YOU DON’T HEAR Audi talking much about diesels lately, what with the EPA accusing it (and corporate parent VW) ofprogramming cars to cheat on emissions tests. Such tests don’t apply in auto racing though, and Audi wants everyone to know diesels still dominate when it comes to endurance contests like the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This weekend, the company showed off the R18 racer that will compete in the World Endurance Championship series that includes the grueling race at Le Mans. Endurance racing is all about covering the greatest distance in the allotted time, something that requires an exceptional combination of power, handling, reliability, and efficiency.
For the past decade, Audi has dominated Le Mans, winning eight of 10 races with its superbly innovative turbocharged diesel hybrids. The outgoing R18 e-quattro cars produced 558 horsepower, weighed as little at 1,918 pounds, and were good for more than 200 mph. After losing the race last year to sister brand Porsche—which ran a gas-electric diesel—Audi returns with a “fundamentally redesigned R18.”
Audi’s sitting on the details for now, but says the 2016 car “represents the next stage in lightweight design.” From the early renderings, the new car looks quite similar to the outgoing one, but Audi says lithium-ion batteries will replace the flywheel to handle energy storage and the V6 diesel engine will be “efficiency optimized.” Well, we’ve heard that before.
Audi, like Porsche, will field two cars in 2016 instead of three, “in the interest of maximum cost efficiency.” VW’s facing up to $18 billion in fines in the US alone, plus dropping sales, reputation damage, and the prospect of litigation by customers, dealers, and governments around the world. So two fewer race cars seems like a wise budgetary move.
Massive global fraud aside, the R18 has long been one of the most innovative interesting cars on the planet, and we’re excited to learn more about how Audi’s pushing it forward to be ever faster and more efficient.