Audi's new Le Mans racer revealed

Autosport can exclusively reveal the first image of the car Audi hope will continue their unbroken record of diesel-powered victories at Le Mans in June, as they seek to keep Peugeot at bay

This spy-shot of Audi's new R15 TDI, seen in secret testing at Vallelunga, (more of which can be seen in this week's Autosport magazine, on sale tomorrow) reveals just how radical the German manufacturer's approach has been to the car that will replace their all-conquering R10.

Audi won the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours, both Le Mans Series and American Le Mans titles, and Petit Le Mans, but the need for a new car was apparent as the German manufacturer was outdone for pace by Peugeot's 908 HDi FAP last year.

The R15 features a radical high-nose concept that looks similar to the approach used by the Renault Formula One team with their new R29. It is a major departure from the pointy, low-nose of its predecessor.

The car's radiators also appear to have been moved closer to the front wheel, probably in an effort to improve the car's weight distribution, hence the interesting scalloped ducts and shaping of the sidepods and rear cowling.

Other interesting developments on the car include a much lower, tidier rear end in an effort to regain some of the downforce lost to the new LMP1 regulations (which call for a 20 per cent reduction in aero) as well as innovative wing-mounted rear lights.

In a statement released by Audi yesterday, the team said the car has many 'technically innovative features' and will use a new 'smaller, lighter and even more efficient turbocharged diesel engine'.

The R15 has been testing in secret since before Christmas and will be raced for the first time in a two-car attack on the Sebring 12 Hours on March 21.

Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich said of the programme: "So far the R15 TDI has performed as we expected. Now it must also prove itself in race conditions. Sebring is a particularly hard race and is therefore perfectly suited to reveal even the smallest of weaknesses."

Allan McNish, who is one of the drivers to have tested the car said: "I drove it for the first time before Christmas as planned in Spain and everything went well. Since then Audi Sport has been busy with extensive testing and everything is progressing very well and on schedule - it's a tremendous car.

"I have been in the Audi 'family' for a few years now and have confidence that the team in Ingolstadt have again designed and built us a worthy successor to the R10 TDI," added the two-time Le Mans winner.

Audi Sport Team Joest has also confirmed their driver line-ups for Sebring with McNish sharing one car with his usual partners Rinaldo Capello and eight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, and the second machine piloted by Germans Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Werner.

To get a closer look at the Audi R15 and read expert analysis on the radical new prototype, buy Autosport magazine, on sale from February 12.

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