They asked me how I knew................
He Ainít Heavy, Heís my..............
So, now it is official. Audi will bring diesel power to Le Mans in 2006 and, by the
reckoning of arch-rivals Peugeot, they will win the race overall, if not at the first
attempt, then at the second. Audiís 5.5 litre V12 all aluminium engine will power
the first P1 car to be built to the new regulations and it seems as though the only
thing to beat the new R10 will be its own technology.
The car is struggling to get down to the weight limit, largely thanks to the heavier
engine and the water and air cooling systems needed to keep it from blowing up.
The V12 configuration was necessary to deal with the combustion pressures and
the R10 will pay the price for a weighty engine compared to the 3.6 litre V8 on
board an R8. The problem has been helped a little by the introduction of a 25kg
weight increase across the board to accommodate the new mandatory air
conditioning systems in closed cars and Audi engineers have worked to
minimise the problem by distributing the load around the car.
The weight penalty will make a difference around a short circuit such as Sebring,
but at Le Mans, where reliability and fuel economy count as much as outright
speed, Audi will enjoy a two-lap-per-tank advantage over any of its petrol propelled
rivals. It will also enjoy significant performance advantages over its petrol
equivalent, and will face no rival factory opposition next season. Only Henri
Pescarolo with his Judd-powered Pescarolos will offer up a challenge, but
realistically his teamís best chance of victory was in 2005 when it was all thrown
away through a foreseen gearbox problem.
Peugeot will debut in 2007 regardless of Audiís performances, but there is no
doubt that the mountain to climb will be a tough one. ďIf they (Audi) donít win with
the diesel, everyone will say that it is because it is very difficult and they will not be
judged too badly. If they do win, they will say that they are really good,Ē says Jean-
Philippe Peugeot, Vice President of the supervisory board of the PSA and
Chairman of the strategic committee. ďIf they donít win, then for 2007, it will still be
really hard for Peugeot, because they will have one full year on the track, plus five
or six years of winning chassis experience at Le Mans. For Peugeot, this is a very
hard challenge. I feel that the delay, we are starting much later than the others,
and every day lost is too much time to think, and not enough time to work.Ē
Audi has already developed a new gearbox, built to accommodate the 1100Nm
(or 810lb/ft) of torque. The entire car was designed at Audi Sport, but the gearbox
will be built by Xtrac and the chassis by Dallara, the Italian company continuing
the relationship from the R8 programme. The R10 programme will be on similar
lines to the development path of the R8; first the car will be made bomb-proof and
then will be made available to customer teams. Audi Sport UK is not expecting its
car until 2007, which is as clear an indication as any as to when Audi is looking to
sell its cars.
The R10 will debut at Sebring in March and its next race is at Le Mans, with no
other races in between. There is a massive test schedule planned, which will be
undertaken by six drivers in three chassis. The driver line up will be led by seven-
time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, while the others are still to be announced.
The dates are full and only a calamity in one or more tests will lead to an extra
race, at Spa in May, being added to the test schedule.
When the R8R was first introduced in 1999, Reinhold Joestís team ran the cars
to third and fourth at Sebring, and again at Le Mans, considering podiums at the
two most prestigious sportscar races to be a perfectly adequate result. Joest, who
will develop the R10, may take the same approach with the diesel next year but,
whatever Audi achieves, it will still be more than Peugeot.
Attention Please, there has been..............
The French manufacturer was the first to announce its diesel programme,
issuing a statement back in June that it would contest Le Mans and the Le Mans
Series with a P1 prototype in 2007. Seven months later, Audi presents its car,
which was first mooted two years ago and announces that it will compete at Le
Mans in 2006.
Audiís vision for the future is obvious; in September 2006 the USA will change its
fuel regulations to accept European grade diesel fuel and what better showcase
for creating a bone fide diesel market than to produce a high performance diesel
which races (and wins?) at Le Mans? The debut of the car at Sebring in March is
probably not only to shake the car down, but to prepare the American public for the
onslaught of A8s, A6s and A4s which will cross the Atlantic and flood the market.
Every second Audi sold today is a diesel, and there is little doubt that the figure is
set to increase dramatically.
In customer hands, the R10 will race in Europe, but the European market is
already converted to diesel power. This may give an indication as to what Audi will
do with its DTM programme. While Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsports,
is a staunch supporter of the DTM, Dr Martin Winterkorn, his boss, is after more
competition following the withdrawal of Opel. However, Audi does not want to be
the one to pull the plug on the DTM and be held responsible by Mercedes.
Instead, it is more likely that it will continue for a further year, but will ask for a
guarantee that a third manufacturer is sought for 2007. If that does not happen, it
will be the fault of the ITR and Audiís conscience will be clear.(Editorís note: today
Audi confirmed their participation in the DTM till 2008.)
That would leave Audi free to concentrate on its Le Mans programme. As Ullrich
says, ďWe are working to make the DTM project continue, if we canít bring it
together, for sure we will not go into any other touring cars. If we canít make to
continue this great platform, why should we go somewhere else? We have a
sports car with interesting engine technology that we have done out of a rule book
that allows us to race it all over the world, and I think that is the route that we can
Arc de Triomphe?
The question is; what is in it for Peugeot? Around 70 per cent of its European
market is diesel, so it is a logical choice to aim for victory at its famous home
race, but it must also win and is already on the back foot. Peugeot was scheduled
to finalise engine configuration at the end of October, but is keeping stum over the
details. Peugeot has signed up its technical partners, including Italian company
ATR, formerly linked to Dallara, which will build the chassis. It has revealed no
such details officially, and nothing is known of the engine other than it is likely to
go the high-revving route, rather than Audiís 5000rpm limit.
However, with the race to the chequer flag with a diesel already firmly in Audiís
favour, it will be fascinating to see what the French manufacturer will bring to the
party in 2007. One thing is certain. Peugeot already knew about Audiís diesel
plans when it made its announcement earlier this year. It must have a counter-
attack planned and I for one cannot wait to see what it is.