Look up the winners of the Le Mans endurance race for the past 10 or so years and you’ll notice that just about every year, Audi has stood on the top podium of the world’s most historic endurance race. It’s had some down years – like in 2009, when Peugeot dethroned the folks over at Ingolstadt for the championship – but for the most part, Audi has been the class of Le Mans. In fact, they have won the championship nine times while using a three of its noted LMP1 racers: the R8 , the R10 TDI , and the R15 TDI .
But now that new regulations are being implemented in the endurance race, combined with the competitive field drawing closer to each other, Audi decided it was time to field a completely new LMP1 racer for Le Mans in 2011. And so, after a year of research and development, the four rings brand has finally introduced its latest Le Mans Monster, the R18.
UPDATE 02/01/11: The Audi R18 LMP1 race car was finally put through the testing paces after the closed-cockpit Audi racer spent a few hours at the Sebring race track in preparation for its debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year. All nine of Audi’s factory drivers were given a chance to test out the R18 to get a feel for the car as the company makes its final preparations leading up to Le Mans this June. According to Audi motorsport chief Wolfgang Ullrich, the decision to test their new Le Mans bad boy in Sebring was made because of Florida’s warm and dry weather, which he says is more conducive to race testing compared to the colder European sites. It really doesn’t matter to us where Audi does their testing; what’s important is that the R18 is finally out of its cage and ready to pounce on the competition. Check out a few photos of Audi’s test run in Sebring in the gallery!
UPDATE 06/07/11: The 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans is set for the green light this weekend with powerhouse Audi getting ready to introduce their latest racing racer, the R18 TDI. In previewing their new race car, the German automaker has released a promo video to get us acclimated with the car, including the new features and changes made on the car from the its successor, the R15 TDI, as well as the company’s continued efforts in becoming one of the best automotive motorsports teams in the world.
Details and Press Release after the jump.
Exterior and Interior
Contrary to its predecessors – the R8, R10, and R15 TDI Plus all had open-top designs - the Audi R18 brought back the closed canopy cockpit. They haven’t used this design since 1999, but are bringing it back in an effort to improve the car’s aerodynamics while also reducing the chance of the driver fatiguing during the race. According to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi’s motorsports division: “a closed car has clear advantages in this respect. Our computer simulations have been confirmed in the wind tunnel and during initial track tests."
The R18’s chassis was also given a different treatment compared to past models. For this particular racer, Audi used a single-component monococque design instead of using two halves in an effort to reduce weight on the car while also increasing its rigidity.
Audi’s recent dominance in Le Mans also spurred the designers of the R18 to take some cues from the chassis and aerodynamic packages its championship-winning race cars, including that of the R8, the R10 TDI, and the R15 TDI, all had in them.
While Audi did take a lot from its previous models, the R18 also comes with some features unique to its own with the most notable being the headlights, which, according to Audi, is the first of its LMP1 race cars to consist completely of LED lights. Devel oped in collaboration between Audi Sport and the Technical Development (TE) division of AUDI AG. The all-LED headlights will be used with the R18 for the first time with a plan of placing the technology for future production models. Notice also a subtle message with the R18’s LED lights: it takes the shape of a “1”, which is meant to inspire associations with the company’s long and esteemed brand logo.
In line with Le Mans regulations of achieving a substantial reduction in engine power, Audi outfitted the R18 with a 3.7-liter V6 TDI engine mated to a six-speed transmission unit. The use of the TDI came as a result of the company’s desire to field a competitive racer that also comes with efficient technology. “There are good reasons why the share of TDI units among Audi’s production models is as high as it is,” said Baretzky. Performance numbers have been kept on the lid but we’re quite certain that there’s enough power in that car to reclaim the Le Mans title in 2011.
The Audi R18 LMP1 racer is an Audi racing prototype meant for use at Le Mans in 2011. As such, no price figures were given.
