24 Hours of Le Mans

Published on October 27th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley

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Audi Will Withdraw From Endurance Racing To Concentrate On Formula E

October 27th, 2016 by  
 

For many people. the 24 hours of Le Mans endurance race is the pinnacle of motorsports. Any fool with 4 wheels and an engine can go fast for an hour or two, but 24 hours straight, with no breaks, no timeouts, and no half time shows? That’s what separates the winners from the also rans. For 13 of the last 18 years, endurance racing cars manufactured by Audi have won Le Mans. But that long tradition of excellence is coming to an end.

Audi Le Mans

Audi announced this week that it is shutting down its endurance racing program to focus on Formula E, the racing series for open wheel electric cars. “We will conduct the race for the future electronically,” Rupert Stadler, Audi’s CEO, told workers at the company’s sports car division last Wednesday. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so,” Stadler said.

Blame it on Volkswagen and its willingness to blatantly lie about the emissions coming out of the tailpipes of its diesel powered cars. Volkswagen is the corporate parent of Audi. Facing billions in fines and penalties as a result of years of cheating, it needs to cut down on how much money it spends. Germany’s Handelsblatt reports that Audi spends more than $300,000,000 a year on its endurance racing program. Audi scoffs that the number is nowhere near that. Not a pfenning over $100,000,000, it claims. Either way, it’s a lot of cashola, money that parent Volkswagen doesn’t have at the moment.

The big problem for Audi’s endurance racing program is that it is based upon a diesel electric hybrid powertrain. Spending  money on diesel technology just doesn’t seem appropriate for a Volkswagen owned company at the moment, even though the company still believes there is a place for diesel engines in road cars. “If we are serious about achieving carbon dioxide emission targets, then there is no alternative to diesel because they are the most efficient engines,” an Audi spokesman says.

Porsche is also owned by Volkswagen. It has a long and illustrious history in Le Mans competition. After being away from the sport for a number of years, it jumped back in in 2014, lured by the very success with a hybrid powertrain enjoyed by its corporate cousin, Audi. Hybrid technology is seen as vital to future road cars as government regulators around the world ratchet up emissions rules. The difference is that the current Porsche endurance racer uses a gasoline engine, which allows it to avoid the taint of diesel engines that Volkswagen executives are so wary of. Porsche will continue its Le Mans program. Toyota will be the only other company still competing in the top class of endurance racing after Audi withdraws.

The mere mention of Le Mans conjures up memories of some of the best automobile racing ever. Henry Ford II mounted a personal vendetta against Enzo Ferrari, determined to shut the mouthy Italian up and humiliate his prancing horse badged race cars. The mighty Ford GT 40 — so named because it stood only 40 inches tall — eventually did win Le Mans. Having accomplished his mission of defeating Ferrari, Henry The Deuce withdrew his company from further Le Mans competition and went back to Detroit to gloat.

Audi has dominated Le Mans in the current era. Now it will be time for a different company to rule the iconic race track nestled in the French countryside. If you have a moment, stream the famed racing movie Le Mans starring Steve McQueen from NetFlix. It’s a great way to get a sense of what competing at Le Mans is all about. Guaranteed to give you goose bumps while you watch. Make popcorn and enjoy.

Source: Reuters





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About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.



  • Ed

    40 inches, not centimeters. It would take more than a Gurney Bump to accommodate drivers in a 40 centimeter tall car! Gotcha!

    • Steve Hanley

      Oh dear, I’ve been gotcha’d. Text amended. Thanks for catching my boo boo. Now go make some popcorn and watch Le Mans!

      • Ed

        I refuse to watch LeMans again. The last time was on a first date, and when I cried, the gal was badly embarrassed. No second date.

        • Steve Hanley

          No loss. Wasn’t a keeper anyway!

  • WebUserAtLarge

    Would love to see all ICE manufacturers abandon Le Mans, Indy, F1 etc. racing in favor of Formula E. I would love to see more ELECTRIC car races spring up instead. Isn’t there a Tesla S race somewhere already? Would it not be great to see a 24 hr endurance EV race? Change the tires and the battery every hour or so. This would sure advance the battery tech faster if a dozen or more teams are working on it. Maybe even lead to a tech that allows the recharge times akin to a filling up a gas tank.

    • Current battery tech is not too far away from allowing an electric WEC car run with the hybrids. Working out diesel hybrid efficiency is fairly tricky for a race car, but for 2016, the generally agreed estimate is that Audi had about 140 megajoules of energy available every lap taking into account the fuel and hybrid systems.

      Given the Audi was lapping in the 3:20 region for much of the 2016 race a battery that would let them run for an hour, at that speed, with no hybrid scavenging would need to be huge – 750Mwh.

      Except even diesel is not 100% efficient, if you take into account the efficiency of the ICE part you are probably looking at 40-50%, compared to the 95% or more of a battery/electric motor.

      Which probably brings the number down to about 400MwH

      Effectively 4 Tesla P100 ‘sleds’ per hour.

      Scavenging power probably reduces that need to about 250-300Kwh, especially if scavenging rules are relaxed and they are able to claw back even more ‘free’ energy each lap.

      Swinging that around the other way, a P100 battery, assuming it could cope with the abuse, would last just about half an hour. Or maybe 8-9 laps.

      A single 200Mwh battery would be close to an hour.

      Assuming a WEC car had the space, a 400 Kwh battery would last a much more respectable couple of hours and require probably less than 12 changes in a Le-Mans race. Obviously a fairly large charging infrastructure would be needed. But two-hour battery and tyre changes would probably not be too far off competitive, assuming the quick-change and charging infrastructure needs are solved.

  • I’m all for it. The internal combustion engine is not a viable solution for future transport needs. Formula E is pretty cheap compared to Le-Mans. An ‘Average’ WEC effort is about $250M for a single car, additional cars add about $50M each – Formula E is $3.5M / car / season – budget capped. So if Audi run two cars, they are in for $7M for the cars and probably another $10-20 for marketing etc.

    That seems like a decent investment to me.

    The racing has been pretty close and very interesting to watch since inception. As the technology gets better we will lose the car swaps, which may or may not be a good thing…

    I suppose too that eventually they will start to look different as the development budgets are relaxed a little. But for a new series, based on Electric race-cars it has been awesome to follow.

    I have heard many complaints about the lack of noise from the cars, but the Audi ‘Whispering Death’ TDI was insanely quiet too. Race cars do not have to burst ear-drums….

    • Steve Hanley

      Actually, Formula E plans to do away with mid race car changes beginning with season 5.

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