ISSUE 2
    


It's fair to say that Audi again totally dominated the Le Mans 24hr race with a 1-2-3 in this 80th instalment of this Gallic classic.


The impressive R18 e-tron quattro diesel hybrid took a historic first Le Mans victory for a hybrid vehicle, with its stablemate in second, whilst R18 ultras, the non-hyrbid derivative took third and fifth.

It was champagne all round for suspension partner Öhlins after another intense development programme with the German manufacturer.

Performance spoke to Claes Hesling - Öhlins Automotive Racing Project Manager about what goes on behind the scenes and the feeling back in Stockholm...

So a fantastic result for Audi and Öhlins, with a complete podium sweep! A great feeling for you and your team?

Absolutely, it is always a great feeling to be involved with such a successful team and manufacturer as Audi. I have been working with them now since 2005 both in Le Mans and DTM and they are a great customer with a lot of good people involved. Although aerodynamics is important on a car like this, suspension is definitely an area that has a big impact on the car also.

How much involvement did you have with the car engineers in the build up to the event?

During pre-season testing there are always a few different development parts that we test before the final solution is fixed. We are also discussing different damping set up options but at the end it is the Audi engineers that fine tune the set up on the track and with 7-poster testing.

Tell us a little bit about the equipment that was supplied?

When you design dampers for a Le Mans car of this calibre weight and packaging are key features, so therefore the dampers are fairly small. Also we use a lot of exotic materials such as titanium, high strength magnesium and aluminium alloys. Also composites like PEEK are used. Another feature that is very important is ease of use and adjustability- as testing is extremely expensive so therefore you need to have a very precise fully adjustable damper.



Could a racer buy that level of equipment?

An everyday racer could definitely not buy this kit. I think it would probably be more expensive than their car! Plus we don't release such specially designed products to the open market. They are not suitable for the production line; it requires skilled mechanics to put them together and fine tune them. We build them all in our development lab.

What's the drip down result of this sort of development? Does it relate to any equipment for Audi road sportscars- or may it in the future?

Race dampers for a car like this are quite specialised but valve technologies and such could possibly find its way onto road cars in the future.

Do the high-end TTR dampers used in the super competitive Formula Nippon and Super GT series' in Japan have some relation to your equipment?

Actually it is a direct development from the dampers used at Le Mans and DTM which in turn came from many years of development together with different Indy Car teams. It is a larger version of the race dampers where we can use the same main structure as the TTX-damper to keep cost down.

Was there a long development and testing period?

Normally we start the design work together with the Audi engineer's one year before the car will run at Le Mans. It is an on-going process where you iterate to a final solution together. After that there are a number of durability tests and more that is performed both here at Öhlins and at Audi before the dampers actually get on the car and onto the track. And of course there is an extensive testing program that Audi performs with the car before it is ready for Le Mans 24hrs. Audi has a non-disputable reputation of world class quality and durability. The amount of resources that they put into a project like this I think is the key to their unrivalled success.



What is it like to work with a full factory team such as Audi?

It is very exciting for sure. You feel that you are on the pinnacle of racing and that the resources and commitment is almost infinite from a team like this. It is definitely comparable to a Formula One team in some respects. Through the years I have also built a relation with the people there so the cooperation with them I feel is very efficient.

Any specific challenges you had to overcome for this particular race and car?

There were some new damper concepts that we had to develop for this car and there is always a challenge to make sure that everything can withstand the full 24hr race stint without any mechanical or other failures. But everything gets thoroughly tested before the race so come race day you feel quite secure.

Did you witness the entire race?

To be honest, no I didn't, but I always try to follow the race on the television and keep updated on what is going on from time to time and of course watch the end of the race to the finish line.

Tiring stuff for all involved we can only imagine?

The drivers, engineers and race mechanics are totally exhausted after the race but I guess they all run on a high dose of adrenalin.

Presumably some pressure there then…

Every time your dampers are on a car like this where there is so much at stake and so many people have been involved for such a long time, not to mention all the money that have been spent in total, there is of course an enormous pressure that nothing can go wrong so I am always a little bit anxious when the race is on. The night of Le Mans 24hrs is not when you have the best of sleep.



What was your best memory?

It must be the fight against Peugeot last year. I think many people thought it was one of the best Le Mans races for many years. It was so close, the difference was less than 15 seconds at the end and this on a race that had been going on for 24hrs. It was amazing. Of course I had my hopes for Audi and they pulled it off once again.

And any 'scary' moments?!

In the same race two Audis were involved in huge crashes and for a moment you thought that the drivers could not have survived but once again Audi proved their excellent engineering skills and both drivers walked away basically without harm.

There was an incredible 240,000 fans at Le Mans and an amazing atmosphere, can you explain the continued attraction to this type of racing?

At Le Mans 24hrs you can see some of the fastest race cars in the world compete, plus there is so much history and tradition surrounding Le Mans. Also the level of technology presented there is very exciting with the big car manufacturers showing off the best that they can produce. It is a big marketing event for them where they can show future technology ending up in their road cars. The diesel route was basically a marketing strategy showing that diesel is not only for trucks, diesel can be sporty. Who would have thought Porsche for example would build a diesel car 10 years ago. The next thing now is to show and develop hybrid technology which for sure will end up in many road cars in the future.

You can see more Audi racing and information at www.quattroworld.com

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