The Supermodels of Le Mans

After reading the heading, you must be having images of Gisele Bundchen and Catherine Zeta-Jones dancing before your eyeballs. But I would like to drag your eyes to some racy news of another kind. I am not talking of the limber four limbed kind – rather I am hinting at the four wheeled kind. At the risk of sounding sexist, one would say, who would prefer cars over women.

Pulchritude on the Parc Ferme

Hey, if you want to ogle at women, I recommend you direct your gaze at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. For other mere mortals, I would recommend my own blog!

Enough of beating around the bush. This time, I wanted to talk about the actual superstars of the Mulsanne straights – the Audi R-18 e-Tron diesel-electric hybrid, the slight more mundane Toyota TS030 gasoline hybrid and the Nissan DeltaWing. The range of technologies we saw the 2012 Le Mans is a  testament to the engineering depth of Toyota, Audi and Nissan. So we go with the most conventional hybrid first – what an oxymoron!

The hybrid protagonists – Audi vs. Toyota

1. Toyota TS030 Hybrid
From the start, Toyota has decided that its entry would be a hybrid. The TS030 had capacitor system in conjunction with a gasoline Super GT 3.4-liter V-8.  So Both power sources drove the rear wheels unlike in the Audi. This meant the hybrid system could power the wheels at any speed. The fact that the fastest TS030 qualified within a second of the fastest Audi e-tron is testament to the soundness of the approach. The car even led the race for some time but was knocked out in an accident.
The car’s debut at Le Mans was the first time the car was tested in battle so its fair to say that the real knockout punch could come next year.

2. Audi R18 e-tron quattro

Look at the quattro system at the front!

Vorsprung durch technik! Remember the motto when Audi burst onto the rallying scene and steamrolled all opponents with the iconic Audi Quattro. Who would have thought that Audi would do an encore several decades later at Le Mans. It first started winning Le Mans with a diesel – a fact that made everyone sit up and take notice. This year it went even further coupling a 510 bhp diesel with a mechanical flywheel based hybrid. In this case, the braking energy was captured by the front wheels and saved in the form of a rotating carbon fiber flywheel and then pumped back to the front wheels under acceleration. Audi engineering acumen and persistence paid off with a 1-2 victory at the Sarthe circuit.

Hail to the Victors(photo courtesy of quattroworld.com)

3. Nissan Delta Wing
I saved the best for the last. This is not the next bat-mobile if that’s what you are thinking. But it could certainly qualify as one – based on its outlandish shape.
A little history lesson first – just because the car is so interesting. Ben Bowlby came up with the concept in December 2008 as he was investigating new Indycar concepts. The car was revealed to the public for the first time at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show. Michelin and Nissan signed up as technical partners in September 2011 and March of 2012.
Bowlby’s idea was pretty straightforward – if you could halve the size and aerodynamic drag, you could get by with a lot less fuel and a lot less engine. So the car has two wheels very close to each other – to reduce frontal area and consequently drag while the driver and the engine sit quite far back.
Its blown four makes only 300 bhp – 40% less than the e-tron or the TS030. Another surprising fact – only a quarter of the weight was on the front axle compared to an even 50-50 which is the norm. The car ran very well – until it was pushed out of the race and into the wall by a Toyota prototype. Bummer! Hopefully it will finish next year assuming other drivers don’t think its a pushover – literally!

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