Audi Sport gave the world a brief glimpse of its latest R18 e-tron quattro LMP1-Hybrid challenger during private testing at Sebring international Raceway as the Le Mans winners prepare for their assault on the 2015 World Endurance Championship.
With almost a week of running booked at the famed Florida circuit, Audi brought its complete driver roster to sample the “RP5,” the fifth-generation R18, around the 3.7-mile course and it didn’t take long for the German outfit to break the official track record of 1:43.8. Set in 2013 by Audi during the 12 Hours of Sebring, course workers kept tabs on the R18’s progress on Wednesday, and made reference to laps in the low 1:42s over the radio.
The most noticeable difference to the RP5 over the RP4 is its reconfigured aerodynamics. The nose on the new R18 is vastly different than anything seen from Audi since the brand began racing prototypes in 1999. The leading edge of the front wheel covers have gone from a tapered profile to an interesting pair of ducts that serve as incredibly long turning vanes.
A sharper nose profile is evident, and significant treatment to the sidepods and rear portions of the front fenders also stand out. The R18’s engine cover also looks new, along with a number of modifications to the rear bodywork. Greater detail on the R18, its hybrid system, engine, and other items beneath the bodywork will be published later in the month.
The team’s test continues through the end of the week, with a stated goal of achieving 6500km as a reasonable possibility. Barring a bit of downtime midday to deal with an unspecified issue, Audi ran from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., completing a number of long stints in temperatures that remained in the 80s for most of the day.
Audi was joined by the Nissan LMP1-H program for the test, but the Japanese manufacturer saw its five-day plans trimmed after a “component failure” forced the Indianapolis-based squad to shorten their visit to Sebring. The decision was made Tuesday night, leaving the mechanics to perform a variety of tasks on the front-engine GT-R LM NISMO in the paddock before packing up and returning to their frigid Midwest base. Approximately 30 laps were turned with Olivier Pla and Marc Gene at the controls. Lap times representing the GT-R LM NISMO’s full potential were not set.
The Tequila Patron ESM WEC LMP2 team also joined in the testing activities as the Florida-based squad brought one of its new HPD ARX-04b coupes and an open-top ARX-03b to allow its drivers to log miles. The ARX-04b underwent a variety of aerodynamic configurations, including modifications to the sidepods and new, tall mirrors, among other developments as Honda and Wirth Research look to solidify the coupe’s final configuration. Lap times for the ARX-04b, which will contest the full WEC calendar as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21, were also unrepresentative.