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Country of origin:Germany
Introduced in:2011
Internal name:R18
Predecessor:Audi R15 plus TDI
Successor:Audi R18 ultra
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:May 02, 2011
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAudi 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.

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  Article Image gallery (112) Specifications User Comments (2)