Audi brings the quattro back to the race track

© Audi

Motor sport is used yet again by AUDI AG to pioneer new technology: the brand with the four ring’s new Le Mans race car is the world’s first LMP1 car to combine a highly-efficient TDI with a hybrid system. quattro drive also celebrates its comeback to the race track with the prototype – in a entirely new form.

Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the name of the new Le Mans prototype that makes its race debut on May 5 in the 6-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) and fights for overall victory at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans (France) on June 16/17. Audi unites two technologies in a fascinating way to create a new type of drive, which is also already being tested for future use in production cars: e-tron quattro.

Hiding behind this description is the next generation four-wheel drive with which Audi combines the advantages of the proven quattro drive with the potential of electromobility. To this end one vehicle axle is powered conventionally, the second by electric motors.

“Audi has always consciously selected championships and categories in racing that have a close relationship to production and therefore have technical relevance for the Audi customers,” explains Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, who personally drove the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro onto the stage on Wednesday evening during its world premiere in the Audi Training Center at Munich airport – electrically and almost silent. “quattro, TFSI and TDI are three excellent examples of how motorsport has stimulated production development. A similar tendency is apparent with the e-tron quattro: we test a completely new technology on the race track before it’s introduced to the Audi production line.”

© Audi

On the Audi R18 e-tron quattro kinetic energy is recovered on the front axle during the braking phase. It is fed as electric into a flywheel accumulator before being retrieved under acceleration again above a speed of 120 km/h. During this procedure only the front axle is integrated. The V6 TDI power plant producing 375 kW (510 hp) continues to transmit its power to the rear wheels. Both systems complement each other to create the new drive principle e-tron quattro.

Project began in February 2010

The project e-tron quattro for motorsport started in February 2010. Only 18 months passed from the initial conceptual ideas to the first test. “This is a relatively short cycle for a technology that has never been tested in motorsport and which still doesn’t even exist in production,” stresses Dr. Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Technology at Audi Sport. “The challenge is correspondingly big.”

Audi Sport developed the Audi R18 ultra in parallel to the Audi R18 e-tron quattro – because Audi takes a two-pronged approach this year in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the newly created FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – the 2012 model year Audi R18 is built with and without hybrid drive. The trick: the base of both cars is completely identical, which is why the additional logistical effort is kept limited for Audi Sport and the race team.

“The TDI engine invented by Audi is still the most efficient drive in the world,” says Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “We are convinced that the TDI has even more potential. This is why Audi not only supports the hybrid in motorsport as it does in production, but in parallel also the further development of the conventional drive.”

Innovation in transmission area

The R18 e-tron quattro’s twin brother more than lives up to its model name ‘R18 ultra’: it is the lightest Le Mans prototype that Audi Sport has ever built. To compensate for the additional weight of the hybrid system the subject of lightweight design and construction was the focus throughout development of the 2011 Le Mans race winning R18 TDI. In addition to the many detail optimizations there is also a genuine innovation in the transmission area: a new gearbox with a carbon-fiber composite housing was developed for the R18 – a premiere for endurance racing.

“The new R18 ultra is a distinct evolution of last year’s Le Mans race winning car,” summarizes Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “Our drivers’ impressions were very positive from the first moment. Without the weight optimized R18 ultra we would have not been capable of realizing the R18 e-tron quattro which is absolutely identical with the exception of the hybrid system.”

© Audi

Le Mans 2012: two R18 e-tron quattro and two R18 ultra

Audi Sport Team Joest will field two R18 e-tron quattro and two R18 ultra prototypes in the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 16/17. The two hybrid cars are driven by last year’s winning trio Marcel Fässler (CH), André Lotterer (D) and Benoît Tréluyer (F) as well as Dindo Capello (I), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) who boast a total of 13 Le Mans wins between them. New signing Loïc Duval (F) starts together with Timo Bernhard (D) and Romain Dumas (F) in an R18 ultra as do Marco Bonanomi (I), Oliver Jarvis (GB) and Mike Rockenfeller (D).

Audi Sport Team Joest also contests the World Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) on May 5 in the same formation. At the same time the race doubles as a dress rehearsal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Only Mike Rockenfeller will miss this race due to a clashing date with the DTM.

After the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi plans to enter an R18 e-tron quattro and an R18 ultra in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). André Lotterer and Allan McNish have been nominated as the drivers so far.

At the World Championship opener at Sebring (USA) on March 17, Audi Sport Team Joest relies on the proven R18 TDI from last year, which are driven by Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer, Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish as well as Timo Bernhard/Romain Dumas/Loïc Duval.

22 Comments on Audi brings the quattro back to the race track

  1. Seems like Toyota allready can give thier TS030 Toyotas to rebellion and build a brand new car ”again” to even compete vs those wicked R18 e-tron quattro’s :)

  2. will quattro cancel out their hybrid fuel gains? or will the fact they have diesel negate their quattro fuel usage? will be interesting for sure.

  3. no, they’re just the R18H cars, with the hybrid power being fed into the front wheels – not genuine AWD

    Rules state the power can either be fed back in to the front or rear wheels – Audi’s engineers have either found a benefit to it being invested in the front wheels or their marketing department has seen the benefit in advertising ‘Quattro’!

