McNish and his Audi Sport team-mates attended an unveiling of the Audi R18 at the Audi Sportpark in Ingolstadt, Germany, last night (Friday 10 December).
Audi’s latest sports-prototype features a brand new 3.7-litre V6 TDI turbocharged diesel engine and marks the first time a “closed” cockpit sportscar has been raced by the “factory” Audi Sport Team Joest outfit. Buckinghamshire-based Audi Sport UK entered an Audi R8C Coupé design at Le Mans in 1999.
“I tested the R18 for the first time at the end of last month which was essentially the Coupé’s initial roll-out combined with its maiden test,” confirmed Dumfries-born McNish.
“The car ran very well without any technical problems. We encountered wet and dry running enabling us to collect a lot of information in all types of track conditions.
“After racing an ‘open’ Audi sportscar since 2000, it was a renewed experience for me to again drive a sportscar with a roof. Audi has done a great job with the design – the front certainly looks very aggressive – I’m sure we have a contender for race honours.”
Audi took part at Le Mans for the first time in 1999. Few other car manufacturers have succeeded in racking up the same amount of success in this event; nine overall victories (2000-2, 2004-8, 2010) in 12 attempts is an impressive record while Audi drivers have stepped onto the winners’ rostrum on every occasion. Indeed, this year Audi achieved its third 1-2-3 finish in the world’s toughest twice-around-the-clock motor race.
“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-litre 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.”
Through the innovative V6 TDI engine for the Le Mans 24 Hours, motorsport is yet again performing pioneering work for the production arm at Audi where there is a growing trend towards smaller, more economical but yet powerful engines.
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 Audi R18 has been designed for progressive electrification, which Audi Sport is planning to drive forward step by step. “But efficiency is always the crucial factor for us,” says Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “No matter which form of energy recovery we may choose the key aspect for Audi – in motorsport as well as on the production side of the house – is that it provides a true advantage.”
McNish won the twice-around-the-clock French race in 1998 driving a “closed” sportscar (Porsche) and last raced one at Le Mans in 1999 (Toyota).
Meanwhile Audi also bids for glory in the seven-race Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in 2011. The series visits Europe, North America plus Asia and includes the actual Le Mans 24 Hours (11-12 June)with a 1,000km race also at Silverstone (11 September).
The racing debut of the Audi R18 is planned for the Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) 6 Hours on 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. At the opening ILMC race at Sebring on 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 programme,” explained Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.