It just became a lot cooler to drive a hybrid. That is, if your hybrid system also includes a 510 hp direct-injected turbodiesel V6 like the one powering the rear wheels of Audi's R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 race car.
The R18 e-tron quattro is the first Le Mans prototype to combine a diesel engine with a hybrid system. The pairing proved potent this weekend, as the R18 e-tron took pole position during qualifying rounds and cruised to victory at the end of 24 hours of racing on Sunday. In doing so, the R18 e-tron became the first hybrid-powered vehicle to win the storied endurance race. In fact, the winner's podium was packed with drivers representing the German automaker; 1st and 2nd place going to the R18 e-tron quattro teams and 3rd place taken by the traditional diesel-powered R18 ultra.
Of course, the hybrid tech used at Le Mans isn't the same as the fuel-sipping systems found on passenger vehicles like the Toyota Prius. Both make use of electric motors and regenerative braking, but the comparison ends there. A traditional passenger hybrid operates with MPGs in mind, whereas the R18 e-tron seeks to add a boost of performance where possible.
The R18 e-tron quattro uses a carbon-fiber flywheel accumulator system to capture energy under braking and release it to electric motors powering the front wheels, providing a brief 204 hp boost to the front axle during acceleration. The rear wheels are powered conventionally by the V6 TDI engine, hence the quattro moniker. (Although, again, this isn't quattro in the same sense as Audi's AWD passenger vehicles.) The temporary hybrid-electric boost is only allowed above speeds of 75 mph, per FIA rules.
Audi Sport's stiffest competition was expected to come from a rookie Toyota Racing team. Making their anticipated return to endurance racing, Toyota was the only other carmaker to field hybrid-powered prototypes: a pair of super capacitor-based TS030 Hybrids.
Early on it appeared as if Toyota's hybrid tech would deliver, propelling their #7 to the front of the pack near the six-hour mark; however, not soon after, a horrific collision with a GT Ferrari at over 200 mph decommissioned the car (video below). Later, Toyota's race was officially cut short when their second TS030 succumbed to engine failure.
Troubles aside, Toyota's early success and Audi's victory sweep make it clear that hybrid race tech is here to stay, and at TRANSLOGIC--where we liked hybrids before they were cool--that's something worth celebrating.
Now, where's that champagne?