AUDI’S RACE TO SAVE THE PLANET…

This article appeared in the Americana at Manhasset’s Concours d’Elegance publication in 2011.

Audi turned racing on its ear once again, with the R10 TDI.

Let’s get something straight: car manufacturers race to win. They want to win on Sunday and sell out the showroom on Monday. They enter the sport of automobile racing for the publicity it brings. Not only do their wares gain valuable seconds of TV and newspaper exposure time, but manufacturers can also claim that “competition furthers the breed.”  In fact, it does and many important items on one’s street car first debuted on a racetrack, such as the rearview mirror or disk brakes. However, one of Volkswagen’s strongest arm’s, Audi, is doing something different. And they’re winning.

What Audi has done, since 2006, is nothing short of remarkable—and gutsy. You see, auto racing is the domain of largely one type of power plant: the gasoline internal combustion engine. Everywhere from the Indy “500” to a local drag strip, gas is king. Yet Audi sensed a change in the air, due to environmental groups who called on the sport to be more ecologically responsible.  In short order, this Ingolstadt-based rebel dropped gas engines and fielded a car equipped with a diesel..!

This ain't your Aunt Rita's diesel Oldsmobile engine.

Americans tend to think of diesel engines as suitable only for large trucks and 1982 Oldsmobiles that were shaped like a fat man’s wallet. Yet, Europeans have been enjoying a diesel renaissance, led by such high-performance builders as BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and even Porsche. Moreover, a diesel can be expected to offer at least a 25 percent gain in MPG. Audi’s R10 TDI boasts a 12-cylinder engine with two turbochargers, delivering over 700 horsepower in peak tune.

Audi’s statement, by racing their diesel car, resounded through the halls of European automakers. How could such an established company take such a giant risk—after all, no manufacturer had even done this before, let alone captured any trophies. But why? After all, Audi was king of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, dominating the event with their gas-powered beauties for over a half decade, beginning in 2000. There was no reason for them to “upturn the apple cart”—especially when they built and owned that cart.

Yet, some within Audi recognized that switching to diesel was a “win-win’ situation before the first green flag fell on the R10 TDI. The opportunity to make the racing community reassess its environmental impact, starting with fossil fuels, was too great to ignore. It’s also great publicity for VW’s marketing machine.  When the green flag did drop on the R10’s career, Audi was prepared. The R10 TDI won its maiden race, at the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring. Such a feat is incredible in the racing world because usually, a new car has a lot of “kinks” to work out; much of the time it won’t even finish a race. Even more incredible is that the R10 TDI handily won the 24 Hours of Le Mans just three months later. For the first time ever, a diesel-powered automobile won the most prestigious endurance race on earth, clocking up more than 3,000 racing miles in exactly one day. Audi also placed third in the event with another R10 TDI.

LeMans 2007: another win for Diesel power.

Since that historic race, the Audi R10 TDI went on to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice more, in 2007 and 2008. Speaking of Audis “statement” to other manufacturers: rival Peugeot soon hopped on the diesel bandwagon and their car won Le Mans in 2009. However, the following year and this year, Audi diesels have once again earned the winner’s trophy at the world’s oldest endurance contest. Few racing cars have taken a permanent place in the automotive world. Usually, today’s race winner is tomorrow’s obsolete “used car” and they’re discarded. Audi’s R10 TDI, on the other hand, is legend of modern times for many reasons. At the Americana at Manhasset’s Concours event, one only has to focus on its sheer beauty.

 

AUDI R10 TDI RACING CAR

  • Engine: V12 Diesel, Twin-Turbo
  • Approx. Horsepower: over 700
  • Transmission: 5-speed Audi S-tronic
  • Approx. Weight: 2,040 pounds
  • Estimated Top Speed: 230 mph

 

SIDEBAR

AUDI: NO STRANGER TO BLAZING A NEW PATH

Masterful Michele.

Audi hasn’t dominated just one class of auto racing, such as the endurance series. In fact, in the early-1980s, Audi was a veritable “Goliath” in the world of rally racing. Their pioneering Quattro all-wheel drive system turned the sport on its ear. Audi’s lead driver was also a pioneer: Michele Mouton was a French woman who showed the boys her Audi’s derriere. Mouton won four events and finished runner-up in the championship in 1982. Three years later, Michele also conquered Colorado’s most famous race, the Pike’s Peak Hillclimb. These days, the 60 year-old lives a more sedate life and she just received France’s Légion d’honneur.

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