Monday, 9 July 2012

Audi hybrids

Just about everyone reading this will, I suspect, know that the Le Mans 24 hour race was won this year by an Audi R18 e-tron quattro. And back in May, the 6-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps was won by an Audi R18 ultra. The difference between this two cars? The ultra is driven by a (relatively) conventional 3.7 litre V6 turbo-charged diesel engine and the e-tron quattro has the power of the engine supplemented by an electric motor, which is charged by a flywheel, spun up to speed when the car is braking. Now that's about as far as my technical knowledge goes, but I am aware of how Audi's technical endeavours on the race-track are quickly reflected by their offering in the road car market. And as an Audi customer, I find it interesting that, I can buy a TDI-engined Audi featuring "ultra lightweight technology", from my local Audi dealer, but I cannot get a hybrid Audi, despite the win at Le Mans, and unlike rival Toyota. So what's going on? Happily, David Ingram, PR Manager for Product and Technology at Audi UK has filled me in with the details, which I share for no other reason really than that it is interesting... Audi's "first generation" road car hybrid technology is currently available on the Q5 (but not in the UK). Later this year, a hybrid A6 will be available, and next year (probably) UK customers will be able to buy a hybrid A8. The conventional power source on these cars will in all cases be the four cylinder, two litre TFSI (petrol) engine. This will be supplemented by an electric motor that will be charged under deceleration, providing sufficient energy to power the car on purely electric power for a maximum of around 3km. Despite having "hybrid" powertrains, these cars will not be given the "e-tron" branding, as this will be reserved for Audi's next generation of hybrid, which will probably not be released until 2014. These will have a larger capacity battery, which will be capable of being plugged into the mains to charge - as well as being charged on deceleration, as in the first generation car. Visitors to Goodwood's Festival of Speed might have seen a concept of the A3 e-tron on display in the Audi pavilion. This has an electric-only range of about 50km. Audi's principle is that the e-tron badge will be given to any car that can be plugged into mains electricity to charge the battery pack. The first e-tron road car to be introduced is the A8 e-tron, (before the end of this year, I am told) - and this will be pure electric, not a hybrid. Whilst I do not for a moment doubt Audi's commitment to improving road car technology through its racing, and the importance of aligning the racing and road car activities, I do sense slightly that there was a case, this year, of the hybrid racer being introduced purely to take advantage of regulations, rather than necessarily to promote Audi hybrid drivetrain in its production car range. The Le Mans 24 hours is more important than a marketing exercise.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Goodwood's Moving Motor Show

It was Roy Salvadori that was quoted as saying "Give me Goodwood on a summer's day and you can keep the rest". I had the opportunity to visit the Earl of March's estate again on Thursday, in the run-up to the weekend's Festival of Speed, and I can see what he meant. The park's setting in the Sussex Downs is indeed idyllic, and the weather, while not perfect, was still lovely, if a tad blustery. I have to say though that the organisation of getting (admittedly very many) spectators into and out of the place left something to be desired.

Signposts to the event clearly stated which way did not provide access, and showed the way that taxis were to go, but I found it extremely difficult to get myself in the way that the organisers (SEP events) wanted me to go. Even in Chichester, signposting was minimal; maybe more signs were being prepared for the weekend itself, but I found it quite unsatisfactory. Once parked, there was a fifteen minute wait for a tractor ride, which saved us a ten minute walk across the car park - and then no indication at all of where to go next - unless one knew that through the Aviation Exhibition lay the main entrance.

Once inside, though, Charlie March's organisation and attention to detail took over and everything ran far more smoothly. I have never attended the Festival of Speed - it had never really appealed to me, but complimentary tickets to the "Moving Motor Show" had been given to me by my local garage, and so I took the opportunity.

All of the exhibition space was open, as were the paddocks - and a great deal of effort was clearly being spent by many leading manufacturers to promote their brands.

Away from the corporate hospitality though, there were treats aplenty, with motor sporting vehicles on display representing more than 100 years of history. The most modern example was of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro - not the same chassis as the one which won Le Mans last month, but nevertheless a celebration of the 11th win by Audi in the 24 hours.

Elsewhere in the "Formula 1" paddock was the Eagle-Gurney Weslake (the same chassis that won at Spa in 1967? Possibly, I don't know), a Toyota TS030 Hybrid and Lotus cars in abundance.

The spooky thing I found here were so many cars that I remember seeing at race meetings, and yet for many, these are historic racers. It's not even the case that I'm particularly old!

In the "Cathedral Paddock" (conveniently not shown in the event programme that I paid £5 for) were a tremendous collection of Group C cars and other sports racers. These were joined by various iconic touring cars, among them a Nicola Larini Alfa 155 DTM car, a Klaus Ludwig Zakspeed Capri, and at least four Gerry Marshall Vauxhalls.

Various Le Mans winners were on display, although I have to admit I may have been taken in by a replica here or there. Porsche 956 and 962C were there, as were Jaguars from 1987, 1988 and 1990.

Lovely, very lovely.