The World Endurance Championship is one of those international sporting competitions that does what it says on the tin. The motor racing equivalent of the Olympic marathon, the WEC tests not only a car’s outright speed or a driver’s race-craft but requires competitors to push and surpass the very boundaries of human and mechanical durability. Nowhere is this truer than at the 24 hours of Le Mans, the granddaddy of all endurance races and arguably of motorsport in general. The gruelling day-night epic has, until recently, been the undisputed stomping ground of Audi, with a machine bearing the four rings taking top spot in ten of the last eleven races until 2014.
In 2015, however, the tables turned decisively in favour of another German powerhouse with an equally as illustrious sports car pedigree; Porsche. The two Teutonic stables may nowadays work under the same umbrella at boardroom level, but on the race track there’s little room for sentiment between this pair of endurance racing heavyweights. Spearheaded by the likes of Mark Webber and Nico Hülkenburg, Porsche not only pooped Audi’s party at Le Mans last year but also rubbed salt into the wounds by wrapping up both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ WEC championships.
No doubt still seething from the unfamiliar and unpalatable taste of defeat, 2013 WEC champions Audi are back with renewed vigour for the 2016 season. The team’s new weapon of choice is the next-generation Audi R18, the most powerful and efficient race car Audi has ever built.
Next season’s LMP1 category flagbearer, revealed this weekend at the Audi’s Munich training centre, features a top-to-toe redesign both aerodynamically and mechanically. Sources say that this new interpretation of the R18 represents the next stage in lightweight sportscar design and has a modified hybrid system with lithium-ion batteries once again working in tandem with an efficiency-optimized TDI engine. It is hoped that this thorough redesign will put pay to the niggling gremlins that afflicted the 2015 model’s energy recovery system, an issue which left the previous R18 down on power compared to its chief rivals and ultimately robbed Audi of a sixth consecutive Le Mans crown.
The new Audi R18 will make its competitive debut at the 2016 WEC season opener at Silverstone on 17 April where Audi Sport Team Joest will be fielding two cars, before attempting to wrest the Le Mans crown back from Porsche on 18/19 June.