Since 2000, Audi has not lost a race when debuting a new prototype. Heading into the final days leading up to the race debut of the Audi R18 TDI, we wanted to take a step back in time. From the beginnings of the R8R/R8C, where Audi investigated closed and open cockpits to todays closed cockpit R18 TDI.
For starts, let’s back up a about 5 months. Last year, the ACO went about updating the rules for 2011 through 2013. In December of 2010, they announced these. The LMP1 class would see significant changes in aero-packages, fuel capacity and engine size. Some of this was in the name of balance with the diesels vs. petrol cars.
The night of ACO announcement, Audi Motorsport revealed the R18 TDI LMP1 at the Audi Sportpark in Ingolstadt. Underneath the carbon beauty was a closed cockpit and required shark-fin. Audi opted for a closed cockpit due to its aerodynamic advantage.
Now lets back up to the late 1990′s.
In 1997, Audi started work on their first Le Mans project. In 1998 Audi announced its intention to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1998 we saw the first Le Mans prototypes in the Audi R8C and R8R spider. The ACO modified its rules creating a new class, the LMGTP due to the GT1 closed-cockpit performances.
Audi enters this new class, starting its open cockpit legacy. A 3.6L twin-turbo V8 would be used.
Both the R8R and R8C performed poorly, with the R8C surprisingly, lacking pace of the R8R spider.
In 1999 the R8R would make its debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring. 3rd and 5th would be the result.
Not long after, Audi made the choice to go open-cockpit. This would become the Audi R8 and go on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005.
What happened in 2003? The Bentley Speed 8 closed-cockpit showed up! With an Audi sourced V8 4.0L engine, Joest Racing support and one Mr. Le Mans himself, Tom Kristensen at the wheel.
ACO enters picture again, restricts R8 etc. to make competition more competitive.
In 2006, the Audi R10 TDI makes its debut as the successor running a 5.5L V12. The R10 would win every race since introduced until 2009, where we saw the R15 enter the picture.
The R15 would use a 5.5L V10. That year, at Le Mans, the R15 would only see a 3rd place podium spot.
Torrential rains and red flag ends Audi’s run at the 2009 Petit Le Mans. From the start Audi had led for over 4 hours and at one point almost put the second Peugeot down a lap. Peugeot gets away with an easy win when red flag comes out in their advantage.
ACO enters pictures again with new 2010 regulations reducing air restrictors size and turbo boost. Audi also redesigns aero package due to power loss. This creates the R15 plus.
The R15 plus wins the 2010 8 Hours of Le Castellet ahead of Oreca Peugeot.
Audi R15 plus goes onto take a 1-2-3 in the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans. Peugeot blows up.
Crucial mistake ends Audi’s run at the 2010 Petit Le Mans. They finish 3rd, 2 laps down and 6th, 17 laps down. Peugeot wins.
Audi would not be present at February’s Official Winter Test at Sebring.
At this years 2011 12 Hours of Sebring, the R15 era would come to an end. An updated pair of R15++ would race. The no2 (Capello/Kristensen/McNish) finishing 4th, 5 laps down. The no1 R15 TDI (Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller) finished 5th, 6 laps down. Both cars had strong races, even pacing with the Peugeots, however punctures and incidents would be the undoing.
During that time, a pair of R18 TDI’s would be sitting quietly in their truck, unknown to all.
Following the 12 Hours, Audi went on to test those R18′s at the track along with the one R15+. Vehicle setup, aerodynamics, tires, cooling, and reliability were the main focuses. Rumor had it that they were lapping seconds faster than the Peugeots.
A few week ago, we brought you the first shots of the R18′s livery package. Audi was performing their long endurance test at Paul Richard HTTT.
April 24th, 2001, Easter Sunday. The official Le Mans test day is back. We now get to see both Audi and Peugeot line up against each other for the first time. Both cars are new with Peugeot having race experience under theirs. Would Peugeot dominate with the speed we’ve come to know? How would the R18 fair against the Peugeot 908. Peugeot’s 3.7 liter V8 vs Audi’s 3.7 liter V6.
Let the day begin.
24,987 spectators were on hand to witness Audi dominance. The R18′s results were phenomenal and it wasn’t just about the times. Peugeot were there but it was a complete reversal to what we’ve seen in the past. In the end, they did split the Audi R18′s 1-2-3 stronghold.
The second session saw faster times for all classes.
In the first hour, Capello would set a 3:38, with Fassler finishing at the top with a 3:32.240.
We would see Andre Lotterer set a 3.30:921 in the second hour.
Hour three saw Audi nail a 1-2-3 with Benoit Treluyer at the top with an astounding 3.28.503. Fastest Peugeot is 4sec off pace.
After the rain had passed, hour four began.
Marcel Fassler spun into the gravel at Mulssanne. Romain Dumas would go fastest with 3.27:900 and Audi finishes 1-2-3. The young guns, Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, Marco Bonanomi and Andre Lotterer would take second setting a 3:28.503. Third would go to Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish with a 3:30.382
Aside from the spin, there was not a single problem over four hours of testing.
The fastest Peugeot was 3 seconds slower.
In the second 4 hour session we would see the R18 at the top once again.
Early on, Rockenfeller would set pace. McNish would see a 3:29.673 for second.
During the second hour, the no1 R18 would hit 3:27.815 to top the charts.
Tom Kristensen finished the third hour with his fastest time, 3:27.687
The final hour of the day remained quiet and with 30 minutes to go Audi led 1-2-3.
A Peugeot appears. In the final minutes, Sarrazin drops a 3:27.876 to snap the Audi 1-2-3. With 0.189 between he and the no2 R18, Sarrazin would take third.
Kristensen’s 3:27.687 would remain fastest of the day and overall after the eight hours.
The 9 Audi drivers raved at how easy the R18 TDI was to climb into and get up to speed.
Tom Kristensen” “You can really feel the aerodynamics and the car is very comfortable”.
Andre Lotterer: “For me, the car is very pleasant to drive. It is comfortable which is a big advantage at Le Mans. You can easily adapt and drive very soon very fast without having to care.”
Benoit Treluyer: “The car felt very pleasant: It’s easy to drive and you quickly gain confidence.”
The six-speed gear box matted to the V6 was also a big plus for the drivers.
It’s been 14 years since Audi stepped into prototype racing. From the beginning, we saw both an open and closed cockpit choice, with the open type winning out.
8 years ago, the Bentley Speed 8 won in a closed-cockpit.
In 2011, Audi enters a new era with the closed-cockpit R18 TDI. Up one liter and down one turbo, the V6 technology is amazing. However, aerodynamics still play a huge role in development. From nose vents to wheel arches, sidepods to a single intake its still there. Then a longer tail was needed, now we have “fins”. Vehicle setup, aerodynamics, tires, cooling, and reliability were of focus.
In 6 days, we will see the race debut of the R18 TDI at the 1000Km of Spa. What we saw at Le Mans testing will be an identical match up. 3 Audi’s vs 3 Peugeot’s plus the Oreca 908 HDI-FAP.
It’s been called a “dress rehearsal”. We can’t stand this term but will it become a race? Audi has history in winning its debut races.
Spa-Francorchamps is a very demanding circuit. The 4.3 mile loop has long straights, 21 turns and strong elevation changes.