Audi Hybrids Win the Day at Le Mans
by Zach McDonald – HybridCars.com
For the first time ever, a hybrid has won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, which took place last weekend at the famed Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. A pair of Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro cars finished in first and second place, and two diesel-powered Audi R18s finished third and fifth.
To win at Le Mans requires a rare mix of speed, handling and fuel economy, making it an ideal stage for hybrids to break into premier motorsports. For more than a decade, Audi has dominated the race- winning 11 of the last 13 contests-and the last six of those wins have come with the help of the carmaker’s diesel TDI technology. But this year, for the first time, the rules were changed to allow hybrids to compete for the top prize, which opened the door for Toyota to bring its market-leading gas-electric technology to the race, with a chance to break Audi’s iron grip on the event.
This weekend marked the first time the Toyota TS030 hybrid had ever competed in an event, and the car had only been testing on the track for five months prior to the Le Mans event. Toyota publicly downplayed its ambitions for 2012, saying it did not expect to win right away. Still, with hybrids expected to carry the day under the new rules changes and Toyota such dominant force in the consumer gas-electric market, some had hoped that the team might be able to at least give Audi a run for its money in this year’s race.
But the two Toyota hybrids were met with some bad fortune early on, with one of the TS030s having to be towed following a severe accident and the other falling back from the front of the pack after damage sustained during a brush with another car. Neither car was able to finish the race.
Still, the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans will go down as an important day for green motorsports. Not only did two diesel hybrids carry the day, but the field included multiple hybrid entrants that were in contention at various points in the race. Indeed, it would seem after this year’s race that entering a hybrid drivetrain is more than just a good public relations move at Le Mans-it may very well be a requirement for having any chance at winning the race.