  4. @Chris Draper: Read the 4th paragraph again: electric motor on the front wheels can work only above 120 km/h accoring to the rules.

    Awesome livery, but I hate the blatant “quattro” branding.

  5. Toyota have been testing front and rear hybrid systems, not to mention experience from the past few years testing in secret,if anything they’re ahead of Audi in this particular area.

  6. Its going to be great to see the hybrid and pure diesels running against each other, hopefully they will be allowed to fight for victories. Also great to see the classic quattro colours in motorsport again

  7. 510hp, WOW!! horsepower keps going down! this is sad, I hope they make up for the 7% power loss with a lighter car, more torque and even for Le mans 2012, I hope they can make up for that with a strong hybrid flywheel system they have and generate enough power for its loss! Go Audi!

  8. Horsepower keeps going down because the cars are becoming more efficient overall. They don’t have to break for some corners, they can carry speed through them they’re more stable, tires are less roll resisitance, aerodynamics are improving, so less drag, better acceleration, etc, and etc.

    i was wondering why Toyota didn’t have Loic Duval. After all he is well known in Japan, and he had been with Oreca for a while. And the reason is Audi went hard after him. It’s all clear then.

  9. The R18 had around 600bhp last season despite officially claiming 540bhp. They’re unlikely to have lost much after winter development, plus now have hybrid power.

  10. Loic Duval won sebring in the Peugeot last year. It would be incredible if he wins it in the Audi this time.

    The dream team lineup has to win a race this year. The pressure keeps mounting on them with all the new recruits.

    Marco Bonanomi has had a relatively mediocre racing career in single seaters. But I guess he might have done well in prototype testing to get the seat.

  11. Well Peuguot friends, take note, this Audi look like a car from another planet. I´ts 4WD legal for LMP1?

  12. As has already been pointed out it’s not strictly 4wd, but has it (within the rules) for just long enough for the marketing team to slap Quattro on the side of the car. Good luck Audi.

  13. @Bamba:
    Yes, it’s “dream team” for just one year, before Bernhard and Dumas will switch back to Porsche for their LMP1 project, and they are the “logical winners” for Sebring. For Le Mans, though, I expect the Hybrid version to perform better than the conventional Audi’s.
    Marco Bonanomi has been test driver for the Audi LMP1 program since 2010 and must have performed well enough to be rewarded by a Le Mans entry now.

  14. fastjim…Peugeot too have their Diesel hybrid that also has kinetic energy driving the front wheels. They just won’t get to showcase it but they have one. And theirs looks better too.

    There must be a rift between the ACO and Peugeot.

  15. Bamba,
    We still taling about Peugeot. I thought there was a concensus that the main reason for Peugeot pulling out was with all their financual hardships and job losses, it looks bad for them to be spending million of dollars on a racing program.

  16. If it was really about their budget, they would not have bothered developing a hybrid car, and been testing, then pull out suddenly right before lemans and wec entries are made known.

  17. I do think that the Peugeot withdrawal was caused mainly by the budget and not by conflicts with the ACO. Sure, most of the money was spent already for the development of the hybrid car, but the company still saves several million Euro a year by not continuing. And when a company is in a situation that they have to search for every Euro that can be saved, it is very hard to convince the CEO’s to spend budget for racing. They have been very successful in the past years, and probably in their opinion it was not possible to increase the merchandising effect of the racing program any further. Then it is better to quit and to return some years later with something new that has again much public attention.

  18. Bamba, I think the problem is that the team has to keep operating while the board sits and makes their decisions. At some point the executives looked and decided they couldn’t justify the racing and felt the best move, not just in terms of budget but also image, was to quit with immediate effect so it wouldn’t appear that they were wasting money while laying off workers.

    Just look at Audi’s race program in 2009. They planned to cut out all LMP1 racing except Sebring and Le Mans (eventually adding Petit after they were beaten by Peugeot), yet they built a new car. Logically, they would have got more for their money in terms of exposure and learning about the car’s performance in race conditions if they had reduced private testing and raced the ALMS and LMS between Sebring and Le Mans. However, the decision was made by the board, not by Audi Sport. They didn’t save that much money and lost the only race they cared about, but appeared to be doing the responsible thing.

  19. All this talk about Peugeot reminds of a comment made by Dr. Ulrich in Truth in 24 (look it up on You Tube) which, following accidents for all his cars in pre-race testing at Sebring 2008 goes something like this: We’ve destroyed…in the last 10 days 700,000 Euros. My control is amazed they asked me to replace all the drivers! Can you imagine the fall-out if the same thing happend to Peugeot this year? They would either have been forced to spend the money to replace the cars or (very embarrasing) explain why they couldn’t continue.

  20. You might all have valid points. We might never know for sure. But it just seems a bit peculiar that peigeot withdraws right before the entries are announced.

    And after PEugeot withdraws Toyota increase the number of race it will compete in. They had only announced, Spa, Lemans and Shanghai at first.

    Now they will do all the WEC rounds except for Sebring….

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