Not all that long ago, the mere thought of running a diesel in any form of motorsport would have had you laughed at. Diesel victories are now commonplace in long distance races thanks to the excellent power characteristics, reliability, the low fuel consumption of diesel engines and a battle between the two main TDI-engined cars in the form of the Peugeot 908 and Audi's R15. Audi Sport Team Joest added to the diesel legend on the weekend with a 1-2-3 victory using newly developed Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG) turbo-chargers on the R15's 440 kW V10 engine.
The Peugeot 908s locked out the first two rows in qualifying and led the race until the 16 hour mark, but one by one, they suffered engine failure, and after 24 hours, Audi took all three steps on the podium. It wasn't exactly a rerun of the hare and the tortoise though, as the winning R15 racked up more 5,410 kilometers - more distance than has ever been achieved in 78 prior runnings of the French endurance classic. This was all the more remarkable in that it eclipsed a record set in 1971 by a Porsche 917 when the Hunaudières straight had no speed-slowing chicanes. Well done Audi!
It is the ninth time Audi has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, equaling Ferrari’s number of wins and second only to Porsche’s record. The three Audi R15 TDI cars of Audi Sport Team Joest ran without the slightest technical problems over the entire distance and occupied the top three places in the fastest Le Mans race of all time. It's also the fourth time that Audi has finished 1-2-3 at le Mans, which it also did in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
VTG turbo-chargers are standard with Audi TDI engines in production vehicles. Their use at Le Mans helps the Audi engineers to continue to develop the technology for smaller, highly efficient turbo engines to be used in the future. “At Le Mans we’re dealing with temperatures above 1,000 degrees centigrade which have not been encountered with production engines so far,” explained Ulrich Baretzky, Head of Engine Development at Audi Sport. “As a result of downsizing, production development will enter into similar temperature ranges. This makes VTG another good example of how the technology transfer between motorsport and the production side of the house works at Audi.”
In 2010 the demands made on diesel engines were particularly high due to the restrictions imposed by the regulations. “Squeezing higher output out of the engines without sacrificing reliability posed a great challenge which our team mastered in an outstanding manner,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich after the race. “We did not use the full potential of the V10 TDI engine this year in order to be absolutely on the safe side. That’s why it was clear to us even before the race that we wouldn’t have the fastest car – but a very reliable and efficient one. The development objective of the R15 plus was 20 percent higher efficiency. We managed to achieve this. We’ve been working very hard for this exploit over the past few months. This makes this success, which was enabled by a perfect team performance as well, even more rewarding.”
Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller drove an absolutely flawless race on their way to their first Le Mans victory and the new historic record. Except for a slow puncture shortly before the end of the race and a right-hand mirror that had come off, the race went without the slightest problems for the winners. Second place was taken by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Treluyer on whose R15 TDI the front bodywork had to be changed twice after contact with the track barriers.
The 2008 winners, Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, who were the best-placed Audi team in the early phase, were struck by major misfortune. Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen had to evade a slow GT2 vehicle on Saturday night and slid backwards against the track barrier of the Porsche corners in the process. With fast lap times, Capello, Kristensen and McNish pushed back into the group of the front runners and in the end were rewarded with a podium result.