Audi is trying something new this year in hopes of taking the endurance racing world by storm: it's fielding four cars at a time instead of its usual three, and two of them are hybrids. It appears to be working: Audis swept the first four places in qualifying for this weekend's 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
The pole position went to Audi's 2 car, an R18 e-tron quattro that will be helmed this weekend by drivers Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen, and Allan McNish. Capello, Kristensen, and McNish might be especially familiar to Audi fans, thanks to their win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2008, which was commemorated in the 2009 film "Truth in 24."
Audi will field three other cars, two conventional diesels and one hybrid. The number 1 R18 e-tron Quattro piloted by Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer, and Benoit Treluyer placed third in qualifying, while the number 4 Audi R18 Ultra driven by Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis placed second. Fourth place went to the R18 Ultra driven by Romain Dumas, Loic Duval, and Marc Gene.
All four of Audi's race cars continue to use diesel engines, but regulations enacted over the past few years have shrunk the engine from a V-12 in the R10 TDI to a turbocharged 3.7-liter V-6 in the R18. The R18 Ultras will use this engine, mated to a six-speed sequential manual transmission and sending its power to the rear wheels. The R18 e-tron Quattro has the same setup in the rear of the car, but uses a flywheel-based kinetic energy recovery system to electrically power the front wheels. The result is an FIA first: an all-wheel drive hybrid racecar.
The R18 e-tron Quattro will face stiff competition from Toyota this year, as Toyota has also built a hybrid, dubbed the TS030 Hybrid. Both cars will compete in the LMP1 class, but due to a pre-season wreck during testing, Toyota’s car won’t be fully ready to compete against the R18 e-tron Quattro until Le Mans.
The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps kicks off tomorrow at 2:30 PM local time (8:30 AM Eastern). If all goes according to plan, Audi hopes to finish the race by sweeping the podium once again.