Hybrids, eh? They’re only good for pootling around at low speeds, right? Well no, actually, because an Audi hybrid has just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans — one of the fastest, most demanding races on the planet.
The Audi R18 e-tron romped home in first position with relative ease and if you thought that was a fluke, it was closely followed by another Audi R18 e-tron. Third place was picked by, yup, you guessed it — an Audi, though this model, the super lightweight Audi Ultra, uses a more conventional power train.
It should be mentioned that the R18 e-tron hybrids aren’t anything like your grandfather’s Prius. Rather than using petrol engines and batteries, these cars opt for huge turbo-diesel V6 engines driving the rear wheels, and a gigantic flywheel that collects energy under braking, deploying the stored electricity through an electric motor hooked up to the front wheels.
It’s probably no surprise these Audi’s hybrid cars have done so well. The company has romped to victory in 11 out of the last 13 races at Le Mans, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. It could have rocked up with a slightly modified Reliant Robin and won. However the company showed considerable bravery and should be commended for running these relatively untested cars — even if victory was always on the cards.
“By achieving this further success at the world’s most important endurance race our engineers demonstrated their high technological expertise in a particularly impressive way,” said Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG.”
“With the e-tron quattro in combination with ultra lightweight design, we put a completely new technology on the grid and immediately won with it — this cannot be taken for granted by any means, particularly here at Le Mans. This weekend again showed the type of things that can happen in this race and how important perfect preparation is.”
Whether this paves the way for a road-going flywheel hybrid remains to be seen but this spectacular result surely can’t do the cause any harm.