Audi reigned supreme at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for many years. The German team's dominance deterred any other manufacturer from stepping up, leaving privateer teams like Pescarolo Sport as Audi's only challengers. All this changed when Peugeot joined the fray in 2007 with the 908 HDI Fap. Its very efficient design proved hard to beat, pushing the German engineers to new extremes with mixed results. Strong team work and great driving nevertheless turned the tables in Audi's favour three times in the last four years.
In those four attempts Audi fielded three distinctly different cars against the 908 HDI Fap and due to extensive rule changes for, the German manufacturer has been forced to develop its third new car in as many years. The most significant of these changes is a cut in maximum displacement of a third for the diesel engines favoured by both Audi and Peugeot. With considerably less power available, efficiency became the key word during the development of the new R18. This inspired the Audi engineers to think outside of the box and create a machine that is both a visual and mechanical departure from its predecessors.
After extensive calculations, the designers reached the conclusion that a closed car was the only way to go; the lower drag figures far outweighed the possible drawbacks like the slower driver changes. Going for a coupe nevertheless was not a decision taken lightly as all of Audi's victories at Le Mans were scored with open cars and the only fixed head prototype the Germans ever fielded, the R8C of 1999, was not a success. Although the overall configuration of the R18 is different, it does share many aerodynamic cues with the R15, particularly the 'platypus' nose and the very low 'side-pods'.
In fact, the side-pods on the R18 are even lower than on the R15. This is achieved by a very distinct layout of the all-new V6 diesel engine. Referred to by Audi as 'hot side inside', it features the exhausts and turbo inside the wide, 120° 'V'. Although the rules allow for two turbochargers, Audi have opted to run just a single one to save weight. With conventional turbo technology this would not have been an option. This problem has been addressed with the Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG) technology developed together with Garrett. First used on the 2010 Le Mans winning R15, the variable geometry allows the turbo to perform well across a much wider rev range.
As the result of using just one turbo, the R18 engine also required just a single exhaust system and particulate filter. The triangular exhaust exit is found directly underneath the rear wing mount. After being fed through intercoolers, the charged air is fed to the cylinders from the underside. According to official figures the compact V6 engine produces more than 540 bhp but just how much more we will most likely not know any time soon. Whereas the earlier Audi diesel prototypes sufficed with just five forward speeds, the R18 features a new six-speed gearbox, which is again a result of the cut in power and torque.
With most of the engine's ancillaries mounted on top, the rear deck could also be lowered further than on the R18's predecessor's. This is accentuated further by the new-for-2011 fin, which serves to prevent the cars from flipping when going sideways during a spin. The single rear wing mount is very cleverly mounted flush with the fin to limit the drag generated even further. The wing itself is mounted very low, which in turn is made possible by the height of the rear deck. The nose is dominated by two very large LED headlights.
Development of the R18 began as early as 2009 and the new V6 engine ran for the first time in the summer of 2010. Testing of the car commenced in the final months of that year and continued well into the 2011 season. The definitive version of the car with its minimalistic livery was launched a few days ahead of the official Le Mans Test. The abundance if bare carbon-fibre in the 'paint-scheme' is a reference to the 'Audi ultra' marketing campaign to promote the company's lightweight technology.
The Le Mans Test was the first chance to how the R18 TDI stacked up against the also completely new but more conventional Peugeot 908. Although the tension was visibly high at Audi, the Test turned out to be a success with the three R18s setting the first, second and fourth fastest times of the day. Considering the reduction in displacement the 3:27.687 lap time set by Tom Kristensen was very impressive. The next outing for the R18 will be the Spa Six Hours, followed by the all-important 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
....as this awesome race car has both in spades and then some. Not since the wonderful McLAREN F1 Road Car have I seen a car so committed to one objective; in this instance a no-compromise-allowed LE MANS winner. And it looks stunning as well! So unusual for a contemporary race car to look so purposeful and yet have such pleasing, even beautiful lines.
All nine LE MANS wins by AUDI have been achieved since 2000. They have dominated the race since then, only losing to Bentley in 2003 and Peugeot in 2009, and all of these wins were done by open-cockpit cars; five by the legendary petrol-engined R8.
So why has AUDI forsaken a proven winning layout with the closed-cockpit-all-new R18 TDI? Well, as the excellent ULTIMATE CAR PAGE article says, this is in response to the drastic rule changes, which for the 2011 LE MANS 24 HEURES restricts the diesel-engined LMP1 cars to a third less engine capacity than they had in 2010. Cleverly, they chose a closed-cockpit for less drag; replaced the previous models 5-speed gearbox with a six-speed to better suit the V6‘s reduced power and torque characteristics; saved weight by installing just one turbocharger [with Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG)] which in turn generated more weight savings by needing a single exhaust system and less ancillary parts. These solutions allowed the rear deck to be lower, further reducing drag [and centre-of-gravity for better cornering].
All in all a formidable racing package that surely must be striking fear into the hearts and spirits of PEUGEOT, their chief rivals, particularly after the recent LE MANS testing where an AUDI R18 TDI piloted by eight-time winner Tom Kristensen set a fastest lap of 3:27.687 - well under the 3:30 lap time the ACO, the LE MANS organisers, hoped would not be broken by the new cars. Quite an astounding feat, and all this in their very first time at the LE MANS track with the new car.
The new R18 TDI certainly “looks the business” and I will be very surprised if it does not win LE MANS 2011 and by a substantial margin. Like the previous commenter to this thread, I too cannot wait for the actual race in June.
P.S. I noticed a nice touch in photograph 13 of the article which showed “ Michele 1956-2001“ on one of the rear panels of the R18 TDI. This refers to well-performed ex Formula 1 driver and former LE MANS winner, Michele Alboreto who, on 25 April 2001 was tragically killed after a tyre blow-out caused his car to veer off track and crash into a wall while driving straight-line speed tests in an AUDI R8 at the Lausitzring, near Dresden in Germany. Somehow, I do see a car bearing his name again winning the 2011 LE MANS 24 HEURES and what a fitting tribute that would be - R.I.P. Michele.
A born winner ?
group c n b man 01-21-2011
The new Audi R18 looks absolutely stunning in my view, far more radical than any previous Audi LMP car. It looks like something from a far more advanced planet than earth with those aerodynamics and LEDs. It will be interesting to see how fast the R18 is compared with the R10 and R15. The rules for diesels get stricter every year except the manufacturers always seem to be a step ahead. The R18 has 149bhp/litre which is incredible for a diesel. It is only 40bhp down on the R15 despite losing 4 cylinders and 1800cc of displacement which is mind boggling. The ACO hasn't wanted cars to be capable of anything better than 3.30 laps of La Sarthe for about 4 years now. It doesn't look they are going to achieve this in 2011 either! I can't wait until Le Mans.