Audi R18 e-tron quattro (Image Credit: Audi Motorsport)

Audi R18 e-tron quattro (Image Credit: Audi Motorsport)

Audi Motorsport have officially launched the diesel hybrid R18 that will form part of their team during this year's World Endurance Championship (WEC).

The car – officially named the Audi R18 e-tron quattro – will make its race debut at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium in May in the WEC. The event will again act as a dress rehearsal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans where four Audi R18 – two conventionally powered and two e-tron quattro will be entered.

“Audi has always consciously selected championships and categories in racing that have a close relationship to production and therefore have technical relevance for the Audi customers,” explains Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, “quattro, TFSI and TDI are three excellent examples of how motorsport has stimulated production development. A similar tendency is apparent with the e-tron quattro: we test a completely new technology on the race track before it's introduced to the Audi production line.”

The hybrid system consists of flywheel accumulator that recovers and stores energy from the front axle under braking. The system them delivers the power back to the front wheels under acceleration.

The e-tron quattro will compete alongside its sister car – the 'R18 ultra'. The sole difference is the additional of the hybrid flywheel system, but the impact of the technology has given the ultra the accolade of being the most lightweight Le Mans prototype racecar Audi has ever produced, with weight saving one of the main goal in developing the car from the R18 TDI in order to compensate for the additional weight of the hybrid system.

The two cars were developed in parallel starting in February 2010, only 18 months before the first testing; “This is a relatively short cycle for a technology that has never been tested in motorsport and which still doesn't even exist in production,” said Dr. Martin Mühlmeier, Head of Technology at Audi Sport. “The challenge is correspondingly big.”

Audi's WEC season starts with the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17, but will rely on the R18 TDI for a three car entry in the race with driving squads consisting of Le Mans winning trio Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler, Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello with a third car given to the new combination of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Loic Duval – the Frenchman new to the Audi squad.