Endurance racing is already full of fascinating approaches to making a prototype racer lap quickly, but if the Michelin Design Challenge is anything to go by, it's positively tame compared to the grid we can expect in 2030. The winners each take a different angle on what the Le Mans racer of the future will look like, using tech from artificial intelligence to tire-mounted batteries to gain an edge on the competition.
Winner: Tao Ni, Infiniti Le Mans 2030
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The winning entry came from 26 year-old Tao Ni, from Wuhu, China. He likened motorsports to space exploration, and said Le Mans 2030 will be about challenging the limits of humans and technologies.
With that in mind, his creation melds human and artificial intelligence together. During the day, drivers are in charge of wrestling the Infiniti around Circuit de la Sarthe, but he suggests artificial intelligence should take over when night falls. Think of it as World Endurance Championship meets Roborace, wrapped up in a slinky silver body.
When the driver switches to artificial intelligence, the shape of the car also adjusts. In human-powered mode, the pod on the back of the car is open to let the driver see what's going on around them, but when the switch is made, the pod closes up for better aerodynamics.
Runner up: Daniel Bacelar Pereira, Bentley 9 Plus Michelin Battery Slick
Bentley has quite a history in motorsports, something reflected in the 9 Plus' brutish good looks. Designed by Spaniard Daniel Bacelar Pereira, it blends an old-fashioned wide-grille with an aerodynamically efficient slim cigar-shaped cockpit. According to Pereira, this shape is possible because the car doesn't need to house an internal-combustion engine.
Instead, the Bentley 9 Plus has been designed around the idea of making an electric car last a full 24-hour race without needing to stop and plug in. His solution? Batteries built into the tires. Rather than swapping batteries or worrying about expensive quick-charging solutions, Pereira's vision of the future looks very similar to the current reality of lightning-quick mid-race tire swaps.
Speaking of vision, there are no windows or windscreens built into the car's cabin. Instead, drivers are faced with a widescreen virtual reality display. According to the designer, this makes the cabin safer, and offers a wider field of view than conventional glass windscreens.
Third: Kurt Scanlan, Maserati Cierzo C1
Of all the concepts featured in the Michelin Design Challenge finals, Kurt Scanlan's design is the most dramatic. As well as looking incredible, the massive wings on the front of his design are functional, working to steer the car by directing moving air from side-to-side.
According to Scanlan, this system reduces wear on the brakes and tires, which would allow teams to run narrower (more efficient) tires and would create less downforce on the front end.
Along with its clever air-steering ailerons, the Cierzo C1 is fitted with an external telemetry display. A ring of LED lights around each of the wheels lets the crowd know when drivers are on the brakes, making it easy to tell which drivers are lifting early, and which are pushing things to the absolute limit.
These are just the top three, but there were 17 incredible designs deemed worthy of a mention by Michelin. You can check them out in the gallery.
Source: Michelin Design CompetitionView gallery - 32 images