Porsche 919 Hybrid Le Mans Racer's Steering Wheel Explained: Buttons Galore

Porsche 919 Hybrid Steering Wheel 1 photo
Photo: Porsche
This year's edition of the FIA World Endurance Championship was a bit of a surprise, chiefly because Porsche returned to the competition after a long hiatus with a full-on LMP1-H contender - the 919 Hybrid. Even though it was raced on just three occasions, it was a superb return for the German automaker to the highest tier of endurance racing.
Like all super complex race cars, the Porsche 919 Hybrid is a bit of a mechanical and technological showcase. Weighing just 870 kilograms (1,920 lbs) without driver and fuel, the sports-prototype racer is propelled by a very intricate powertrain setup. A 2-liter turbocharged V4 mill aided by a very complex energy recovery system is basically it. Naturally, that mumbo-jumbo can be best understood by taking a look at the sea of buttons on the steering wheel.

Although we're referring to it as a steering wheel, this piece of kit isn't round, but a flat rectangle made from carbon fiber that's more of a miniaturized computer than anything else. What did you expect from the most complex racing car ever built by Porsche to date? Nevertheless, the shape isn't an accident or a designer's wet dream. It looks like this due to the space required during driver changes.

In addition to that bit of effort, how would you possibly incorporate the large display in the center that shows the driver information such as the speed, what gear is engaged, the charge status of the Lithium-Ion battery pack and various other extremely critical parameters.

24 buttons and no less than six flappy paddles

Starting with the scroll wheel button at the top left, that's used to select the displayed information of the digital screen, while the scroll wheel on the top right sets the speed of the windshield wipers. Confused already? So are we, but we still have 22 more buttons to go before eluding this steering wheel.

Moving on to the scroll wheel on the left grip handle, that's used to increase or decrease the team radio's volume, while the right grip handle's rotary control is used to set the brightness of the display, a feature that's necessary especially during nighttime driving.

All nice and tidy then, but the most frequently used buttons are those positioned along the top outside edge to be easily reached with the thumbs. The blue button at the top right is the headlamp flasher, used by fast prototypes to warn the slower vehicles on the track before they are lapped. As for the red button at the top left of the steering wheel, that one demands electrical power from the 919's battery.

But wait, there's more!

Further inside on the right and left sides of the wheel are what Porsche calls plus and minus switches. The two adjust the aggressiveness of the traction control for the front and rear axles, but also distribute brake balance between the axles. The yellow, blue and pink buttons are not used quite as frequently.

It's redundant to explain what the DRNK, WASH, PIT and N(eutral) buttons do, so let's get on with it and focus on the top centre. Here you'll find green buttons for radio communication on the left as well as the OK button on the right. The latter is used to confirm the driver has performed a setting change, which was requested by there Porsche Team via the pit radio.

As for he two rotary switches called 'Multi', these little buggers correspond with one another. 'Multi' buttons are used to program the engine or fuel management through combinations such as A2 or B3. Three other rotary switches are also there and they're used to pre-select the brake balance, set the traction control according to weather conditions, while the last is used to mange the hybrid strategy.

What about the six flappy paddles? Isn't that overkill?

From a normal driver's point of view it is. But as far as modern sports-prototype endurance racing goes, they make perfect sense. On the reverse side of the wheel you'll first find the centre-mounted paddles. These are used for changing gears - pull the right to upshift and the left to downshift, just like you do with a 911's PDK dual-clutch gearbox. And now comes the tricky part.

The lower paddles behind the steering wheel operate the clutch and their function is identical on either side. Depending on whether the driver just entered a right or left curve, he decides which paddle is easier for him to operate. Then there's the paddle at the top left which operates the boost, while the one on the upper right side initiates manual energy recuperation. This feels like a slightly engaged hand brake and supplies the battery pack with zap gained from kinetic energy.

With this being said, those drivers that complain too much buttons on the steering wheel of passenger cars are unfathomable and an eyesore might want to reconsider their position. After all, setting the audio system's volume or skipping through your MP3 library isn't as hard as the fingertip ballet endurance drivers have to perform with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, all while racing at mind-bending speeds.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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