Audi R18 TDI (2011): first pictures of the new Le Mans racer

Published: 13 December 2010

This is the new Audi R18, Ingolstadt’s latest LMP1 endurance racer which will compete in the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours. Compared to its R15 predecessor, the new Audi R18 has gained a roof and the mandatory-for-2011 ‘shark fin’ engine cover, but it’s lost four cylinders – the R18 is powered by a turbocharged V6.

And is the turbocharged V6 in the new Audi R18 still a diesel powerplant?

It is – like the R10 and R15, the R18 is an oil-burner. But while the R10 had a 5.5-litre V12, and the R15 had a 5.5-litre V10, the engine in the new R18 is a 3.7-litre V6. The engine has been downsized to a V6 because of new regulations which aim to reduce CO2 emissions and overall fuel consumption by reducing the power and performance of these endurance racers. Just don’t expect any aural excitement – those after an ear-piercing bark from an LMP1 car must look to Aston’s Le Mans entry.

What’s with the roof and that weird fin?

The latter is there for directional stability. Say what you like about the way it looks, but it’s there to stop the LMP1 cars become airborne if they get a bit out of shape.

As for the roof, it’s there to give Audi a better chance of beating Peugeot. So just as Aston’s 2011 entry has switched to an open-top, the R18 has gone the other way to a closed cockpit design. ‘In the future, aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past,’ says Audi’s head of motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. ‘A closed car has clear advantages in this respect. Our computer simulations have been confirmed in the wind tunnel and during initial track tests.’ It’s not the first closed-cockpit Audi endurance racer though: in 1999 the company’s first entry into the Le Mans 24hrs included two R8C Coupes.

The new R18 has already had its first shakedown tests, and its race debut will be at a six-hour race at Spa on May 8. The Le Mans test day is on April 24, and the race proper on June 11-12.

Interestingly, Audi has also admitted that the new R18 has been ‘designed for progressive electrification’, so as and when the ACO (the organising body of the Le Mans 24hrs) allows hybrid entries, the R18 will be ready.

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