Advanced technology from Ricardo, the UK’s leading supplier of research and design services for the world’s automotive and motorsport industries, has helped Audi secure its special place in motorsport history (works drivers Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emanuele Pirro are the first-ever driver squad to win Le Mans three times in a row) by ensuring the transmission system for all three works cars was robust enough to survive the rigours of the world’s most famous and most gruelling 24-hour endurance race.
In helping Audi achieve its third Le Mans victory Ricardo’s no compromise award winning transmission, which has helped to underpin the remarkable reliability of the LMP900 sportscar over the past three years, faced in some respects its toughest challenge not least in terms of fulfilling expectations. The humid summer weather may have been in stark contrast to last year’s torrential rain and the previous year’s intense heat, but the competitive challenge remained as tough as ever with Audi’s new FSI (fuel stratified injection) direct injection engine technology increasing the load on the transmission.
"When Audi decided to tackle Le Mans it recognised from the outset that apart from sheer speed, the reliability of the gearbox would be a critical factor for success," said Gerald Andrews, managing director, Ricardo Motorsport. "Having proved its domination over the past two years, Audi entered this year’s race as the team to beat, which as their technology partner clearly brought its own pressures."
In total, the three purpose-built race transmissions made around 60,000 full throttle clutchless gearshifts, each one equally flawless and each one having to cope with the prodigious power and torque of the fastest cars in the field. Peak loads in a race transmission are reached each time a sequential shift is made. The compact and lightweight transmission also forms an integral part of the Audi R8 structure and has to carry all aerodynamic and suspension loads at the rear of the car making the gearbox one of the most highly stressed components in the LMP900 sportscar.
The Ricardo transmission also featured in the customer team Audi Sport Japan Team Goh, which scored a creditable achievement with seventh position despite an accident in qualifying and a radiator change during the race.
The excellent reliability record from the Ricardo transmission has helped Audi not only to secure its third triumph at Le Mans, but also a continuous series of victories in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) where it is equally dominant.
The high-tech gearbox was designed by Tim Gee, chief engineer Ricardo motorsport transmissions, using advanced software and with the backing of Ricardo’s experienced engineering team. Apart from some minor developments, the Ricardo transmission remains identical to last year’s race-winning design. The transmissions and casings are engineered, manufactured and hand assembled by Ricardo at the company’s Midlands Technical Centre in Leamington Spa in the UK.Published 21 June 2002