Audi R18 e-tron quattro on pole position at Le Mans

Diesel-electric hybrid sportscar starts from front in this weekend’s 24-hour race

By Will Dron on June 15, 2012 12:03 PM

Audi has secured pole position with its R18 e-tron quattro race car in the epic Le Mans 24-hours race, which takes place this weekend. It’s the 80th running of the endurance classic, but the first time a hybrid will start from the front of the grid.

In the final qualifying session on Thursday night, Audi driver André Lotterer set the fastest lap of 3m 23.787s in the number ‘1’ Audi, which he shares with Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. The lap time is an improvement over last year’s best by nearly two seconds.

The second R18 e-tron quattro of Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish will start from fourth on the grid, but they’re one to watch in the race as all three are Le Mans 24-hour-winning veterans.

Audi’s hybrid is powered by a 510hp V6 turbo-diesel engine at the rear wheels, while the front wheels are driven by an electric motor using energy recovered under braking and stored in a Williams F1-developed flywheel.

The Audi R18 e-tron quattro leaves the pits last night


"The car was running like it was on rails, simply incredible," beamed 31-year-old Lotterer. "The guys at Audi Sport did a top job yet again and made my first pole position at Le Mans possible for me. Many thanks to them for this!"

The R18 e-tron quattros will have stiff competition in the form of two lightweight versions of the R18, which don’t have the electric drivetrain and will start from second and sixth on the grid.

Toyota hybrid snapping at heals

Meanwhile, Toyota is mounting a quest for glory in its own hybrid vehicle, the TS030. The Toyota drivers have managed to place its two cars in third and fifth spots on the grid.

While it shares with the Audi hybrid the fact that the internal combustion engine is supplemented by electric power, the TS030 in fact works quite differently. In the Toyota, the primary powerplant is a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 3.4-litre petrol engine, rather than diesel. The Japanese machine also stores its electrical power in a different way to the Audi – using capacitors rather than a flywheel.

The final difference is that the Toyota’s electrical energy supplements power to the rear wheels, making it a two-wheel-drive machine. As such, commentators expect the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro, with its four-wheel-drive, to have the advantage if rain falls during the race. Whatever the weather, the mix of technologies in the top-flight LMP1 class this year is set to deliver one of the most exciting Le Mans races ever.

Toyota's TS030 during qualifying yesterday


"Of course, we’re proud to be the first automobile manufacturer to clinch the pole position with a hybrid vehicle at Le Mans and to outperform the two Toyota hybrid cars," said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "But this is just a very small step. The much bigger task is still ahead – the race."

The 80th the Le Mans 24-Hours starts on Saturday at 3pm local time and will be broadcast in the UK on Eurosport 2. Audi is offering live streaming of the race from the onboard perspective of the Audi R18 cars at www.audi-liveracing.com.

So which brand are you waving a flag for this weekend – Audi or Toyota?