After coming up short in the last four races for a variety of reasons, Audi is hoping to deliver on the potential of its all-new R18 in the the remainder of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The German manufacturer has been winless since the Six Hours of Spa-Francorhamps in May, but not for lack of pace, having shown the upper hand with its diesel-powered contender.
“The new R18 is really a brand new car for us. We used different technology, especially on the hybrid side,” Audi Head of LMP Stefan Dreyer told Sportscar365.
“Our competitors were already much further in this technology and we had to pay our learning money in this area.”
Dreyer admitted that that the team was not ready for the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, with the initial testing far from being smooth sailing.
“We had such a bad time, going from test to test and not getting proper results,” he said.
“It took really long until we get the good long run results and we now we really need to sort it out and use everything we’ve learned for 2017.
“The complexity of the car is so challenging for everybody. It’s getting to a level where it’s really hard to get the whole performance out of the car.”
Once Le Mans was out of the way the radically new R18 returned to showing its intrinsic speed with four consecutive pole positions at Nürburgring, Mexico City, Circuit of The Americas and this weekend at Fuji.
However, on track accidents, mechanical failures, badly timed Full Course Yellows and a discrepancy between single lap and race pace meant that these pole positions were never converted into wins.
“We also have to be very self critical concerning the reliability,” Dreyer said. “We have not been the strongest on that part.
“It’s still a result of the very tough time we had on the road to Le Mans. We are still suffering from that; that’s really the cause of it.”
Audi has brought new updates to Japan to improve in this area, with Dreyer specifically stating that the issue the No. 8 car suffered at COTA will not manifest itself again.
“It was the very first time we experienced an electrical shutdown like that,” he said. “It will not happen again.”
With an aggressive and complex front-end design, the R18 has also been prone to issues with pickup and debris that it collects on track, resulting in handling issues.
“The pickup has always been a problem on the LMP cars, also for the others,” Dreyer said. “It’s an area where you can develop something where you don’t have it happen so often.
“A solution is already being considered, but it’s a tough issue. You have pickup in varying sizes; the problem is where you draw the line.
“You have to take into account how often does it happen, when does it happen, how much performance do you lose by compromising the design.”
The R18 has generally performed its best in consistent and warm conditions, although it’s “very hard” to hit the sweet spot according to the German, who admitted the team needs to be able to convert it into a full race distance.
Ill-timed FCYs are another important factor in Audi missing out on victories over last few races.
With ongoing talk about changes to the sporting regulations to prevent a FCY from having to big of an impact on the end result, Dreyer also pointed out that the stewards could already implement yellow zones, which were used at Le Mans but not since.
“Closing the pit lane during a FCY could also be an option,” he said. “You would only be able to come in for a splash and dash so you don’t run out of fuel out on track.
“The rule makers have to think about it and improve, because it’s just influencing the race too much. We’ve been very unlucky.
“Because we run with diesel we have to pit early, and if a FCY comes out immediately after our stop the other will be able to gain.”