Features Le Mans 2012: Automotive Highlights

Features

James Allen

Writer

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The iconic ’24 Heures du Mans’ is nearly upon us, and in preparation for the gruelling endurance event, the drivers and their cars have been practicing endlessly during test sessions.

The grid is packed with snazzy, innovative and downright rapid race cars, but the three (or, rather, four) cars we’ve listed below are the ones we reckon are worth keeping an extra close eye on during the race.

Audi R18 e-tron Quattro & Ultra:

Audi changed everyone’s perception of diesel race cars when the team won the 24 Heures du Mans with the R10 TDI in 2006, and now it’s gonna try and be the first manufacturer to win in a diesel-electric hybrid.

With the usual diesel V6 amidships powering the rear wheels, there’s also an flywheel that stores electric energy (much like the KERS system you see in Formula One), which can be deployed to the front wheels at speeds above 120kmh, which could help with traction around low to mid-speed corners, especially if it starts raining.

The R18 e-tron has proven to be hugely successful so far in international sports car racing for its debut season, having come second, third and fourth in May’s race at Spa-Francorchamps, with the only car finishing ahead being Audi’s other entry, the non-hybrid R18 Ultra.

The R18 Ultra is, despite the name, actually a technically inferior machine when compared to the e-tron. After all, it’s practically the same car except it doesn’t come with an electric ‘boost’ to the front wheels, and the mpg rating isn’t as good either. That said, it is a wee bit lighter, and if Spa is anything to go by, it’ll be noticeably faster down the Mulsanne straight as well.

It’ll be interesting to see which car will finish ahead of the other – the e-tron has better fuel consumption, but the Ultra seems to be just as competitive in race trim. One’s thing for certain, though: don’t expect Audi to perform badly at Le Mans this year!

Toyota TS030 Hybrid

Don’t go thinking that the Germans are the only ones who are fielding alternative powertrains at Le Mans this year, as Toyota are having a stab at it as well with their currently unproven Prototype, the TS030.

Like the Audi team, the Toyota also has a KERS style energy recovery/deployment system. However, whilst the R18 sends this new power to the front wheels, the TS030’s boost is sent to the rear only. Which does have a few benefits – whilst the Audi system can only be deployed at speeds of over 120km/h, the regulations state that the Toyota drivers can use it at any moment in the race.

We don’t know how well the TS030 will perform when alongside the competition, as Le Mans will be its motor racing debut (it was meant to start racing at Spa, but a crash during testing at Paul Ricard meant the team had to withdraw their entry in order to repair the racer). That said, at time of writing, the lap times it put in during the testing sessions are on par with the other LMP1 entries, so don’t rule them out for a good qualifying and race performance.

Will Toyota end up replacing the recently vacated Peugeot efforts as ‘a proper competitor to the Audi entries’? No one really knows. But don’t discount them entirely – Toyota have been on the Le Mans podium before with the GT-One, so here’s hoping they put an end to Audi’s Le Mans dominance!

The DeltaWing

As its name suggests, the DeltaWing’s bodywork is unlike that of any other race car currently competing in the World Endurance Championship – whilst the rear track is of the usual width you’d expect, it tapers towards the front, to the point where there’s only 0.6 metres separating the front wheels. It also sports no external aerodynamic wings (all of the downforce is generated along the car’s underbody), and it’s incredibly light at for a Le Mans racer at 475kg.

As it’s classified in the ‘Experimental Category’, the Nissan team’s result won’t count towards anything in the championship. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the car seriously. Despite the narrow front track, the DeltaWing seems to handle technical sections of track incredibly well, whilst the slippery body and high power-to-weight ratio means it has the potential to be monstrous along the straight and narrow.

Heck, if it ends up winning, the DeltaWing could end up rewriting a huge chunk of the rulebook on ‘How to make a race car’. That is, if the FIA don’t outlaw it by then…

So that’s the short list of Le Mans racers we reckon will be the stars of the show. Do you agree with us, or are there any other entries that you think should have been mentioned? Comment below or on our Facebook page and let us know!

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