Audi Unveils New R18 Race Car

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INGOLSTADT, Germany — Audi debuted its new R18 LMP1 sports car Friday evening as the company announced its pursuit of a 10th 24 Hours of Le Mans victory.

For the first time since 1999, Audi will contest Le Mans with a closed coupe again.

“In the future, aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past,” says Head of Audi 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.”

Significantly smaller engines than those used before will be prescribed at Le Mans in 2011 as the rule makers aim to achieve a substantial reduction of engine power. By opting for a 3.7-liter V6 TDI unit, Audi retains the diesel concept that saw its first victorious fielding in 2006.

“From our point of view, the TDI continues to be the most efficient technology,” says Ulrich Baretzky, Head of Engine Development at Audi Sport. “There are good reasons why the share of TDI units among Audi’s production models is as high as it is.”

Another new development is the six-speed transmission in the R18, which has been specifically modified for use with the smaller engine.

The chassis and aerodynamics package contains a lot of know-how from the R8, the R10 TDI and the R15 TDI whereas the fitting of identically sized front and rear wheels is new to an Audi Le Mans sports car. This configuration allows a more balanced weight distribution.

The R18’s headlights, which are the first to completely consist of LEDs with optimized amount of light, are a technical highlight. The new generation of headlights was developed in close cooperation between Audi Sport and the Technical Development division of AUDI AG and by using at Le Mans, will be prepared for future use in production vehicles.

The development of the new Audi R18 started in mid 2009. The V6 TDI engine has been running on the dynamometers since the summer of 2010. The R18, with Allan McNish at the wheel, completed its first test on a race track at the end of November.

The racing debut of the Audi R18 is planned for the Spa-Francorchamps May 8.

Prior to the event, the new prototype will be able to do its first laps on the race track at Le Mans during the official test day on April 24 and gather important data for the race on June 11-12.

Audi is planning to field three Audi R18 cars at Le Mans, which will be entered by Audi Sport Team Joest, the most successful Le Mans team of all time.

In addition, Audi Sport Team Joest will contest the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC), consisting of a total of seven endurance races on three continents (including the Le Mans 24 Hours) with two cars. At the opening race at Sebring, Fla., March 19, the team will use two “R15 plus plus” cars. “Sending the R18 into a race at such an early point in time would be difficult in terms of logistics and interfere with our development program,” explains Ullrich.