Audi is taking a two-pronged approach to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the newly created FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) this year. It has developed the Audi R18 ultra racecar in parallel with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
Development of the e-tron quattro project started in February 2010, and 18 months later the initial concept was ready for the first test.
"This is a relatively short cycle for a technology that has never been tested in motorsport and still doesn’t exist in production," stressed Dr Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Technology at Audi Sport.
For 2012, the Audi R18 is built with and without hybrid drive thanks to an identical platform used for both cars.
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the new Le Mans prototype that makes its debut on May 5 in the 6-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, and will then fight for victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16/17.
Audi has united the next generation four-wheel drive with the potential of electromobility. To this end, one axle is powered conventionally with a TDI engine, the second by electric motors.
Kinetic energy is recovered on the front axle during the braking phase. It is fed as electricity into a flywheel accumulator before being retrieved under acceleration above 75mph. During this procedure, only the front axle is integrated. The 510hp V6 TDI powerplant continues to transmit its power to the rear wheels. Both systems complement each other to create the e-tron quattro.
The R18 e-tron quattro’s twin brother is the ‘R18 ultra’: it is the lightest Le Mans prototype Audi Sport has ever built. To compensate for the additional weight of the hybrid system, lightweight design and construction was the focus throughout development of the 2011 Le Mans-winning R18 TDI, including innovations such as a new transmission with a carbon-fiber composite housing.
In 2012, Audi Sport Team Joest will field two R18 e-tron quattro and two R18 ultra prototypes in the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 16/17.
The two hybrid cars are driven by last year’s winning trio of Marcel Fässler (CH), André Lotterer (D) and Benoît Tréluyer (F) as well as Dindo Capello (I), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB), who boast 13 Le Mans wins between them.
New signing Loïc Duval (F) starts together with Timo Bernhard (D) and Romain Dumas (F) in an R18 ultra, as will Marco Bonanomi (I), Oliver Jarvis (GB) and Mike Rockenfeller (D).
Audi Sport Team Joest also contests the World Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps in the same formation. At the same time, the race doubles as a dress rehearsal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Only Mike Rockenfeller will miss this race due to a clashing with the DTM series.
After the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi plans to enter an R18 e-tron quattro and an R18 ultra in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). André Lotterer and Allan McNish are the only drivers nominated to date.
At the World Championship opener at Sebring (USA) on March 17, Audi Sport Team Joest will use the R18 TDI from 2011.