Over the past few years, Audi has become increasingly interested in developing a range of all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars under its e-tron brand name. 

Earlier this week, we told you that its all-electric A3 e-tron test program had officially launched in the U.S. Now the German automaker wants to build on its previous e-tron race technology, entering a specially-built prototype car into one of the world’s most well-known races.

As MotorAuthority confirms, the rumors we heard earlier this year are true: Audi has unveiled a new race car -- the R18 e-tron quattro -- and intends to race it at the 2012 24 Heures Du Mans endurance race. 

And as the name suggests, the new race car combines Audi’s e-tron technology with the legendary all-wheel drive technology that made Audi famous more than 30 years ago. 

Unlike the original Audi quattro rally car, the R18 e-tron quattro doesn’t make use of a four-wheel drive system driven by the car’s internal combustion engine and transfer box. 

2012 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 race car

2012 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 race car

Instead, the R18 e-tron quattro’s rear wheels are driven by a V-6 TDI diesel engine mounted in the traditional mid-engine race car position, while the front wheels are driven exclusively by an electric motor. 

Essentially then, the R18 e-tron quattro is a through-the-road hybrid, with both systems working either independently or together to give the R18 e-tron quattro the best possible performance. 

To further improve acceleration, Audi has added a flywheel-based KERS system to the front wheels, recapturing kinetic energy during heavy braking to provide additional power under heavy acceleration. 

2012 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 race car

2012 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 race car

The R18 e-tron quattro will debut at the 2012 Le Mans 24 hour race along with two R18 ultra LMP1s -- cars which share the same basic platform as the R18 e-tron quattro but which lack its diesel hybrid drivetrain.

There’s several months to go before the famous endurance race, but don’t think this is the last you’ll hear of hybrid entries to the famous event. 

With Toyota and Audi already confirmed hybrid entrants, we can’t wait to see who else enters a hybrid drivetrain car in one of the greatest races on earth. 


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