Preparations for the endurance classic are in full swing at Audi AG - four and a half months before the Le Mans 24 Hours. Two new Audi R18 cars and one Audi R15 TDI were used in tests at Sebring, Fla. The program planned for the tradition-steeped American circuit specified endurance runs for one of the completely redeveloped LMP1 sports cars while the second Audi R18 was mainly used for development work.
The Audi R15 “plus plus” that will be fielded at the 12-hour race at Sebring – the season opener of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) – had a long run as well.
The basic setup for the race in March 2011 was also worked out on the vehicle. Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, said the company is very “pleased” with the performance of the Audi R18 at the company’s first outing at Sebring. During the tests that ended on Saturday, the nine Audi “factory” drivers took turns at the wheel so that all of them had the opportunity to drive each of the three sports cars.
By employing the 3.7-liter V6 TDI engine for the R18’s campaign in the Le Mans 24 Hours, Audi Motorsport is once again on the frontline of innovative work as demand for smaller, more fuel efficient yet powerful engines has been gaining ground. Moreover, the six-speed transmission employed in the Audi R18 has been specially revised for use with the smaller engine.
Equally amazing is the chassis that Audi Sport designed and built for the new R18. While closed Le Mans prototypes feature two halves, the R18’s carbon fiber monocoque comes with a single-component design, thereby saving weight while increasing stiffness.
Audi Sport built on the expertise gained with the R8C (1999) and with the LMP1 (2003) of the corporate sibling Bentley that won at Le Mans to develop the closed R18.
Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Engineering at Audi Sport, remarked that their experience with the Audi A4 DTM – with its heated windshield -- has allowed them to shorten the development cycle with regards to the heating of the windshield, the ventilation of the cockpit and the doors.
Interestingly, the chassis and aerodynamics package for the new Audi R18 features expertise gained from the R8, the R10 TDI and the R15 TDI. On the other hand, the new R18 features same-sized front and rear wheels.
This marks the first time that this configuration is used on an Audi Le Mans sports car, thereby allowing for a more balanced weight distribution. Meanwhile, Audi R18's headlights entirely consist of LEDs with optimized amount of illumination.
Developed in collaboration between Audi Sport and the Technical Development (TE) division of AUDI AG, the use of these headlights at Le Mans signifies their future application in production vehicles. The LEDs of the daytime light form a "1" shape, thereby associating them with Audi's historic brand logo.
Interestingly, Audi designed the R18 for progressive electrification. Wolfgang Ullrich noted that efficiency has been a crucial factor for Audi. He added that the key aspect for choosing the form of energy recovery either in motorsport or in production is that it should provide a true advantage.