At the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, Audi will show off three R18 TDI cars that exemplify its prowess in lightweight design. But before these cars get to the grid on June 11 to 12, they are set to making their public debut last weekend at the Le Mans test day. Audi’s expertise in lightweight technology translates visually too.
Puristic carbon fibre is used extensively for the livery of the three Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 TDI cars. This black, extremely light and high-strength material also plays a vital role in developing new production cars.
Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich said that carbon fibre is ideal for lightweight design and construction. He said that Audi meant to display this material and its ultra lightweight technology visual for the Le Mans race.
He added that for many years, lightweight design has kept Audi busy with regards to its plans for motorsport. Ullrich also said that what the company has learned about lightweight design and construction while developing the R18 TDI will also be available for its future customers.
These vehicles will boast either a much improved performance or low fuel consumption and lower emissions. The R18 TDI makes use of lightweight technology that is grouped together by the term ‘ultra’. Ullrich said that at Le Mans, lightweight design is a significant factor.
He explained that a light car is a more efficient car, making it a crucial quality at Le Mans. These specs are all the more significant with the regulations that cite that smaller engines provide less power. As a result, the Audi R18 TDI has an output of a little over 540 hp (397 kW). The LMP1 cars at Le Mans have a minimum weight of 900 kilograms.
The Audi R18 features a carbon fiber monocoque with a single-component design, unlike the structure of closed Le Mans prototypes with two halves – resulting to a stiffer and lighter chassis. During the development of the R18, Audi Sport engineers were able to fully use their experiences and expertise gained from the R8C in 1999 and the Le Mans-winning LMP1 of sister brand Bentley in 2003.
Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Engineering at Audi Sport, remarked that the Audi A4 DTM – with its heated windshield – allowed engineers to cut short the development of the R18 with regards to the ventilation of the cockpit and the doors as well as the heating of the windshield. Audi also relied on Audi’s experience from the R8, the R10 TDI and the R15 TDI to come up with a chassis and aerodynamics package for the new Audi R18.
Interestingly, the new R18 has a more balanced weight distribution thanks to Audi’s decision to fit identically sized front and rear wheels – the first time such is applied to an Audi Le Mans sports car. Likewise, the headlights installed on the new R18 are the first to entirely employ LEDs with optimized amount of light. Audi Sport developed this new generation of headlights in collaboration with the Technical Development (TE) division of AUDI AG.
Its employment at Le Mans only serves as preparation for future use in production vehicles. Interestingly, Audi's light designers left a development mark on the R18 by making the LEDs of the daytime light form the "1" shape, which should inspire associations with the brand’s historic logo. Audi Sport promptly designed the Audi R18 for progressive electrification, which should be achieved step by step.
Wolfgang Ullrich quipped that efficiency has been the crucial factor for the brand, adding that whatever form energy recovery is chosen as a key aspect in motorsport and in production, it should be able to provide a true advantage. Audi Sport commenced development of the new Audi R18 in mid 2009, with the V6 TDI engine being tested since the summer of 2010. Piloted by Allan McNish, the new Audi R18 had its first complete track test at the end of November.
It will have its first laps at the Le Mans race track during the official test day on April 24, 2011, in preparation for the actual event on June 11 and 12, 2011. Audi Sport is planning to first field the new R18 at the Spa-Francorchamps 6 Hours in Belgium on May 8, 2011.