So, what’s this R18 e-tron quattro?
It’s the manufacturer’s new Le Mans prototype, the one that it will be fielding in the 2012 6 Hours of Spa and then the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most gruelling motorsport endurance event in the world. And it’s also the first hybrid system to ever be used at Le Mans.
What’s so special about it?
Audi has used two different types of technologies in the R18 e-tron quattro. It has combined its existing quattro drive system with electromobility, which means one axle is powered conventionally, while the other axle receives electric power.
How does it work?
The R18 e-tron quattro has a Williams Hybrid (yes, the Williams with the F1 connection) unit that manages to recover kinetic energy at the front axle during braking. This is then fed as electric energy into a flywheel accumulator, and then recovered again under acceleration of speeds above 120 kmph, some what like the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) on modern day F1 cars. This procedure involves only the front axle. The rear wheels get power the good old fashioned way, thanks to the V6 TDI engine that makes 510 bhp. Put the two systems together, and voila, you get e-tron quattro.
How does this affect my life?
As Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi Motorsport puts it, “We test a completely new technology on the race track before it’s introduced to the Audi production line.” This means future Audi roadcars are very likely to feature e-tron quattro hybrid technology. Which means the next Audi you buy could very well be a hybrid. Four rings and going green at the same time. Not a bad option, no?
Hang on, doesn’t Audi race diesels at Le Mans?
Good catch! Audi’s been racing diesels at Le Mans since 2006. And it is not breaking that tradition either. The company has also unveiled the R18 ultra, which is the lightest Le Mans Prototype it has ever built. Of course, lack of the hybrid system automatically gives it a weight advantage.
So, who do we root for?
The two R18 e-tron quattros will be piloted by Team Audi Joest drivers Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, as well as Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish. The two R18 ultras will be driven by Loïc Duval, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, as well as Marco Bonanomi, Oliver Jarvis and Mike Rockenfeller.