OK, let’s get the obvious bit out of the way. It won’t win any beauty contests, but Audi’s new R18 e-tron quattro will easily stand out as one of the most interesting cars in this year’s World Endurance Championship.
Audi is pioneering a new direction when it comes to aerodynamics, which is what gives the sixth car to wear the R18 badge (there are other numbers you know Audi…) it’s, erm, distinctive look.
The new car features a redesigned monocoque, which is slimmer than any of the R18s previously. The nose is noticeably thinner and higher to promote extra airflow over and under the car, as well as larger venturi tunnels funnelling air behind the wheel wells and into the cooling ducts and under the floor.
The heart of the R18 remains the same with Audi’s proven four-litre V6 turbo diesel powerplant, but it has been tweaked to produce 514bhp, despite the new fuel limitation rules (the 2015 engine had around 558bhp).
Audi has also adopted a new hybrid concept and installed a lithium-ion battery to move the new R18 into the sixmegajoule class. Audi has fitted a more powerful front-mounted electric motor and will recover kinetic energy from the front axle only. Audi estimates its new system to be worth around 469bhp.
Audi Sport technical director Jorg Zander said the move from a flywheel storage system to a battery, combined with a smaller monocoque, was a big challenge: “A battery requires much more volume than a mechanical system. We also have a much larger motor-generator unit. To make the car perform aerodynamically better and more efficiently, we had to reduce the overall size of the monocoque within the regulations. It was a very big task to make sure we got good, functional packaging of the car.
“The fuel flow [per lap at Le Mans] is being reduced by about 10 per cent, which means you are losing power. The idea is to maintain power with reduced flow and I think we have achieved that. The engine still has very good power.”
The new monocoque has also necessitated revised front suspension mounting points and wishbones.
Audi’s engineers have worked hard to strike an even weight balance in the new R18 too. The gearbox now features six gears instead of seven as part of their weight-saving mission and the numerous old electronic actuators that controlled individual elements of the R18’s systems – such as the braking, transmission and ECU – have been replaced in favour of a new highpressure hydraulic system.
The results mean that the new R18 tips the scales at exactly the minimum required weight of 875kg.
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