The animosity between Audi and Peugeot in the battle to win the Le Mans 24 hours race is continuing for another year, with both manufacturers launching a new challenger for 2011. However, has Audi done enough to retain their crown?
Audi R18 TDI
Audi has been the dominant force in Le Mans in the new millennium, winning nine out of a possible 11 races since 2000 with the R8, R10 and R15 respectively. However, the competition is now fiercer than ever, and there is no guarantee that the R18 will win just because of the four rings on the bonnet.
The R18 is a significant departure from its predecessors, with Audi adopting a closed cockpit for the first time (as used by Peugeot). This is aimed at improving the aerodynamic efficiency of the car, with aerodynamics now being of increased importance due to the tighter engine regulations which should level the playing field. The German manufacturer has therefore been forced to adopt a Six-speed 3.7 Litre V6 diesel engine instead of its customary 5.5 litre V12 power-plant. The one advantage Audi has gained from this is a much tighter engine packing, which obvious brings further aerodynamic benefits. Audi’s chief aerodynamicist, Martin Gershbacher, is the man responsible for this with a number of F1 inspired solutions having been adopted. This includes a push-rod suspension (as used by Red Bull) which improves the aerodynamic air flow to the rear of the car and an engine fin which was fully exploited by McLaren last season. As in F1, cooling has been compromised by the tighter packaging, with Gershbacher using miniscule side-pod vents to cool the engine. If too much air was taken in by the car for this purpose it would compromise its aerodynamic efficiency.
However, Audi has not completely forgotten about mechanical reliability, with the R18’s designers having also focused on the cars serviceability; with the R15 having been a complicated car to fix for mechanics. This led to many sleepless nights and delays during races when something went wrong. Breakdown cover should be far less of a problem for Audi this year, but whether these intentions have been followed through as planned will not be known until the R18’s first test on the 8th May.
Peugeot 908 HDI
It may carry the same name as its predecessor, but it is a very different car. Peugeot narrowly missed out of glory last year due to poor reliability, but hopes are high that the new car will emulate the success the team had in 2009, when it recorded a 1-2 finish. Aerodynamically the 908 has been a trend setter in the past which should stand them in good stead within the new era, with the 2011 car being an evolution of its predecessor aesthetically. However, one key era of development has been increasing the contact patch between the car and the road. This has led to Peugeot leading Michelin into developing a much wider front tyre, however, it should be noted the Audi will also benefit from this with them also being Michelin customers.
A big area of differentiation between Audi and Peugeot is the engine design, with Peugeot opting for a V8 HDi to replace its V12. Peugeot claim to have run the 550bhp motor on the dyno for the first time in January 2010, which should mean that most of its mechanical niggles are eliminated. However, the same can not be said about the car which, likes it predecessor, has experienced numerous mechanical problems since it made its testing debut in July 2010, mainly involving the drive-train.
Audi V Peugeot: let battle commence
The battle between Peugeot and Audi is going to be more intense than ever following the regulations overhaul for this year. Peugeot has had the pace advantage over the past couple of years thanks to its more advanced aerodynamic design and strong V12 motor. However, the efforts of Martin Gershbacher and his team appear to have helped Audi close the gap on Peugeot in terms of aerodynamic profiling and the new engine regulations have equalled the playing field in terms of both teams having to go back to the drawing board.
The one Achilles heal that Peugeot has had in the past has been reliability, but the team have worked hard to eliminate this with the before mentioned dyno testing and a more intensive testing programme which will have a ten month head start over that of Audi. This again could level the playing field out, meaning the 2011 genuinely is too close to call.