Last weekend’s Prologue at Paul Ricard marked the public debut of the revised machinery for all three of the returning LMP1 manufacturers, and also the first direct comparison between the factory juggernauts after months of private testing.
While Porsche led the way in the two-day test, thanks to a series of qualifying simulation runs, perhaps the biggest turnaround came from Audi with its updated R18 e-tron quattro, which showed noticeably improved pace compared to last year.
Both of the diesel-powered cars, now running in the 4 MJ hybrid subclass, were more than three seconds quicker than the times set at the FIA World Endurance Championship pre-season test, something that has left the Audi’s top brass pleased heading into this month’s season-opener in Silverstone.
“In relation to our times from last year, yes, it’s been an impressive step but it’s to be expected,” Head of Audi LMP1 Chris Reinke told Sportscar365. “If you have competition, as we have in this series, you’ve got to make such a step, and as we see, everyone did.”
The second-generation R18 under the new-for-2014 LMP1 regulations features a number of developments, although retaining the same monocoque and 4.0-liter turbo diesel powerplant from last year.
While one of the big gains has come with revised airflow around and through the front-end, the move from the 2 to 4 MJ subclass has given the car significantly more power as well as energy storage.
“To make the step from two to four, it’s 100 percent more,” Reinke said. It’s bigger than any other competitor. It is a big step, for sure.
“It’s not just the megajoule classes. The megajoule class gives you a good indication because it’s clearly regulated so it’s a good indication to compare. But it’s just one component in the car.”
Audi’s flywheel energy storage system can now store up to 700 kilojoules of energy, which marks a 17 percent increase from last year.
It has also resulted in a weight increase, something Reinke said they’ve had to take into account to ensure the overall car weight stays at the 870 kg minimum, a feat Porsche has claimed to achieve with its 919 Hybrid, which features a 8 MJ system.
“Yes, I wish I would have 8 [MJ] as well but with the diesel combustion engine we just don’t have the extra weight to build such a system, so we’re restricted on that side,” Reinke said.
“I think to do the step from 2 to 4 is a solid one and I rather have a reliable 4 MJ system.
“With our weight mass available, it would have been at least at the edge or over the edge system if we would have gone bigger.”
While having worked through different programs at the Prologue, having racked up more than 2,500 kms, Reinke said they don’t yet have their low-downforce Le Mans aero kit available.
Both cars will run in high downforce spec for next weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone, while its three-car entry for Spa is expected to see a variety of bodywork configurations in preparation for Le Mans.
Yet Reinke has been pleased with the progress made with its two race cars, which only turned their first laps in anger last weekend.
“We had one roll-out before we came here,” he said. “This was really the first break-in for the cars and really for the teams running them, the same mechanics worked on the cars that will work on the cars [in the races].
“That was really the preparation on the hardware and the human side for Silverstone.”
As for the season ahead, there seems to be more optimism for Audi’s return to form after a challenging 2014, outside of Le Mans.
“So I think that’s the most important message; the field is again close together,” Reinke said. “We can expect a great season with close racing. That’s the thing that gets me excited and I think all of us excited.”