Audi can’t argue that its decision to go back to the closed canopy cockpit was brought about by Peugeot ’s use of that design in their Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, winner of the 2009 title. With that win, Peugeot was successful at becoming the only team to usurp the German brand’s stranglehold on the competition in recent years. Other competitors looking to dethrone Audi from its perch on top of the Le Mans mountain include the new Ferrari 458 GT2 , the Peugeot 90-X , and the Aston Martin 6.0-liter V12 .
Audi aims to continue its string of victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours with a completely new LMP1 sports car development. Sin ce its debut in 1999, the brand with the Four Rings has won the world’s most important endurance race as many as nine times with the R8, R10 TDI and R15 TDI models. In doing so, Audi has equaled this feat in the race’s roll of honor with Ferrari . With the new R18, which was presented at the Audi Sportpark in Ingolstadt on the evening of Friday, December 10, 2010, Audi is aiming for its tenth Le Mans success in 2011.
For the first time since 1999, Audi will contest Le Mans with a closed coupe again. "In the future, aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past," says 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 than those used before will be prescribed at Le Mans in 2011 as the rule makers aim to achieve a substantial reduction of engine power. By opting for a 3.7-liter V6 TDI unit, Audi retains the diesel concept that saw its first victorious fielding in 2006. "From our point of view, the TDI continues to be the most efficient technology," says Ulrich Baretzky, Head of Engine Development at Audi Sport. "There are good reasons why the share of TDI units among Audi’s production models is as high as it is."
Through the innovative V6 TDI engine for the Le Mans 24 Hours, motorsport is yet again performing pioneering work for the production arm at Audi where there is a growing trend towards smaller, more economical but yet powerful engines.
Another new development is the six-speed transmission in the R18 which has been specifically modified for use with the smaller engine.
Numerous detailed solutions
With regard to the chassis Audi Sport wants to live up to its promise, expressed in the brand’s "Vorsprung durch Technik" tagline. Unlike those of the closed Le Mans prototypes, the carbon fiber monocoque of the R18 does not consist of two halves but features a single-component design. This saves weight and increases stiffness.
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 the corporate "sister brand" Bentley that was victorious at Le Mans. "Also the Audi A4 DTM, which for example, features a heated windshield, allowed us to shorten the development cycle with respect to the ventilation of the cockpit, the doors and the heating of the windshield," explains Dr. Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Engineering at Audi Sport.
The chassis and aerodynamics package contains a lot of know-how from the R8, the R10 TDI and the R15 TDI whereas the fitting of identically sized front and rear wheels is new to an Audi Le Mans sports car. This configuration allows a more balanced weight distribution.
The R18’s headlights, which are the first to completely consist of LEDs with optimized amount of light, are a technical highlight. The new generation of headlights was developed in close cooperation between Audi Sport and the Technical Development (TE) division of AUDI AG and by using at Le Mans, will be prepared for future use in production vehicles. Audi’s light designers had the chance to make their mark on the development as well: The LEDs of the daytime light form the shape of a "1" which is intended to inspire associations with Audi’s historic brand logo.
The Audi R18 has been designed for progressive electrification, which Audi Sport is planning to drive forward step by step. "But efficiency is always the crucial factor for us," says Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "No matter which form of energy recovery we may choose the key aspect for Audi – in motorsport as well as on the production side of the house – is that it provides a true advantage."
The development of the new Audi R18 started in mid 2009. The V6 TDI engine has been running on the dynamometers since the summer of 2010. The R18, with Allan McNish at the wheel, completed its first test on a racetrack at the end of November.
The racing debut of the Audi R18 is planned for the Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) 6 Hours on May 8. Prior to the event, the new prototype will be able to do its first laps on the race track at Le Mans during the official test day on April 24 and gather important data for the race on June 11 and 12.
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. In addition, Audi Sport Team Joest will contest the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC), consisting of a total of seven endurance races on three continents (including the Le Mans 24 Hours) with two cars. At the opening 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 point in time would be difficult in terms of logistics and interfere with our development program," explains Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.