Audi has announced details of its four-car assault on the 2012 Le Mans title and the big news is the return of the quattro brand to motorsport. Freed from its customary tussle for FIA World Endurance Championship honours with Peugeot the Ingolstadt firm will split its team with two lightweight evolutions of the R18 TDI paired with the two hybrid powered R18 e-tron quattros.
Set to make their competitive debut at the Spa Francochamps circuit in May the hybrid powered LMP1 racers feature what Audi says is its next generation quattro all-wheel drive technology. Power for the rear wheels will be supplied by the 510hp V6 TDI engine, with the front axle powered by electric motors that harvest kinetic energy normally lost during braking. Audi says that 'both systems complement each other to create the new drive principle e-tron quattro.'
The R18 Ultra is visually identical to the R18 e-tron quattro but devoid of the hybrid system and it features a carbon-fibre composite gearbox housing. It is the lightest Le Mans Prototype Audi has ever built.
While Audi will not have to worry about Peugeot bearing down on its cars it will have to contend with Toyota who will return to endurance racing with the TS030 Hybrid. As Toyota has not competed in the series since the late nineties it is unlikely to be as competitive as the Peugeot 908 HDi... initially at least.
Paul Healy - 1 Mar 2012