Allan McNish and his Audi Sport team-mates attended the unveiling of the Audi R18 at the Audi Sportpark in Ingolstadt, Germany on 10 December.
Audi’s latest sports-prototype features a brand new 3.7-liter V6 TDI turbocharged diesel engine and marks the first time a “closed” cockpit sportscar has been raced by the “factory” Audi Sport Team Joest outfit. However, the British-based Audi Sport UK entered an Audi R8C Coupé at Le Mans in 1999.
“I tested the R18 for the first time at the end of last month which was essentially the Coupé’s initial roll-out combined with its maiden test,” confirmed McNish.
“The car ran very well. We encountered wet and dry conditions, enabling us to collect a lot of information in all types of track conditions.
“After racing an ‘open’ Audi sportscar since 2000, it was a new experience for me to again drive a sportscar with a roof. Audi has done a great job with the design – the front certainly looks very aggressive – I’m sure we have a contender for race honours.” Audi took part in Le Mans for the first time in 1999 and has taken nine overall victories (2000-2, 2004-8, 2010) in 12 attempts, with Audi drivers on the winners’ rostrum every year since 1999. Indeed, in 2010 Audi achieved its third 1-2-3 finish in the world’s toughest endurance race. “In the future, aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. “A closed car has clear advantages in this respect. Our computer simulations have been confirmed in the wind tunnel and during initial track tests.”
Significantly smaller engines are required at Le Mans in 2011 as the rule makers are hoping to achieve a substantial reduction in engine power. By opting for a 3.7-liter V6 TDI, Audi retains the diesel concept that saw its first victory in 2006.
“From our point of view, the TDI continues to be the most efficient technology,” said Ulrich Baretzky, Head of Engine Development at Audi Sport.
Another new development is the six-speed transmission in the R18, which has been specifically modified for the smaller engine. The chassis and aerodynamics package contains a developments from the R8, R10 TDI and R15 TDI, while fitting identical-size front and rear wheels is new to an Audi Le Mans sports car. Yet this configuration apparently allows a more balanced weight distribution.
The Audi R18 has been designed for progressive electrification, which Audi Sport hopes to introduce step by step. “Efficiency is always the crucial factor,” said Ullrich. “No matter which form of energy recovery we choose, the key aspect for Audi – in motorsport as well as on the production side – is that it provides a true advantage.”
Audi bids for glory in the seven-race Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in 2011. The series visits Europe, North America and Asia. It includes the Le Mans 24 Hours (11-12 June) with a 1000km race at Silverstone (11 September). The racing debut of the Audi R18 is planned for the Spa-Francorchamps 6 Hours on May 8. Prior to the event, the new prototype will be do its first race laps on the track at Le Mans during the official test day on April 24.
Audi is planning to field three Audi R18 cars at Le Mans, which will be entered by Audi Sport Team Joest, the most successful Le Mans team of all time. At the opening ILMC race at Sebring on March 19, the team will use two ‘R15 plus plus’ cars. “Sending the R18 into a race at such an early time would be difficult in terms of logistics and interfere with our development program,” explained Ullrich.
For the development of the closed R18, engineers at Audi Sport were able to draw on the experiences gained in 1999 with the R8C and in 2003 with the LMP1 of "sister brand" Bentley that was victorious at Le Mans. "Also the Audi A4 DTM which, for example, features a heated windshield. This allowed us to shorten the development cycle in respect to the cockpit ventilation, the doors and windshield heating," explained Dr Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Engineering at Audi Sport. The R18’s headlights are the first to be completely made up of LEDs.
The new generation of headlights was developed in cooperation between Audi Sport and the Technical Development division of AUDI AG. By using them at Le Mans, it will help to bring them closer to use in production vehicles. Audi’s light designers produced the LEDs of the daytime light in the shape of the number "1".
Audi Motorsport Events in 2011
Audi R15 TDI:
Mar 19 - Sebring 12 Hours (USA)
Apr 24 - Test day, Le Mans (F)
May 08 - Spa-Francorchamps (B) 6 Hours
Jun 11/12 - Le Mans (F) 24 Hours
Jul 03 - Imola (I) 6 Hours
Sep 11 - Silverstone (GB) 6 Hours
Oct 01 - Petit Le Mans, Road Atlanta (USA)
Nov 12 - China (CN) 6 Hours