Audi has unveiled its latest sports car which Scottish racer hopes will enable him to score his third and the German manufacturer's 10th Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race victory next June.
Audi's latest sports-prototype features a brand new 3.7-litre V6 TDI turbocharged diesel engine and marks the first time a closed cockpit sports car has been raced by the factory Audi Sport Team Joest outfit, although Buckinghamshire-based Audi Sport UK entered an Audi R8C Coupé at Le Mans in 1999.
"I tested the R18 for the first time at the end of last month which was essentially the car's initial roll-out combined with its maiden test," confirmed Dumfries-born McNish.
"It ran very well without any technical problems. We encountered wet and dry running enabling us to collect a lot of information in all types of track conditions.
"In the future, aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past," says head of Audi Motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "A closed car has clear advantages in this respect. Our computer simulations have been confirmed in the wind tunnel and during initial track tests."
Significantly smaller engines than those used before will be prescribed at Le Mans in 2011 as the rule makers aim to achieve a substantial reduction of engine power. By opting for a 3.7-litre V-6 TDI unit, Audi retains the diesel concept that saw its first victorious fielding in 2006.
"From our point of view, the TDI continues to be the most efficient technology," says Ulrich Baretzky, head of Engine Development at Audi Sport.
Another new development is the six-speed transmission in the R18 which has been specifically modified for use with the smaller engine. The chassis and aerodynamics package contains a lot of know-how from the R8, the R10 TDI and the R15 TDI whereas the fitting of identically sized front and rear wheels is new to an Audi Le Mans sports car as this allows a more balanced weight distribution.
Intriguingly the Audi R18 has been designed for progressive electrification, which Audi Sport is planning to drive forward step by step. "But efficiency is always the crucial factor for us," says Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "No matter which form of energy recovery we may choose the key aspect for Audi – in motorsport as well as on the production side of the house – is that it provides a true advantage."
Audi is planning to field three Audi R18 cars at Le Mans, which will be entered by Audi Sport Team Joest. At the opening ILMC race at Sebring on March 19, the team will use two "R15 " cars. "Sending the R18 into a race at such an early point in time would be difficult in terms of logistics and interfere with our development program," explained Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.