For 15 years, Audi has been demonstrating Vorsprung durch Technik in the world’s toughest endurance race. With the latest generation of the R18 e-tron quattro hybrid race car Audi continues its string of technical innovations at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
On June 14, the 82nd running of the French endurance classic will start at 3 p.m. Interest in the event is already exceptionally high. For the first time, Audi and Porsche, the race’s two most successful brands, will be pitted against each other. Toyota, after suffering two defeats against Audi, is aiming to break the four rings’ string of victory at Le Mans. Plus, for the first time, new regulations with a main focus on energy efficiency will be in effect – for Audi, the inventor of the TDI, this will provide an opportunity to again prove its great technical expertise not only on the road but on the race track.
Be it with the engine, hybrid drive, lightweight design, or by setting standards in active and passive safety: Audi’s Le Mans prototypes are front runners in terms of sporting performance as well as technology. “Le Mans is a unique test laboratory for our technologies,” says Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, who is responsible for Technical Development on the Board of Management of AUDI AG. “The comprehensive range of new technical developments of our current Le Mans race car includes the headlights with laser light. They illuminate the track for a distance of up to 800 meters. In a planned derivation for production vehicles, they achieve up to 500 meters, which is twice the range of LED headlights. With that, Audi is making an important contribution to safety on the track and in road traffic.”
In 2001, an innovative V8 engine powered the Audi R8. TFSI gasoline direct injection metered the fuel in a way that reduced the consumption of the V8 turbo power-plant, improved responsiveness and, due to the engine’s ability to immediately start again, shortened the stopping times in the pits while making more power output available. Just shortly following the first Le Mans success, Audi’s customers were able to order the first production models featuring gasoline direct injection. This fuel induction principle soon evolved into the standard in large-volume production series. Today, TFSI engines contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions in millions of cars.
Five years after this debut, Audi showed another pioneering achievement. In the 2006 season, the Audi R10 TDI powered by a direct-injection diesel engine won the endurance classic at La Sarthe right on its first run. Winning Le Mans with a diesel-powered race car had been considered wishful thinking until then – today, it is regular reality. To date, Audi has won the race seven times on TDI power, with learning effects continually being fed into the design of crankcases, pistons, fuel injectors and other assemblies in production development.
e-tron quattro hybrid drive takes Le Mans victory
Audi was the first Le Mans participant to win with a hybrid drive system and therefore again made motorsport history. 2012 saw the first victory of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro, a sports prototype with a rear axle being powered by a TDI internal combustion engine and a front axle driven by electric power. A fully electronic control strategy was the only connection between the two drive systems. In parallel, Audi also expanded its product range by hybrid models.
The next generation is now ready for launch. In 2014, Audi starts delivering the A3 Sportback e-tron, a latest-generation plug-in hybrid. In racing, the new 2014-specification R18 e-tron quattro is pointing the way to the future. The Audi engineers have fundamentally redesigned it, as the race car has to manage both, running on a limited amount of energy and achieving the best lap times.
In addition to the pioneering powertrain solutions, Audi has been setting standards in other areas as well. Perfect lightweight design combined with maximum passive safety is manifested in the safety cell of the sports cars. The monocoque made of carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) in 2013 weighed only half as much as the one used in Audi’s first LMP race car in 1999 – despite greater restrictions specified by the regulations. This material has long made its way into production vehicles, for instance in body components of the R8, the R8 Spyder and the RS 3. Active safety has been significantly improved by Audi with ever new lighting technologies. The LED daytime running light in the Audi R10 TDI (2006–2008) was followed by full LED headlights in the R18 TDI (2011), matrix LED technology in the R18 e-tron quattro (2012–2013) and the innovative laser light in the next R18 e-tron quattro (from 2014). The digital rear-view mirror with a camera projecting the action at the rear on an innovative AMOLED display in the cockpit, which has been used since the 2012 season, reflects another future trend.
“The general public and the motorsport audience have come to expect Audi to play this part of a trendsetter,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “We are proud to be at the very front with these innovations in our motorsport commitment, while benefiting from Audi Sport being a part of the Technical Development of AUDI AG on a daily basis. We aim to continue to prove the Audi-typical ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ in tough racing conditions with our Le Mans prototypes in the future – even though in 2014 we’re no doubt facing the greatest challenge ever at Le Mans.”
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