By Kris Hansen
Words and Photos: Kris Hansen – Video: Joel Boucher
Fresh off their 10th victory at the 60th running of the 12 hours of sebring, Audi wasted no time in continuing testing and preparation for the brand new FIA/ACO WEC season. This makes perfect sense to us, as we mentioned in our Audi at Sebring piece the Sebring Circuit is brutally rough, and is the perfect place for shakedown testing.
We also had the opportuinty to sit down with both Audi Sport ace driver Tom Kristensen (aka Mr. Le Mans), and Audi Sport head Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
Audi Sport had several different iterations of the R18 circling Sebring’s 3.7 miles. First out was the #3 R18 TDI (the “old” car, from the 12 Hours race, in race trim, as a baseline for performance, to see if the changes they make are helping or hurting), followed by the #3 R18 Ultra in all black bare carbon fiber. Externally, the all black 3 car looked exactly the same as the race trimmed “old” car. Under the skin, we know that there were many changes, notably significant weight reduction through lighter components. The weight savings were in part a natural progression of the R18, and in part to make the platform as light as possible in preparation for the addition of the e-tron quattro hybrid drive.
The #2 e-tron quattro car wore noticeably different bodywork than the #3 car, even considering that it was conducting aerodynamic package testing. This car is interesting in that it combines diesel and hybrid, and puts the hybrid drive on the front axle instead of sandwiching it with the rear axle. At first glance, this would appear to be introducing unneeded complexity in the front suspension area, with the new hubs, axles, and e-tron drive unit. Only when you realize that this is the first race car with quattro drive since it was outlawed from touring cars does this whole complicated front axle begin to make sense. All wheel drive will give the R18 e-tron quattro much more stability, it will give the cars improved handling, and it will give the car more pull at top speeds.
The Audi Sport people told us that rules are in place dictating that the front drive can only be engaged once the car reaches 120 km/h, which is not surprising given the incredible advantage 4 wheel drive would have below that speed, pulling out of tighter corners. Per the rules, the system can store up to 500kw, which may be generated in a variety of ways, either a generator driven by deceleration, or other methods. The power is released only under normal acceleration, as opposed to a push to pass style arrangement, by the rules. This should make the system more naturally intergraded in the car, making life easier for the drivers.
At Le Mans, Audi will run 4 cars total – 2 Ultra TDI, and 2 e-tron quattro. What does this mean for the teams? We were told that the e-tron quattros are very much the same as the Ultra, with the e-tron system grafted on, as opposed to being 100% different from each other. This will help with parts supplies, and crew training. As Dr Ullrich also pointed out, at Le Mans, there is safety in numbers. Looking back to last year, when 2 of the 3 Audis went out of the race, Audi wants to have as much safety cushion as they possibly can, to ensure that at least one of their cars is there to take the checkers at the end of 24 hours.
We will have our first chance to see the R18 e-tron quattro run at the 6 hours of Spa, in May. It should prove very interesting to see Audi’s hybrid on the track for the first time, since we only saw it out running testing laps. This car has been in the works for quite some time now, and it’s nice to see Audi pushing forward with technology even given the withdrawal of Peugeot from the WEC this year. The worst thing that can happen is complacency, which is not something the Audi team is known for.
Special thanks to Audi Sport for allowing us such close access to the team and testing!
- Image Gallery: Audi R18 Ultra and e-tron quattro testing at Sebring