Material gains

Audi wants to take vehicles to the track to help develop more efficient combustion engines and expand the use of composites. And restarting the R8 e-tron programme should speed up progress with EVs

When Dr Ulrich Hackenberg joined Audi’s board last year and became responsible for the company’s technical development, his task was no different to anyone else’s in that position. Every OEM is being forced to invest big money to develop more efficient vehicles. But, while some might have dithered, he quickly decided where the company’s engineers needed to put their focus.

He placed the emphasis on improving the performance of combustion engines, looked to expand Audi’s knowledge and use of composite materials, and, perhaps most challenging of all, pushed for the cancelled R8 e-tron programme to restart.

He began with the Audi TT. The programme was already close to completion but Hackenberg wanted to challenge his engineers to increase the performance of the vehicle’s turbocharged 2-litre gasoline engine, with the aim of making the coupe a halo model used on the racetrack. In the engine’s current form, the highest output is 228kW/380Nm.

“We took some more steps and they offered me an engine with 290kW,” says Hackenberg. “It was great but I asked them to keep working, and in the end we now have 310kW.”

To reach that level of performance, charge pressure has increased from 1.2bar to 1.8bar and the variable valve control system has been improved.

“It’s an engine that will go into production and will be used for racing and maybe it will be homologated for the roads,” he says. “It also highlights what could be achievable with the five-cylinder used in the TTR-S.”

A race version of the TT also challenges engineers to reduce weight. The latest generation of the vehicle makes extensive use of sheet and cast aluminium components and weighs 1,230kg. But if Audi increases its knowledge of composite materials, as Hackenberg wants, a competition variant could be far lighter.

“I can imagine making some areas of the car with carbon fibre, fenders for example, but this would be a Quattro product,” he says. “The most difficult aspect of mixed-material construction is competence and effectiveness. For longitudinal components, steel is best because you need to absorb energy. You can do it with aluminium, but I think steel brings better efficiency, especially when you look at the small overlap crash test in the US, for example.”

tags: Audi Chassis Hybrids & EVs Powertrain