Audi's Le Mans win gives diesel street cred

Diesel engine racecars claim first and second place at legendary French endurance race.

Audi has once again proven that diesel can win, when it comes to speed and endurance.

For the second time, the German automaker took first place at 24 Hours at Le Mans, the legendary French endurance race, with its diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI.

TDI, which, according to Audi, stands for "direct injection turbocharged diesel engine," is technology that the company introduced in 1989 and has continuously been developing. Audi claims that its TDI cars offer better fuel economy, power and performance, as well as reduced emissions.

Some speculated that Audi's win last year with the Audi R10 TDI was a fluke, or the result of an unforeseen advantage when it came to pit stops and refueling. But even with new regulations put in place by the Automobile Club De L'Ouest to level the playing field between diesel and gas engine cars, Audi still won.

On Sunday, the Audi R10 beat out second place winner Peugeot by 10 laps, according to the Automobile Club De L'Ouest's official log of the race. The second place winning car, the Peugeot 908, was also powered by diesel.

Pescarolo Sport took third place, 11 laps behind Peugeot, with its gas-powered car.

The high-profile win could help to change the perception of diesel engines among U.S. consumers.

Audi has said in the past that it hoped its TDI racecar would translate into a larger acceptance of modern diesel-engine cars, overall. The company is especially interested in changing the common U.S. association of diesel engines with the ones of yore that offered limited performance and visible pollution.

"Audi is convinced that TDI is also the strong and economical alternative vehicle power source of the future for the United States. The R10 TDI is a forerunner for the nationwide diesel offensive in the USA," Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi Motorsport, said when the company won both the American Le Mans Series and 24 hours at Le Mans in 2006.

The company's second win this year at the Le Mans race brings even greater prestige.

This is only the second time a diesel-powered car has ever won 24 Hours at Le Mans. The in spite of ACO's new regulation that restricted diesel engine cars to have 10 percent smaller fuel tanks than gas engine cars.

Audi managed to do 369 laps within the 24 hour race amidst torrential rain that began during the final phase and led to flooding and slippery driving conditions. The Audi drivers who led the victory are Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner.

"This triumph shows one more time the meaning of 'Vorsprung durch Technik,'" Ullrich said in a statement. The mantra translates to mean "progress through technology" or "taking the lead in technology."

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Le Mans--and Audi's seventh time to take the lead since the race's inception. It is now in third place overall, with Porsche and Ferrari still ahead with the most lifetime Le Mans wins for any one carmaker.

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About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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