6 Hours of SpaPosted: May 9, 2012
This weekend was the running of the WEC 6 Hours of Spa. This was the racing debut for Audi’s two newest Le Mans competitors: the R18 Ultra and the R18 e-tron quatro. But before I get to Audi and the race let’s look at who wasn’t there.
Don’t let the poster fool you, Toyota was not there with their TS030 – at least not competing thanks to an unfortunate shunt at Paul Ricard while testing last month. Toyota brought their gasoline hybrid endurance competitor for promotional purposes only. From these photos, you can see Toyota has made several modifications to the car.
In addition to updating the headlamps, which I’m sure is for improved night-time visibility, they’ve made several aerodynamic changes. The front fenders are more upright, the endplates are now more similar to the Audi’s, as well as a redesigned nose with integrated air intakes probably for brake cooling. This is not the same car they rolled out two months ago, and I’m willing to bet this isn’t the same car that will take to the grid in Le Mans next month. Now, onto the race.
As I said earlier, Audi debuted their newest Le Mans racers: the R18 Ultra and the R18 e-tron quattro. Two of each for four Audi racers. The R18 Ultra is an improved version of the 2011 Le Mans winning R18 – slight modifications in aerodynamics as well as a modified monocoque for improved driver visibility. The R18 e-tron quattro is an all-wheel drive version that has two electric motors driving the front wheels creating a diesel/electric hybrid.
Audi DOMINATED qualifying. The two e-tron quattros took the front row and the two Ultras took the second row. There was a considerable gap from the e-tron quattros to the Ultras and then onto the rest of the pack. The fastest e-tron quattro won pole position with a 2:22.121, the fastest Ultra in 3rd was more than 6 seconds back with a 2:28.422 and the next fastest LMP1 competitor was a more than a second slower in 5th. These cars are blistering fast.
Being fast over a few laps is one thing; being fast, reliable, consistent, and safe over a 6 hour time frame is an entirely different thing. Mix in the weather, and “the great equalizer” changes everything. My friend from Le Mans, Walter, was at the race and provides us with this photo of the #1 Audi on pole.
To see more of Walter’s work, click here.
Practice and qualifying were held in the dry, but the weather in the Ardennes Forest is unpredictable. Rain moved in overnight, throwing engineers, drivers, and mechanics into scramble mode to prepare the cars for their wet-weather setups. Strategies, tire and fuel management, and goals all had to be adjusted. The e-tron quatro is fast in dry weather, but how would it handle Eau Rouge in the wet?
At the drop of the flag, the e-tron quatros and Ultras maintained first through fourth and stayed that way through the first half of the race. As the track dried, however, Marc Gene in the #3 R18 Ultra came in for slicks. The gamble paid off. He and his co-drivers Romain Dumas and Loic Duval held off the e-tron quattro piloted by last year’s Le Mans winning team of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer to win the 6 Hours of Spa.
Here’s a great video from Michelin from the race. Check out the R18 LED headlight with the colored accent lights.
While Toyota didn’t compete in this race, they say testing will more than make up for the lack of competitive racing when it comes time for Le Mans. I can’t say I 100% agree with this line of thinking. In terms of logistics, Toyota wasn’t ready for this race. Does that mean they’ll be ready for La Sarthe? I don’t think so. Audi’s been to Le Mans every year since 1999. They’ve won it 10 out of the last 12 years. You can argue 11 out of 12 with the Bentley Speed 8 – which was basically an Audi R8 in a different shirt – these guys know how to win. And when you consider Audi is fielding 4 competitors at Le Mans, it should be an all Audi first two rows and an all Audi podium. Does Toyota have a rabbit up it’s sleeve? We’ll know in 5 weeks.