A hybrid vehicle has won the famous Le Mans 24 Hours. Hard to believe, but Audi has pulled off the seemingly impossible. Fielding two R18 e-tron Prototype Race Cars in the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours. The Audi Sport Team Joest took 1st place and 2nd place while the other two R18 TDI powered cars took 3rd and 5th.
"By achieving this further success at the world’s most important endurance race our engineers demonstrated their high technological expertise in a particularly impressive way," commented Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG. "With the e-tron quattro in combination with ultra lightweight design, we put a completely new technology on the grid and immediately won with it…”
All four Audi R18 cars had the chance to clinch what amounted to the brand’s eleventh Le Mans victory in total. After 378 laps, last year’s winners Marcel Fässler (CH), André Lotterer (D) and Benoît Tréluyer (F) at the wheel of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro designated as car number "1" were again the front runners. Dindo Capello (I), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) as the runners-up caused the all-wheel drive of the future in which the conventional drive system is intelligently combined with an electrically driven axle to record a one-two result. Audi is already testing this technology in which the drive shaft is replaced by electric cables for use in production vehicles.
Le Mans rookie Marco Bonanomi (I), Oliver Jarvis (GB) and Mike Rockenfeller (D) in the best conventionally powered Audi R18 ultra completed the fourth one-two-three victory for Audi at the Le Mans 24 Hours after 2000, 2002 and 2010. Romain Dumas (F), Loïc Duval (F) and Marc Gené (E) at the wheel of the second R18 ultra finished in fifth place.
Technology was a major paler in the Audi Sport Team Joest victories. Having already introduced the V6 TDI VTG mono turbocharged engine in 2011 it provided the heart for each of the R18 racecars. The twist this year was adding the new ultra-light transmission with a carbon fiber housing - a novelty in a Le Mans sports car - held up to the Le Mans endurance test covering a distance of 5.151 kilometers in all four vehicles without any problems.
The two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars embody these two technologies in a particularly extreme form - and they were the protagonists at the 80th edition of the endurance classic right from the beginning. They only had to relinquish the leading position to one of the two Toyota hybrid vehicles once for a few laps on Saturday night.
Le Mans is a race that isn’t without it’s fair share of incidents. 24 hours of continuous flat out competitive racing will yield some hair-raising moments. The winning car with chassis number R18-208H nicknamed "Electra" was not spared from incidents either. Marcel Fässler touched the track barrier twice on Saturday morning.
An accident by Allan McNish in the fast Porsche corners less than three hours before the finish caused the preliminary decision. Audi Sport Team Joest managed to repair the heavy damage at the front of the R18 e-tron quattro in record time and to thus save second place.
Gremlins seemed to plague the third-placed Audi R18 ultra - car number "4" - lost a lap right at the beginning of the race due to a check of the rear suspension followed by a late Sunday morning incident when a gear got stuck twice.
Two nearly identical slips caused the Audi R18 ultra #3 in which Loïc Duval set the fastest lap of the race to lose its chance for victory.
Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich had this to say after his four Audi R18 cars had crossed the finish line. "You should never rejoice too early at Le Mans, which was obvious again especially on Sunday noon…I can only take my hat off to the entire squad of Audi Sport that worked extremely hard for a year to make this triumph possible. It was a very big challenge to develop a hybrid car in such a short time that is quick and able to hold up for 24 hours.”
With its eleventh victory at Le Mans, Audi has extended its lead in the World Endurance Championship. Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish as the runners-up recaptured the lead in the drivers’ world championship.