Audi’s return to the legendary French endurance race should make the competition nervous.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a grueling test of driver and machine unlike any other — and the Audi Sport team knows that better than most. During the squad’s 15 years in competition at the storied French circuit, the cars bearing the Four Rings took the overall crown a whopping 13 times. Currently, Audi is developing a successor to the formidable R18, and according to Audi Sport director Andreas Roos, the prototype is well on its way:
We have selected a chassis partner and decided on an engine concept. Together with our colleagues from Audi Design, we are currently defining the look which will excite our fans. Our goal is for the first prototype to be on its wheels early next year and to complete its roll-out in the first quarter.
Like the R18 TDI Ultra, the new machine will be a hybrid, featuring both electric motors and an internal combustion engine, and be designed for LMDh, the top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Given that diesel is a dirty word now, I’m guessing the traditional mill will run on gas, but that’s pure speculation. While teams have lots of flexibility regarding engine displacement, battery tech, and drivetrain architecture, the rules state that total output for all the cars in the category will be 680 horsepower.
Now, while marques like Jaguar, Bentley, and Ferrari, have all been successful at Le Mans, the only serious competition Audi has for overall wins is corporate cousin Porsche. Over the years, Stuttgart’s racing division has fielded legendary machines like the 917, 935, and 962 — and won an unrivalled 20 runnings of the race. So the revelation that Audi and Porsche will be working together for 2023 can’t be good news for challengers. Here’s what Julius Seebach, Managing Director Audi Sport said about the unprecedented partnership:
A great strength of the Volkswagen Group is the collaboration of the brands in the development of road cars. We are now transferring this proven model to motorsport. Nevertheless, the new sports prototype will be just as much a genuine Audi as the Audi RS e-tron GT that was launched recently and has also been developed on a platform shared with Porsche.
Given that they’ll be more alike than different, it’ll be interesting to see how the two machines perform on the track. But at this point, it’s a safe bet that the overall winner will be a VAG product. That said, I’m extremely curious as to exactly how Ferrari’s much heralded return to Le Mans will go. Because while Maranello always talks a big game, the company hasn’t won the Formula 1 constructors championship for nearly 15 years, and hasn’t even campaigned at Le Mas for four decades. Here’s hoping that the iconic Italian brand can at least make the fight between the German giants interesting…