When we hear names like TFSI and Quattro, we automatically think of Audi. But while these technologies have proliferated across the company's production model range, they weren't initially developed for the road – they were developed for racing. So sit up straight and pay attention to Audi's cutting edge new Le Mans prototype, because it's jam-packed with new technologies that will likely end up in showrooms sooner or later.

Called the R18 e-tron Quattro, the LMP1 you see here doesn't just continue Audi's tradition of turbo diesel propulsion in endurance racing, it supplements it with hybrid propulsion and all-wheel drive. The two are part of the same system, regenerating brake energy (similar to F1's Kinetic Energy Recovery System) into a flywheel that is then fed back into the front wheels under acceleration, while the V6 TDI engine feeds 510 horsepower to the rear wheels for a combined through-the-road all-wheel-drive system. The added weight of the hybrid powertrain is offset by a carbon-fiber gearbox housing, used for the first time in endurance racing.

Audi will be campaigning two examples of the R18 e-tron Quattro at Le Mans in June and before that at Spa in May, alongside two of the R18 Ultras with conventional diesel power. Since both cars were developed together, they use mostly the same components, enabling more efficient race logistics for the team. We'll be watching to see how the tour de force fairs against the newcomers from Toyota with their TS030 Hybrid at Spa, Le Mans and the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship, but for now you can check out the high-res images in the gallery above and the details in the press release after the jump.
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Ingolstadt/Munich, 2012-02-29
Audi brings the quattro back to the race track

- World premiere in Munich: the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro
- Four-wheel driven diesel hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans
- Audi ultra lightweight as base for the application of hybrid technology

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."

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."

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.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 36 Comments
      AJ
      • 2 Years Ago
      Unless diesel is completely banned from LeMans, or every audi experiences problems I don't see how any other team can win the class. Now that Peugeot has left Audi truly has no competitors. The hybrid power-train alone in the toyota seems lacking to compete with Audi.
        zamafir
        • 2 Years Ago
        @AJ
        correct. given toyota's recent (last decade) record in international automotive racing (f1 etc) and endurance racing (24 hours of the 'ring the first few attempts) I'll be very proud of them if their car a) actually finishes the race and b) manages 3rd. But their recent performance in the field of auto racing has firmly indicated they need many attempts at endurance to manage best in class (their third try at the 24 hours) or even last the race (failed consecutive attempts two years prior).
        SloopJohnB
        • 2 Years Ago
        @AJ
        They'll win if the audi breaks down more and cannot be repaired faster than their entries. 'Twas ever so at Le Mans.
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ugly? That is stunning! It's no Mazda 787, but it's damned cool. The rear aero is substantially different than last years. You wonder how they can keep tuning & getting performance gains.
      larshafner
      • 2 Years Ago
      wow, that livery is rocking!
        POV
        • 2 Years Ago
        @larshafner
        Someone pointed out the asymmetrical livery and I think it's fantastic.
      cone eater
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's not "like KERS", it's more like Porsche's GT3 R-hybrid setup with the flywheel.
      jvshenderson
      • 2 Years Ago
      Very cool. So now we may have gasoline (Aston), diesel (Audi Ultra), diesel flywheel hybrid (Audi Quattro), and gasoline capacitor hybrid (Toyota) powertrains all in the same class!
      jonnybimmer
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's not the boatloads of tech in the R18 that impresses me the most, it's how Audi will most likely make all of that top tech last through 24 straight hours of racing and probably win that's most impressive. On a different note, does anyone else think the photos look like the R18 is a little model car?
      dreadcthulhu01
      • 2 Years Ago
      So, do the displacement rules still favor diesels? Last time I check they let turbo-charged diesel engines displace quite a bit more than naturally aspirated gasoline ones.
        k_m94
        • 2 Years Ago
        @dreadcthulhu01
        I'm not sure it is displacement itself, but the fact that the diesel can be highly boosted while the same displacement gasoline is NA (or much smaller and limited boost). In the end, both cars make 500hp, but the diesel returns better range and touts nearly double the torque of the gasoline. Gasoline cars should be allowed to make more power through a bigger engine and maybe even be allowed a larger fuel tank in order to remain competitive. A 540hp, 700lbft diesel vs a 500hp, 250lbft gasoline with a narrow powerband and the need to kerp revs ridiculously high. The diesel has a huge advantage. And now, with the only other diesel big player leaving, the only chance gasoline has now was with the electrically supplemented hybrid Toyota, now the Audi diesel packs a hybrid setup too!
          bhtooefr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @k_m94
          However, the gas engine will rev ridiculously high, regardless of whether there's a diesel to compete against, and is lighter. The diesel can't run at stoichiometric (because you end up getting smoke), so it needs more air to run smokelessly, and it can't rev as high, so it needs more air (whether that be through higher displacement, larger restrictor plates, and/or higher boost pressure. A 5000 RPM diesel needs a lot more air than a 10000 RPM gas engine to make the same power. Also, the ACO wanted diesels to win. This year, things might change - you might notice that the R18 has 80 less claimed horsepower than last year. And, when Peugeot pulled out of the ILMC, Toyota expanded their schedule to help the ACO out. The ACO might give Toyota huge favors for that decision.
      Soichiro
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ugly, and diesel - I'll be backing the Toyota TS030
        POV
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Soichiro
        I'm split. Every time I want to hate Audi, I am reminded of their amazing history with the Quattro (Mouton!) and Auto Union in the 30's for which I will always respect them. BUT, I want to see another manufacturer beat them. I rooted for Peugeot (even more beautiful than the Audis) and I will probably root for Toyota esp after how close they were winning a decade or so ago. I like rooting for the underdog. :)
          bhtooefr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @POV
          I'm an Audi fan, but want to see credible competition for them. Which means I want competition for them that can actually win. Basically, I want to see an Audi vs. Toyota duel that lasts all the way to the last lap. I want Audi to win that duel, but I want Toyota to keep the pressure on Audi for 24 hours.
        k_m94
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Soichiro
        Prettier, and diesel - I'll be backing the Audi R18.
      john m
      • 2 Years Ago
      Besides looking straight ahead... How the heck do you see out of this thing??? Oh yeah... and it's ugly too!
        Anon
        • 2 Years Ago
        @john m
        Its not like you need to parallel park it.
          vedi123
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anon
          that´s because a ferrari was too slow for McNish, haha!
          john m
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anon
          LMAO!!! Could you imagine TRYING to parrallel park this thing??? You may have just invented a new type of car race. They could drive these things into a city and try to parrallel park them. The first one to do it wins!:D It would probably take up the same 24hr time slot as LeMans too!
          k_m94
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anon
          Last year, visibility did partially cause one of the 3 R18s to crash.
        Reply
        • 2 Years Ago
        @john m
        Monsters are usually ugly.
        Hek!
        • 2 Years Ago
        @john m
        The same way you see out of any other vehicle, with your eyes.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      POV
      • 2 Years Ago
      I love the new livery. While the black cars from 2011 were totally badass, this has a clean fresh look to it. Both are really well done. On a related note, my money is on that Audi will pull out once Porsche enters Le Mans. They know better than to compete with the mother of all Le Mans champions, even more so since it's their older/younger sibling.
        vedi123
        • 2 Years Ago
        @POV
        Audi already confirmed that they will race TOGETHER with Porsche ( + Toyota, Jaguar etc.) Diesel hybrid vs. Gasoline hybrid it will be!
      Jonathan Arena
      • 2 Years Ago
      Not feeling this livery.
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