Audi has unveiled the vehicle it hopes will bring home a record-breaking 10th Le Mans win for the brand – the completely redesigned Audi R18.
The R18 does away with the open-top design of the highly successful R8, R10 and R15 that came before it, with Audi preferring a closed cabin for reduced driver fatigue and improved aerodynamics.
Development of the new Audi R18 started in mid-2009, around the same time as Peugeot’s hardtop 908 finished first and second in the Le Mans 24-Hour race.
Head of Audi motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, said the R18 would become the first closed coupe from the brand to contest Le Mans this century.
“In the future, aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past,” Dr Ullrich said.
“A closed car has clear advantages in this respect. Our computer simulations have been confirmed in the wind tunnel and during initial track tests.”
Le Mans officials are pushing for improved vehicle efficiency, and Audi has downsized the engine for the R18 as a result.
The R15 was powered by a 5.5-litre V10 diesel engine, which packed more than 440kW and 1050Nm. By contrast, the R18 will feature a much smaller 3.7-litre V6 TDI, with performance data still to be released.
A new six-speed transmission has also been developed especially for the R18, replacing the five-speed sequential gearbox of its predecessor.
The body will feature a single-piece carbon fibre monocoque, designed to increase overall stiffness and decrease weight. Audi says weight distribution is also better balanced in the R18.
The headlights are made up entirely of LEDs and, of course, incorporate Audi’s famous daytime running lamps.
Audi says the engineering work of its motorsport arm continues to act as a pioneering influence on its future production vehicles, especially in terms of the headlights, aerodynamics and engine technology of the E18.
Audi plans to field three R18s at Le Mans in 2011, which will be entered by Audi Sport Team Joest – the most successful Le Mans team of all time.