ROLLER: Live From Le Mans No. 3


LE MANS, France – This year the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans features a motorized cage match to be “King of the Car Making World.”

Volkswagen AG and Toyota, the world two largest manufacturers, have put it all on the line in a motorized cage match for world domination.

VW, the parent company for both Audi and Porsche, has brought its two most preeminent brands to Circuit de la Sarthe in hopes of muscling Toyota out. In the current world financial climate it is rare that any car maker has the intestinal fortitude to approve the cubic dollar expenditure required to build a competitive prototype racecar in today’s sports car world and for one board room to approve two such scenarios to compete against each other is unheard of. In 2010 the board of Volkswagen AG, under the direction of ex-Porsche racing boss Ferdinand Piech, did just that.

This year at Le Mans the result of that decision will be on display in the most public of ways, the world’s most prestigious endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The announcement that Porsche would return to la Sarthe for the first time with a prototype since it last won here in 1998 was big news and many thought it was the death knell for the Audi prototype program that has dominated Le Mans since the turn of the millennium.

That was not the case. The Audi program has carried on with great success and now the two stable mates will face off against each other while hoping to put it on Toyota as well.

Despite being controlled by the same board the two companies have taken completely different tacks to hopefully achieve the same goal. Audi continues to use it’s proven 4-litre V6 single turbo diesel technology with an updated flywheel hybrid system to store and use kinetic energy harvested from braking. The system is four-wheel drive with the engine driving the rear wheels and the hybrid motors driving the front.

The boys from Zuffenhausen as if to say, “we have a better plan,” have gone with a much smaller package. A petrol powered 2-litre single turbo V4 engine powers the rear wheels while a while water cooled lithium Ion batteries store and use kinetic energy from braking and the turbo exhaust gasses through the front wheels. That is the only similarity to the systems they are both 4-wheel drive.

So there are no shared technologies and no economies of scale. No one will tell us just what they are spending but experts agree between the two programs VW AG in all in for close to a billion dollars.

Toyota is the world’s largest car maker and is standing in the way of success for both of the Teutonic squads. And just to make it more interesting the Toyota uses a third system to try to achieve top speeds while being 30 percent more fuel efficient in 2014, as the rules dictate. Toyota comes to the party with a 3.7-litre petrol powered, normally aspirated V8 which powers the rear wheels and uses super capacitors to store and deliver kinetic energy to the front and rear axels.

In summation we are looking at nearly 1.5 billion dollars being spent to prove who can build the better, faster, more efficient race car. Do you think any corporate reputations or jobs are on the line?