Audi has officially put its new R18 Le Mans racer and all nine of its factory drivers through their paces. The pair of closed-cockpit Audi bruisers and one last-generation R15 TDI spent some time lapping Sebring as part of preparations for this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Each of the cadre of pilots was able to get some seat time in all three vehicles. Interestingly enough, Audi has made it clear that the R15 "Plus Plus" will campaign alone at this year's 12 Hours of Sebring. Audi typically uses the venue as a dry run for new hardware before showing up in France.
Recognizing that aerodynamic efficiency will be even more important at Le Mans than it was in the past, the new R18 marks the first time since 1999 that Audi will contest the world’s oldest endurance race with a closed coupe. Unlike that of the closed Le Mans prototypes, which consisted of two halves, the carbon fiber monocoque chassis of the R18 features a single-component design that reduces weight and increases stiffness.
Fortunately, Audi was kind of enough to post a couple of videos of the Sebring testing, complete with action shots of their LMP1 racer run roughshod on the race track. On top of the two-minute R18 action-fest, there’s also another video featuring no less than Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the brand’s motorsport head, giving us the low-down behind the car, including the decision to go for an all-new 3.7-liter V6 diesel engine with the R18.
Audi is planning to field three Audi R18 cars at Le Mans, which will be entered by Audi Sport Team Joest, the most successful Le Mans team of all time. In addition, Audi Sport Team Joest will contest the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC), consisting of a total of seven endurance races on three continents (including the Le Mans 24 Hours) with two cars.