Audi's R18 e-tron quattro hybrid vehicle scores first victory at Le Mans

Tuesday 19 June 2012, 01:24 AM by

German car achieved yet another milestone in terms of technology, as its Audi R18 e-tron quattro, a hybrid vehicle, emerged as the winner at the 80th running of the famous Le Mans 24 Hours. There were almost 2,00,000 visitors who witnessed the drama and the accidents, typical of Le Mans, at the brilliant race. They also got to see an impressive demonstration of 'Vorsprung durch Technik' by Audi cars. Occupying the first, second, third and fifth positions, the four Audi R18 models from Audi Sport Team Joest were the most reliable and fastest vehicles on the track.

Present at the race, Chairman, Board of Management, Audi AG, Rupert Stadler, said, “By achieving this further success at the world’s most important endurance race our engineers demonstrated their high technological expertise in a particularly impressive way.” He further added, “With the e-tron quatrain in combination with ultra lightweight design, we put a completely new technology on the grid and immediately won with it – this cannot be taken for granted by any means, particularly here at Le Mans. This weekend again showed the type of things that can happen in this race and how important perfect preparation is.”

With victories marked by the four Audi R18 helped Audi score the eleventh victory at the Le Mans. 2011 winners Marcel Fassler (CH), Andre Lotterer (D) and Benoît Tréluyer (F), who were driving R18 e-Tron Quattro dubbed car number '1', were in the front of race yet again after 378 laps. Recording a one-two result for the all-wheel-drive of the future, in which the conventional drive system is intelligently combined with an electrically driven axle, Dindo Capello (I), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) stood runners-up. This technology replaces the drive shaft with electric cables and is already being tested by the car maker for application in production vehicles. The fourth one-two-three victory for Audi was achieved by Le Mans rookie Marco Bonanomi (I), Oliver Jarvis (GB) and Mike Rockenfeller (D) in the perfect conventionally-powered Audi R18 ultra. The previous three such victories were recorded in 2000, 2002 and 2010. Driving the second R18 ultra, Dumas (F), Loïc Duval (F) and Marc Gené (E) finished fifth.

The latest variant of the compact V6 TDI powertrain with VTG mono turbocharger unit, which is placed in the rear, was powering all four R18 models. The engine was first tested by Audi in 2011. Considered as a novelty in a Le Mans sports car, the latest ultra-light transmission with carbon fibre housing withstood the Le Mans endurance test, covering a distance of 5.151 km in all four vehicles without facing a single issue. Besides quattro all-wheel-drive, ultra-lightweight design is another key proficiency for the car maker.

These two technologies have been utilised extensively in the two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars, which emerged as the victors in the 80th edition of the endurance race right from the beginning. Only once did one of the two Toyota Hybrid cars gain a lead for a few laps on the night of Saturday. The two R18 e-tron quattro cars raced whole night after their rivals retired early. Both cars had a thrilling race, swapping positions for the lead several times, separated by just seconds throughout the night till Sunday noon.

The preliminary decision was led by the accident of Allan McNish in the fast Porsche corners less than 3 hours before the finish. Audi Sport Team Joest managed to save the second place after repairing the heavily damaged front of R18 e-tron quattro in record time. After a massive rubber pick-up got stuck in its rear suspension, the car number '2' almost lost a lap in the beginning.

Even the car that clinched the top spot, which bears chassis number R18-208H and is nicknamed 'Electra', had to face accidents. Marcel Fässler touched the barricades twice on Saturday morning, once when he had to avoid a GT car standing sideways in the Muslanne corner and before that when the car spun at high speed. Having caught a severe cold while participating in the driver's parade in the centre of Le Mans amidst rain, Benoît Tréluyer, too, spun once at the entrance of the pit lane.

Owing to a check-up of the rear suspension, the Audi R18 Ultra car number '4', which secured the third position, lost a lap at the beginning itself. The gearbox got stuck twice on late Sunday morning. However, the driver was able to troubleshoot the fault each time by switching the ignition on and off. Later, the car delivered a smooth performance, assisting Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis to bag the top spot at Le Mans together with Mike Rockenfeller. This was Rockenfeller's comeback race, a year after the serious accident he was involved in.

Car number '3', Audi R18 Ultra lost its chance to be the winner even after clocking the fastest lap of the race due to two similar accidents faced by other cars. Romain Dumas hit the dirt section of the circuit and slid against the track barrier while attempting to overtake a GT vehicle on Saturday night. Marc Gene, too, faced the same mishap on the noon of Sunday. However, in both the cases, Audi Sport Team Joest was able to repair the damages to the car in record time, though it lost 12 laps in all.

Head, Audi Motorsport, Wolfgang Ulrich, said, “This was a race of the kind you can arguably experience only at Le Mans.” He further added, “You should never rejoice too early at Le Mans, which was obvious again especially on Sunday noon. The whole world was already talking about a one-two-three- four victory and all of a sudden two of our cars had accidents almost simultaneously. That the squad repeatedly managed to repair the cars so quickly after the slips clearly speaks for Audi Sport Team Joest that can simply be banked on at Le Mans. On the whole, I can only take my hat off to the entire squad of Audi Sport that worked extremely hard for a year to make this triumph possible. It was a very big challenge to develop a hybrid car in such a short time that is quick and able to hold up for 24 hours. The fact that, as in 2001 with the TFSI engine and in 2006 with the TDI, we managed to be successful right on the first run simply proves the level of technological expertise that is available at Audi. This is a great day for Audi Sport, for Audi and for the e-tron quattro.”

Audi has been able to extend its lead in the World Endurance Championship owing to its eleventh victory at the Le Mans. The lead in the driver's world championship was reclaimed by the runners-up – Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish.