The four engine configurations between the four competitors are V4, V6, and V8. Gasoline and diesel fuel are used. Three of the engines have turbos. Of those turbos, one set seems conventional, one is a VNT, and the secretive one uses some new low inertia turbine and compressor geometries. For energy storage, two cars use flywheels, one a battery, and the remaining capacitors. Three of the cars use one MGU-K, one uses two. One car uses a MGU-H to recovery even more energy otherwise lost. Three are mid-engine and AWD with the other being front engine and FWD.
How’s it all going to play out? Le Mans is a unique track and race where low drag and reliability are the keys to success. Audi is the benchmark having been the dominant force. Toyota was the first major challenger to try something different by going with a naturally aspirated V8 as opposed to the turbo diesel in the Audi. My thought (and feel free to disagree with anything I think) are that Toyota is compromised on aero due to the longer length V8 and larger volume capacitors. I feel they compromised on aero to use more conventional technologies for better reliability. Last year, they had the cheater wing to lower drag, but this year in the first practice with no cheater wing, they are down on lap time compared to the quickest Porsche followed by Audi. Porsche, with a year under its belt, may have the best aero package of the mid-engine cars with the super compact V4. Last year, they suffered with the reliability of their drastically different V4 engine but perhaps they’ll have the reliability to win this year. So far, they have the fastest practice times.
The unknown is Nissan. I’ve said this to a few people, but it’ll be extremely difficult to beat Audi while using their same basic formula. Peugeot tried and it took them a few tries to beat Audi. Toyota has been trying but I think their setup is too conventional. Porsche has gone somewhat radical, but again its small little changes compared to Audi. I think Nissan took the correct approach in analyzing the situation and determining that maximizing aero performance would be the only way to beat Audi at Le Mans leading to the front-engine concept enabling super low drag aero. With the lack of development time rendering the car only FWD, I feel the car is essentially a Le Mans special. However, with the massively long straights at Le Mans, I do not think being only FWD should be too great of a performance deficit. While Nissan is currently way behind on lap time after the first practice sessions (not to be unexpected on a brand new car in basically its first race), they do have the fastest trap speed… It appears that front-engine low-drag bodywork concept is working. Ninja edit: Personally, I think Nissan will use their low-drag aero to improve their fuel economy to eek out one extra lap per stint. If they can go one lap longer than everyone else, that could save them two pitstops over the course of the race. We’ll find out in a bit over a week!