Audi has taken an historic first victory for a hybrid vehicle at the Le Mans 24-Hour race, held at Circuit de la Sarthe in northern France.
On the 80th running of the famous race, Audi took its 11th victory with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro, an all-wheel drive, hybrid race car showcasing the best of Audi's technology.
Audi has previously taken victories with gasoline and diesel vehicles, but introduced the R18 e-tron quattro this year to demonstrate the benefits of both hybrid technology and all-wheel drive traction.
Using a development of its Le Mans-winning V-6 TDI diesel engine, the R18 e-tron also used an electric motor to drive the front wheels, providing extra torque and traction in high-speed corners. Audi's regular diesel vehicles finished third and fifth, respectively.
Standing by the side of the famous Porsche curves at the circuit, the two e-tron quattros were visually quicker than any other car, and the diesel engine let them carve around the track in near-silence compared to their rivals.
Those rivals included the other hybrid entry at Le Mans, Toyota's TS030 cars.
Sadly for Toyota, these both suffered issues during the race, the most spectacular of which was Anthony Davidson's exit from the race. A lapped vehicle collided with his car at the end of the Mulsanne Straight, launching the Toyota into a full flip before it landed and smashed into the crash barriers. Davidson initially walked away, but was taken to hospital after cracking two vertebrae.
Toyota's second hybrid retired with technical problems, following an impact with Nissan and Highcroft Racing's Deltawing, which put the Nissan out of the race.
The Deltawing, an experimental vehicle, traded the other cars' high power outputs and downforce for a smaller, 1.6-liter Nissan engine from the Juke and ultra-light weight. Highcroft Racing's aim was to cut down on tire wear and fuel consumption by downsizing--effectively mirroring recent road car developments.
Audi says it already plans to test its e-tron system in future road cars, including a system whereby driveshafts are replaced by electric cables. Likewise, its Ultra low-weight technology will soon be adopted--though of course, quattro and TDI are already well-used on its current road cars.
Audi's 1-2-3 result wasn't entirely without drama, each car suffering either accidents or mechanical problems, but the victory marks a continuing dominance of the race for the German team.
Hybrid or otherwise, it will take more than good fortune to beat them in the coming years.