Every win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is historic, but the Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro's 1-2 victory was especially noteworthy as the vehicles were the first hybrids to win the prestigious auto racing marathon. Let's just not confuse these with your grandma's Prius.
These hybrids are kick-ass speed machines with no giant batteries and massive amounts of power. WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!
The 2012 Le Mans race will go down as the year of the hybrid, with both Audi and Toyota battling it out with their own hybrid vehicles for the first part of the race. Experience matters, and Toyota's LMP1 hybrid was plagued by bad luck and one serious crash. But the fact that Toyota is trying at all is news and a good sign for fans of the Japanese automaker.
Audi, as they have for 11 out of the last 13 years, won the big race. It was such a foregone conclusion it's barely worth noting but for the technological aspect. The two Audi E-Trons finished first and second, with the light-weight Audi Ultra picking up third. A non-hybrid Toyota-powered Lola won fourth, besting the other Audi Ultra.
"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."
And that technology isn't what we normally associate with hybrids. The car has a massively powerful turbo-diesel V6 running the rear wheels, just like the Ultra models and the previous R18. Audi doesn't think massive batteries are ideal for race cars and, instead, the cars use a large flywheel that collects the energy created under braking and converts it into power for an electric motor connected to the front wheels.
A diesel electric hybrid with a flywheel system is a much sexier technology than batteries.
The closest you can get, actually, is the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid in Europe, although it's backward and uses batteries.
Given overall lap times and the lack of a serious, seasoned competitor, it's difficult to say this is proof that hybrids are the future. The non-hybrid Ultra ran the fastest time with the overall highest average top speed and pitted just as many times as the 2nd place E-Tron.
Its trick? It was just lighter.
More on the rest of Le Mans finishes later.
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