The new R18. Audi’s next Le Mans winner?

Might this be the LMP1 prototype that gets Audi back on top of the World Endurance Championship?

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Despite being comprehensively out-muscled throughout the season, it’s a testament to the well-established R18 that Audi Sport Team Joest was still able to run eventual World Champions Porsche to the wire last season, falling just five points short in the Driver’s standings despite its victory at the second round in Belgium being its last of the year. That should give you some idea of the potential of the ‘fundamentally redesigned’ 2016 successor, the most powerful and efficient Audi race car ever built.

Unlike its petrol-guzzling rivals at Porsche and Toyota, Audi has stuck defiantly with diesel power for 2016 in the shape of a naturally aspirated 4-litre TDI V6. Whether to improve the Volkswagen Group’s image after ‘Diesel-gate’ or for the better fuel economy such a system offers is up for debate, but significant developments mean that even despite the fuel restrictions in place for 2016, Audi has still managed to eke out 514bhp from the V6. Slim pickings compared with the 558bhp said unit spewed last season, true, but Audi’s new lithium-ion electrical storage system – its previous flywheel energy storage system now in the bin – pushes 350kW (469bhp) compared with its predecessors 202kW (272bhp), allowing Audi to step up one hybrid sub-class to 6MJ. Also unlike its rivals, the new R18’s Energy Recovery System retrieves ‘used’ power from the front axle only, while a new high-pressure central hydraulic system replaces the sometimes temperamental electronic actuators that operated the brakes, transmission and engine last year.

One issue that arose during development however was squeezing the much larger albeit more efficient hybrid system under a more radical aerodynamic setup for 2016. The new look boasts a smaller monocoque and a slimmer, higher mounted nose designed to direct air more efficiently through the car itself. The R18 has also received a crash diet to hit the 870kg minimum weight tariff, Audi even opting for a six rather then seven-speed racing transmission to trim those unsightly kilos.

The driver line-up meanwhile remains unchanged, André Lotterer, Benoît Truleyer and Marcel Fässler again teaming up in the #7 R18, Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loîc Duval doing likewise in the sister #8. In a bid to reduce costs during its WEC campaign, both Audi and Porsche will also forego their traditional third car entries for Le Mans.

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