Audi has announced the new R18 e-tron quattro, an entirely new form of Le Mans prototype race car. Brimming with new drive technology, the vehicle is the first LMP1 car to incorporate a diesel hybrid powertrain that runs in concert with Audi's e-tron quattro all-wheel drive system.
The operating principle of the R18 e-tron quattro starts with a kinetic energy recovery braking system on the front axle which sends electricity into a flywheel accumulator before being sent back down to the electric motors on the front wheels. Energy from the accumulator can only be retrieved under acceleration above 120 km/h (74 mph).
Meanwhile, the V6 TDI power plant producing 510 HP (375 kW) simultaneously transmits power to the rear wheels. The system is operationally similar to Porsche's flywheel KERS system on their 911 GT3 R Hybrid, except it is a mild hybrid which cannot operate on electricity alone and uses a petrol engine in the rear.
For its premiere event in Munich today, head of Audi Motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, drove the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro onto the stage electrically and almost silent.
To compensate for the additional weight of the hybrid system, a new gearbox with a carbon-fiber composite housing, a first for endurance racing, was developed for the R18.
In addition to the R18 e-tron quattro, Audi will also field an R18 Ultra which is identical to the R18 e-tron quattro but without hybrid drive. As a result, the R18 Ultra is the lightest Le Mans prototype that Audi Sport has ever built.
The R18 e-tron quattro will make its race debut at the 6-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) on May 5 and then onto the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans (France) on June 16/17. At Le Mans, Audi Sport Team Joest will field two R18 e-tron quattro and two R18 ultra prototypes.