Toyota, Audi, Porsche build 1,000-hp hybrid Le Mans cars for world bragging rights
There's no hoarier axiom in the automotive world than "racing improves the breed," and back when cars were still competing with horses, it held true. That's not the case today; most racing series require strict rules on technology to keep races competitive and costs down, such that whether its Formula 1 or NASCAR, the machines on the track have evolved from the kin of road cars to a completely different species.
The one place where automakers still push the limits of technology? The 24 Hours of Le Mans, which this year will feature three machines from Toyota, Audi and Porsche that offer radically different paths to cars of the future — hybrid, all-wheel-drive ones at that.
The favorite comes from Audi; it's won 12 times at Le Mans since 2000, and in one of the two races it didn't win the Audi machinery still won under the Bentley brand. The R18 e-tron quattro the company drove through the streets of western France earlier this week features the latest changes to the winning strategy, with a 4-liter, turbocharged V-6 diesel engine paired with a flywheel hybrid system for maximum fuel efficiency. That flywheel powers the front wheels, and a second system recaptures energy from the heat of the exhaust.
And, just because it can, Audi uses laser beams for the headlights.
Toyota has been attempting to challenge Audi in endurance racing for a few years, making some progress and winning a couple of races, but never breaking through the German automaker's dominace. For this year's TS040 model, Toyota revised its entire system, adding a front-wheel-drive supercapacitor setup to the 3.7-liter V-8 powering the back wheels. In total, Toyota says the setup can generate nearly 1,000 hp, while using 25 percent less fuel than last year's vehicles as required by Le Mans rules for 2014.
Whether it's fast or durable enough, Toyota engineers certainly got the sound of their car right.