Thursday, 19 April 2007

Audi at Ingolstadt - day 2

Another day at Ingolstadt hearing about Audi's race programme. Audi has had a great deal of success with diesel-powered racing cars recently. To the extent that I'd thought about it at all, I'd just supposed that all that Audi had needed to do to be successful with this was to stuff a large enough diesel engine into one of their existing cars.

Apparently, it's not as simple as that; the V10 TDI engine is rather large and heavy, which affects the car's weight, centre of gravity and so on. That means just about everything else has to change too.

Now Peugeot has decided to do a diesel racer too, and the Audi and the Peugeot will go head to head for the first time at this year's Le Mans 24 hour race. I'm told that not much information about Peugeot's engine has got out, so it will be fascinating to see how the French company's car does against the Audi.

Why do car companies want to go racing with diesels? Well, despite the advances in recent years that mean diesel models are often more desirable than their closest petrol-driven equivalents (even disregarding the fuel consumption and possible depreciation advantages of diesels), some car buyers still think diesels are slow, noisy and smelly. Racing success will help dispel that. JCB set a new diesel world speed record not so long ago; perhaps Peugeot or Audi will be tempted to have a crack at that as well before too long. My guess would be that given that this is a comparatively neglected category of record-breaking, success could be fairly easy to come by.

Audi's sporting operation plugs into the resources of its parent and also relies heavily on IT. Some of the technology used comes from PTC, a US software house which keeps tabs on design, processes and all of the relevant documentation. An interesting if trivial by-product of this technology's use by the broader Volkswagen group is the VW Phaeton's handbook. Rather than getting a standard handbook that applies to Phaetons in general, owners get a tailored handbook that matches the precise spec of their own cars. A customer who orders a Phaeton with a sunroof gets a handbook that includes instructions on how to operate the sunroof. If no sunroof is ordered, the relevant section is omitted from the handbook. In fact this sort of attention to detail is typical of the care that has gone into making the Phaeton such a formidable machine.

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