PERRINN : The future is on the way
PERRINN wants to tackle 2 monuments of motorsport : the Nürburgring and Le Mans.
Who hasn't dreamed of one day joining a world-class motorsport team and winning the biggest races in the world? This is exactly what the PERRINN platform offers with its open source P424 project focused on the 24 hours of Le Mans. We met with Nicolas Perrin to discuss the founding of this unique initiative.
Electricity at the service of performance
In essence, Project 424 consists in developing and then building a 100% electric prototype with a view to taking part in the biggest endurance race in the world : The 24h of Le Mans, within 5 years.
Before meeting this challenge, a key milestone is setting a new lap record on the most demanding circuit on the planet, the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring. As a reminder, the current lap record set at 5min19s546 is held by the Porsche 919 Evo, an optimized prototype based on the 919 which won Le Mans 3 times in a row from 2015 to 2017.
Nicolas has already worked on an electric hypercar that has mastered the German track : the NIO EP9.
An ambitious project matured for a long time
Project 424 was born from the will of one man, Nicolas Perrin. An engineer in Formula 1, Formula E, and Le Mans, Nic wishes to use his skills to achieve a long held goal of winning Le Mans. « I started my career at Le Mans in 2003, working for Yves Courage. I fell in love with the race, the challenge of the 24h. I went to work in F1 at Williams, I still had the ambition to go back to Le Mans one day and win the race with my own car. That’s the reason I left F1 and started PERRINN in 2011, to fulfil that ambition. », he tells us.
Project 424 therefore benefits from more than 10 years of development work and experience. Initially, it was a hybrid LMP1 prototype intended for private teams. Unfortunately, the teams’ limited budget did not allow that version of the car to see the light of day. « The market has changed dramatically and now only the big manufacturers can afford to develop such cars. », he admits.
Despite everything, these difficulties did not weaken Nic’s resolve. Instead, he took a new approach with a 100% electric vehicle and a fresh chance to break records. He adds : « It was going to be a real struggle to develop my business this way. It was time to change my approach [...]. So I came up with the concept of an open source team, using the internet and digital tools as the infrastructure for our team, replacing the traditional factories, offices and physical test benches. I talked to the media about the idea in 2014 and the interest from the public was immediate. »
The 424 LMP1 hybrid is now the basis for its all-electric little sister.
More than a prototype: a philosophy
Everyone can be part of this team. Indeed, beyond the design of a vehicle showcasing new technologies, PERRINN wants to pursue an entirely new way of working and collaborating, highly unusual in the world of motorsport. All discussions and data relating to the development of the car are visible to everyone. This is the purpose of PERRINN.com.
Anyone who wishes to do so can connect to this website, register, contribute, and use the integrated chat platform to exchange design and development ideas with members already involved in the project : « PERRINN.com is an open platform, everyone can sign up. It is essentially a communication tool built like a social media platform for all our members to interact with each other, collaborate on 424 and follow our progress from the inside. [...] We welcome new members, investors and contributors regularly as our team grows. »
To be able to make the most of the experience offered, members acquire COINS, a sort of virtual currency or "Cryptocurrency" specific to PERRINN.com. These can be purchased or obtained in exchange for work done in the interest of the project. Nicolas explains the intricacies of how the community works: « Because our project is open source with only a small amount of capital investment available, we cannot afford to employ and pay our people. But what we do is give them COINS and when the project will attract new investment we will allow all members to exchange their COINS for money, all at the same time. [...] We also have investors who are members with a significant amount of COINS that accrue interest on their holding like a traditional investment. [...] Or you can join as a simple member and enjoy following and being part of the PERRINN community without working on the project directly. »
The first mission of 424 will be to beat the lap record on the legendary Nordschleife.
Battery or Fuel Cell?
At a time when the Peugeot and Ferrari Hypercar hybrids are preparing to make their first laps with a view to claiming victory on the legendary “Circuit de la Sarthe”, a full electric prototype challenger seems quite utopian. However, Mission H24 proves that the technological progress made in recent years in terms of performance, on-board weight, refuelling time, and autonomy make this prospect more than credible and ultimately not so distant.
By studying the respective technical specifications of the H24 and 424, we note a difference in size. While H24 uses a fuel cell and hydrogen tank to store its energy and thus achieve an autonomy substantially identical to that of its thermal counterparts, 424 is confined to a lithium-ion battery drastically limiting the autonomy. Our guest of the day gives us the reasons that pushed them to adopt this technical solution: « For an electric hypercar like 424, the battery is the best way to deploy a lot of power in a short amount of time, like during a lap of the Nürburgring. A battery has got the best energy and power density out of all energy storage solutions. This means a lighter car for a lap record attempt [...], which is what we are focusing on right now [...]. »
However, the door is not closed on a shift to hydrogen: « The problem with the battery is when you want to recharge it, it takes a lot of time. [...] For Le Mans 24h we may have to use a fuel cell instead of a battery as this allows for quicker recharge during pit stops. [But] Battery cells are getting better and better at getting recharged quickly so in 5 years time, a battery could work for Le Mans 24h too. Time will tell. [...] Technology is changing rapidly in the industry. », he concludes.
The 424 Unity simulation already gives an idea of the performance level of the 424.
From virtual to real
No 424 prototype has yet been built and a new chapter in its gestation is opening since it must now be adapted to electric propulsion. As is the case with most current racing cars, this phase of development involves the use of computer aided design, modelling, and simulation software : « We use exclusively cloud based software to develop 424 and collaborate. [...] All PERRINN members have got read and write access to our team documents. [...] The timing for PERRINN to use the cloud infrastructure is perfect as more and more tools are available at reasonable cost or for free. Also our data is open source so we are not worried about sharing everything on the internet. This opens door for us to access new tools that only universities can use right now. »
Members of PERRINN have still found a way to test 424 before its development comes to an end. They created a driving simulation from scratch. On the menu : a car, 424, and a circuit, the Nordschleife. « It is a driving and engineering tool. We use it to train our drivers, develop our car, optimise the setup for Nürburgring. It is also a great tool for marketing the project. Anyone with a computer at home can download the simulation and experience 424 at the Nürburgring. It is fun and very useful for us. »
The future success of the virtual prototype will attract strong partners. Partners who will then participate in the development, manufacture, and opportunities afforded by the prototypes to break records, this time in the real world. « We are already partnering with software companies like Onshape for the supply of design tools. We are partnering with Segula, a large engineering company, for the development of the battery cooling system. Segula is putting a young engineer on the project every year. Our intention is to keep finding new partners for 424. The open source aspect of our project is actually a strength for our partners as they can reuse our data for communication and training purposes. », explains Nicolas.
PERRINN wishes to breathe new life into the very closed world of motorsport: « So far it is working extremely well. [...] For me personally it is fascinating to see new contributors working on the project. [...] I cannot wait for more people to join the PERRINN team and our adventure. It will be a lot of fun. » Something to delight all enthusiasts.