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Audi’s 2016 R18 hybrid is ready to take on Porsche

Fellow Volkswagen Group brand Porsche broke Audi’s winning streak at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, delivering a one-two punch to the German carmaker that has dominated Le Mans for over a decade. But Audi isn’t taking that lying down; it’s preparing an upgraded version of its R18 hybrid racer for 2016.

The new car was unveiled Saturday at the Audi Sport Finale event in Munich, an event celebrating the end of Audi’s 2015 racing season. This R18 (Audi apparently dropped the “e-tron quattro” label previously used) appears much blockier and less streamlined than the previous version, although Audi claims the new shape features “innovative aerodynamics.”

The hybrid powertrain now uses lithium-ion batteries for energy storage, rather than the previous flywheel system. But Audi is keeping the TDI diesel engine, meaning the R18 will continue to be the only diesel among the top LMP1-class prototypes. The carmaker claims efficiency improvements throughout, but won’t disclose any performance figures.

As before, the R18 will use electric power to supplement its internal combustion engine. Energy recovered from braking can be used to power at least one electric motor in short bursts, giving the car temporary all-wheel drive and a little power boost. Rules for Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) that it’s a part of govern the total system output of cars, but the configuration of hybrid systems is left fairly open, leading to some interesting designs.

In 2015, the diesel Audi competed against Porsche’s 919 Hybrid and its turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine, Toyota’s gasoline V8 TS040 Hybrid, and the radical Nissan GT-R LM NISMO. The latter proved something of a disappointment, but its front-engined, front-wheel drive configuration got a lot of attention. All of these entries are expected to return for 2016.

This was Audi’s worst endurance-racing season in some time. The Lord of the Rings lost Le Mans for only the third time since 2000, while Porsche racked up its 17th victory at the legendary French race. Audi also lost the WEC drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles to Porsche. Will Audi do better next season? Stay tuned to find out.

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