Improved aerodynamics, hybrid drive and many other new details is what’s making the Audi (ETR: NSU) R18 E-Tron such an interesting vehicle. It’s ready for the 2015 Le Mans season, where Audi will certainly have more to say in a tough race against its competitors.
“The possibilities of the revolutionary regulations that have been in effect for LMP sports cars since 2014 are far from having been fully used. The rules harbor so much potential that there is room for future developments,” said Jörg Zander, Audi Sport’s new Head of Engineering, in a press release. “We expect that the technological progress resulting from the fierce competitive pressure exerted by four automobile manufacturers that are now involved will significantly improve lap times this season – while concurrently reducing fuel consumption.”
Even though the new Audi R18 e-tron looks similar to its predecessor, the racing prototype clearly differs both visually, performance wise and most importantly, technically. The fresh look results from a new way of conducting airflow around and through the front end, in the area of the sidepods and at the rear of the LMP1 prototype. Large air inlets in the front wheel arches reduce aerodynamic drag of the body and have led to an all-new design of the headlights. The lighting units feature Matrix LED technology combined with Audi Laserlight – two innovations that improve active safety in road traffic and that Audi customers can now order for their production models as well.
Audi has maintained the central safety aspect coming from the monocoque construction of the car, the hood together with the front wing and wheel arches is a completely redone design overall. A completely new crash test has been performed and it resulted in an element that incorporates the new crash structure ready for the 2015 season. Sidepods with new radiator configurations for cooling the engine and hybrid system further optimize the aerodynamic drag thanks to the modified airflow through the sidepods on the exterior
This year, Audi is again preparing two body versions for the various tracks on the FIA WEC calendar. In combination with an optimized chassis and in close cooperation with tire partner Michelin, Audi has further improved the performance potential of its sports prototype this way.
As a hybrid pioneer, Audi is taking the next step in recovering more energy through the vehicle as well. Audi is the only manufacturer to date that has won the Le Mans 24 Hours with hybrid sports cars. It is worth noting that, from 2012, the German motorsport team backed by the factory from Ingolstadt in every aspect, has not been beaten on the 24 hour race. This means that the hybrid system employed proved itself on one of the most daunting racing events out there.
During braking, energy is recovered which the system subsequently feeds back to the front axle on acceleration. The electrical machine that performs this task now delivers an output of more than 200 kW (272 hp), which is a significant increase compared to last year. Therefore, Audi has increased the capacity of the energy storage system as well. The encapsulated flywheel energy storage system that sits in the cockpit alongside the driver can store up to 700 kilojoules of energy that it subsequently returns to the electrical machine – which is about 17% more than in 2014.
Alongside the performance increase, Audi has made great strides to keep the weight down as the car weighs at a minimum of only 870 kilograms – notably in what is currently the world’s most complex racing category. This helps the hybrid, but overall, it results in a restriction for the internal combustion engine due to the rules applied in this racing series. According to the sporting regulations the fuel-energy amount has to be further reduced if the engineers opt for higher hybrid output. As a result, the R18 e-tron quattro has to make do with 2.5% less diesel fuel per lap than in 2014.
Furthermore, rectifying this but not made because of this issue, Audi has further developed the four-liter V6 TDI engine by performing a lot of detailed work to achieve the optimized consumption levels. Power output levels have been increased. The most efficient power-plant in the field now delivers 410 kW (558 hp). Apply this to the lightweight vehicle, add the overall improved fuel efficiency and this is a perfect solution for a race like this. In 2006, Audi’s TDI engine debuted at Le Mans, followed by eight victories until 2014. While lap times continually improved, fuel consumption decreased by 38 percent during this period.
As a result, the youngest generation of the R18 emphasizes the purpose which motorsport serves at Audi in many fields. Ever since the first Audi quattro was fielded in 1980, the brand has consistently been using circuit racing and rallying for the development of forward-thinking technologies that are subsequently used in production – from quattro four-wheel drive to TFSI gasoline direct injection, to the further development of TDI engines, through to innovations such as Matrix LED light and Audi Laserlight.
At the Geneva Motor Show in March, Audi unveiled two other innovations with a reference to motorsport. For the first time, the brand showcased a hybrid model – the Q7 – that combines the e-tron quattro principle with a TDI engine. And the new R8* is the first model featuring the Audi Space Frame as a multi-material construction. In addition to aluminum, the frame includes a component made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP), a material that has long become a staple in racing.