September 8, 2003

Unveiled in Frankfurt: The Audi Le Mans quattro
Text and photos courtesy of Audi AG

A high-performance sports car, a roadgoing vehicle that could be said to have inherited the genes of the Audi R8, three-times winner of the Le Mans 24-Hours race: Audi reveals its `Le Mans quattro' concept study.

This fascinating driving machine is a synthesis of the experience gained from numerous racing triumphs, allied to advanced design and Audi's technical competence - which has in turn become synonymous for Audi's technological leadership (Vorsprung durch Technik) on the racetrack and the road alike.

Audi has scored innumerable wins on racing circuits all over the world. After the successes achieved in rallying in the 1980s and many triumphs with touring cars bearing the four-ring emblem, Audi's commitment to sports-car racing represented undoubtedly the greatest challenge faced by its motor-sport engineers so far.

But here too the engineers mastered their task brilliantly: three times in succession - in 2000, 2001 and 2002 (and indeed taking first, second and third places in 2000 and 2002) - the Audi R8 cars were the first across the finishing line of the Le Mans 24-Hours race.

Le Mans - without doubt the toughest task that the Audi Sport Team's engineers have ever tackled. For this particular event all the car's systems have to be laid out to survive a distance far greater than in a short sprint event. This technological challenge includes - in addition to the essentials of top performance and optimum driving dynamics - endurance, reliability and perfect ergonomics.

These are virtues - and technologies - that can be translated with great effect into a roadgoing sports car and which make the Audi Le Mans quattro as unique as its thrilling design: the genes of a winner.

The exterior

Even the first glimpse of the car gives the observer a clear picture of its calibre. The Audi Le Mans quattro, with its Jet Blue paint finish, has a wide stance and a bullish appearance on the road. Its powerful rear end seems to be bracing its muscles in order to jump, like a sprinter on the starting line.

The body makes a compact impression. The car's front and the flat curve of the roof outline seem to have been sketched with a single sweeping stroke: a line that identifies the two-seater instantly as an Audi, since together with the front curve of the front wings it recalls the Audi TT and the Nuvolari quattro GT study.

Familiar contours at the sides too: both the dynamic, waisted line above the sill and the shoulder line link the car's front, sides and tail end together; the doors and the transition to the side air inlet are particularly well sculpted and emphasise the typical round Audi wheel arches with large 20-inch wheels in an even more intensive way.

The windscreen seems to grow directly out of the short front section. Its glass has been given a hydrophobic (water-repellent) coating - an achievement derived from nano-technology - which is also highly resistant to dirt. A similar micro-coating helps to reduce the penetration of ultraviolet and infrared rays and prevent the interior from heating up.

The Audi Le Mans quattro is a markedly `cab forward' design, typical of a mid-engined sports car and with visible echoes of the Audi R8. Behind the occupant area but ahead of the rear axle is the V10 engine with its twin turbochargers: a technical sculpture that is visible from the inside of the car and also through a large, transparent rear flap.

1.90 metres wide but only 4.37 metres long and 1.25 metres high: those are the proportions of a supersport model. The 2.65 m long wheelbase accommodates a remarkably spacious occupant area and the longitudinally installed engine behind it. To the rear of the doors, between the sill and the roof, there is a large outward-curving intake that supplies the V10 engine, the oil cooler, the charge-air intercooler and the brakes with sufficient air.

The trapezoidal shape of the Audi `single-frame' grille is a distinctive feature of the front end, flanked on the right and left by additional large air inlets. Their upper ends are flush with the flat-strip LED headlights, which have clear-glass covers. The centre of the bonnet, carrying the four-ring badge, continues the dynamic line of the low central radiator grille typical of a sports car such as this. It curves up above the line of the front wings, which spread out at the sides over the large round wheel arches typical of an Audi.

LED - these three letters stand for "light-emitting diode" - a technology with confirmed advantages, such as a tenfold reduction in power consumption compared with conventional bulbs, but with a very much longer operating life.

Nor is that all - the LED principle has even more potential for future uses. In a later development stage, LED headlights will enable dynamic cornering beams to be provided by a system that does not use any moving parts. By switching additional LED elements on and off electronically, the light beam can be varied in width and direction.

Another LED advantage is that the lighting elements take up less room than conventional ones, so that the designers have more scope for exercising their talent. The 17 cooled light sources on each side are much closer to the transparent cover than is normally the case, and the covers too are of reduced size, so that the entire front end of the car looks more compact and tauter in its styling. The light-emitting diodes for the flashing turn indicators separate the two LED blocks used for the dipped and full headlight beams. The side turn indicator repeaters, housed in the base of the outside mirrors, also use this new technology.

Seen from the side, the rear-end contours consists of an interplay of concave and convex lines. Below the clearly defined spoiler lip is a shallow, vertical surface framed at the sides by the rear light assemblies, which also use LEDs. The light strip for the third brake light runs across the entire width of the roof at the read end of the transparent engine cover.

The base of the rear end in particular exposes certain technical features of the Audi Le Mans quattro, among them the two central exhaust tailpipes and two large diffuser openings that reveal the intensive influence of aerodynamics on the car's design.

Body aerodynamics were developed in Audi's modern wind tunnel, in close cooperation between Audi Design and Audi Sport. These two sections of the Audi organisation have already worked on three generations of the Audi R8 competition car, preparing it for road speeds of well over 300 km/h and optimising its aerodynamic downforce for fast, safe cornering - technology transfer at the very highest level.

When the Audi Le Mans quattro is driven at a speed above 120 km/h, its rear spoiler is extended automatically into the slipstream, to add to the `negative lift' generated by the aerodynamic design of the floor pan and the diffusers. If the driver wishes to leave the spoiler extended all the time, for instance when lapping a racing circuit, it can be prevented from retracting at a button on the multifunctional steering wheel. Otherwise it moves back in again flush with the body when the Audi Le Mans quattro's speed drops below 80 km/h. Incidentally, the spoiler is also extended when the car is reversed, since it contains the strip-pattern reversing lights.

This concept car is based on aluminium Audi Space Frame (ASF) structure - the perfect blend of minimum weight and maximum rigidity as a foundation for the highest standards of road dynamics.

The outer skin of the body and various add-on parts are of mixed weight-saving construction, using aluminium and carbon-fibre reinforced plastics. This is a precondition for the car's low gross weight of only 1,530 kilograms and therefore for its outstandingly good power-to-weight ratio of only 2.5 kg/bhp.

When the large covers are electrically released and opened, the elaborate suspension elements and the wide tyres with their precision tread pattern are revealed.

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