Premiere at the Le Mans 24 Hours: The 80th running of the endurance classic that has been held since 1923 will see a sports car with hybrid drive starting from grid position one for the first time -- the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
The intelligent combination of TDI power at the rear axle and an electrically driven front axle made it possible for André Lotterer in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro designated as car number "1" to achieve a fastest lap of 3m 23.787s in the final qualifying session on Thursday night shortly after 22:00 -- and thus an improvement of last year's best time by nearly two seconds.
"The car was running like it was on rails, simply incredible," raved the 31-year-old German as he praised the advantages of the new type of electric quattro drive that is already being tested at Audi for use in production vehicles. "The guys at Audi Sport did a top job yet again and made my first pole position at Le Mans possible for me. Many thanks to them for this!"
But not only the R18 e-tron quattro showed a convincing performance on both qualifying days at Le Mans. World championship front runner Loïc Duval in the fastest conventionally powered number "3" R18 ultra was merely 0.291 seconds slower. "My lap wasn't completely free, more would have been possible," reported the Frenchman. "That's why I'd actually expected my time to be beaten. But the main goal was to be in front of Toyota -- and we achieved this."
Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen in the number "2" Audi R18 e-tron quattro set the fourth-fastest lap (3m 25.433s) behind the quickest hybrid vehicle from Toyota. Le Mans rookie Marco Bonanomi in the number "4" Audi R18 ultra took grid position six (3m 26.420 s. This meant that all four vehicles fielded by Audi Sport Team Joest qualified for the three front rows.
After 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2011, this marked the seventh pole position for Audi at Le Mans. Each time, the brand with the four rings secured the complete front row at those events as well -- albeit never before with two different technologies.
"Of course, we're proud to be the first automobile manufacturer to clinch the pole position with a hybrid vehicle at Le Mans and to outperform the two Toyota hybrid cars," said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "But this is just a very small step. The much bigger task is still ahead -- the race. Therefore, as always, we used the two practice days almost exclusively to work on the race set-up. The result is that we've now got cars that are very good to drive and which until now ran with absolute reliability too. But you could also very impressively see today that you can't only be fast at Le Mans with a diesel -- that's exactly what we've always said. This double pole is the nicest thank you for the entire squad that has been working hard on preparing the cars so superbly."
The 80th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours will be started on Saturday at 15:00 and broadcast live by numerous TV channels worldwide. At www.audi-liveracing.com Audi is offering live streaming in which spectators can continually watch the race from the onboard perspective of the Audi R18 cars.
The smallest Audi made a big appearance at Le Mans as well. The A1 quattro that is produced in a limited number of 333 cars will be driven in front of the field on the formation lap.