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by Adam Lynton
Following its world premiere in Munich, Audi’s new R18 will make its racing debut on May 5 before fighting for overall victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Audi has just revealed their new R18 e-tron Quattro racer, a brand new Le Mans prototype that has been in the development stages up until very recently. Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich drove the new Audi R18 onto the stage at last night's world premiere in Munich, electrically and almost silent. The vehicle will be the first LMP1 car that incorporates a diesel hybrid powertrain, which runs in concert with Audi's e-tron Quattro AWD system.
A kinetic energy recovery braking system on the front axle sends electricity into a flywheel accumulator before it is sent back down to the electric motors on the front wheel. This energy can then be retrieved, but only under acceleration above 75mph. Meanwhile, a 503hp V6 TDI powerplant transmits power to the rear wheels. This flywheel hybrid system was developed and manufactured by Williams, who previously supplied similar systems to Porsche racing cars. In fact, its similar to Porsche's flywheel KERS system on the 911 GT3 R Hybrid although it cannot operate on electricity alone and a gasoline engine is used in the rear.
To compensate for the hybrid system's additional weight, a new gearbox with a carbon-fiber composite housing was developed for the R18, a first for endurance racing. Audi Sport also developed the Audi R18 ultra in parallel with the e-tron Quattro, an identical car but without hybrid drive and the lightest Le Mans prototype Audi has ever built. Both cars will be fielded in the Le Mans 24 Hours on 16/17 June, with a dress rehearsal to take place on 5 May at the World Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.