reynard, Bill Gibson had it in mind to return to the Panoz GTR-1 Q9 project of 1998 and regenerative braking systems. “We saw the potential then,” says Gibson, and plans to return to the programme again next year. What he needs is rule breaks from the ACO, and they are not giving them to him at present. He is going by the same rules as diesel, which is no good.

“If we are going to do it, it has got to be for next year,” says Gibson. “If we don’t do it for next year, we won’t do it. The ACO has given us a spec, and it is up to them to tell you what that spec is. At the moment we are not happy with it. To my mind, they gave Audi massive concessions with the diesel, and they are not giving us anything. It would be uncompetitive the way it is at the moment, against petrol and diesel. Against diesel the difference would be massive, but that is nothing to do with giving us better hybrid spec, that is curbing the diesel.”

Hybrid technology stores the energy created under braking and releases it under acceleration. Logic dictates that it takes a lot of braking to store a lot of energy, and the big issue lies at Le Mans, where more than 70 per cent of the lap is full throttle. “All you are doing is using your lost energy during braking to accelerate your car,” says Gibson. “That is all you can do. You don’t get enough of that, certainly at Le Mans. Around Le Mans, it is 70 per cent full throttle, and you cannot regenerate on the straight. You lose 50bhp, not gain it, and we need better concessions.”

While the technological challenge of getting diesel onto the track is impressive, and Audi have obviously done their homework big time, winning every race it has entered with the R10, it is flawed. The motor car has a limited life span, and will die before some of us. There is a sign by Stansted airport: cheap flights cost the earth, and with the advent of low-cost carriers more and more flight routes are being created, air travel is more and more accessible and fuel supplies are being depleted all the quicker. What, I wonder, will we do when we can’t fly anymore, can’t drive, can’t run our factories? We need an alternative.

It ain’t easy being green…
“The only way forward at the moment with green motor racing is either actually green fuels, bio-diesel stuff, stuff that you grow, or hybrids,” says Gibson, who laments the money which is being spent on diesel rather than battery technology. “Diesels are not green, petrol has had its day. Pure battery is a non starter for motor racing, fuel cells is a non-starter, hydrogen is too iffy and too unsafe, so really, grow your own fuel, or hybrid is the way to go. I say the hybrid way is a way of us generating money, but we also have knowledge of it, and they always say to stick with what you know best and we know as much about hybrid technology as anyone else in the world.”

I was primed with a single question which would torpedo his entire theory, but it would appear even Audi engineers are behind the times. Their view is that hybrid technology, such as the Toyota Prius, is not all that green either, that it is a US West Coast fad which uses fuel anyway, and batteries which need to be disposed of. “No, not strictly true; you haven’t done your research properly!” he says. Bugger. “The batteries we use on our electric cars at the moment are almost salt and water, sodium nickelchloride. It is totally inert and if they were spending the money on battery and fuel cell technology that they are spending on diesels, they would be a lot further on.

Can Zytek produce a car for 2007? With more than 170 people on its staff, and 30 working on hybrid and battery technology, as well as the racing department, everything is possible. “I have got a car and an engine now, and that is all part of it. This LMP1 project, from square one, from the buying of the remnants of Reynard, was to produce a hybrid car, because we did it with Panoz and we saw then the possibilities, and it is unfinished business. We knew that if we were to do it, we had to be in charge of our own destinies, including the car, the engine and the whole bit. We needed an inherently light car, because the battery, the motor, the electronics is all very heavy, maybe 150kg, although as technology increases the weight comes down. I have got that now, the car is very light. We needed a four-litre engine, not a 3.4 litre, so I am heading down the right path. We have got to do the new tub next.”

Get off the cross, we need the wood…
Last word, then, to the ACO. Will they accommodate Zytek’s project? “We don’t have a set of rules for hybrid,” says Technical chief of the ACO, Daniel Poissenot. “They are the same as diesel. If we have a strong project, we have to work, but at the moment, we are open to discussion. The Le Mans spirit is to have the same performance in the same category. It is the same for the diesel engine. This was the first year [of diesel], and I don’t think we are too far away. We started from a white page, and we are not far from the right time. We have to work on the consumption. We are happy with the speed of the cars, but we have to work with the LMP rules. They are a frame within which the manufacturer must work, but we must have the same level of performance. We need to work on the diesel fuel to have the same quantity of energy in the fuel cells.”

Everyone is talking about saving energy. I wonder how far it will go.

                                                                       Andrew Cotton
                                                                      September 2006

Zytek at sunset, wins Laguan Seca
Zytek at sunset
Hayanari Shimoda in the cockpit of the winning Zytek
Zytek leads Audi
September Zytek locking for checkered during PLM qualifying