Marqued Man Op/Ed: One Last Christmas Wish, A 5-Cylinder LMDh for Le Mans

With the incredible news that Audi is headed back to Le Mans, it’s gotten us to thinking about what the next Audi racing prototype might look like. Porsche’s excellent LMDh drawings released with their own news of a prototype return inspired us to think about Audi’s sportscar racing return a little more specifically, and while this modified version of Porsche’s drawing helped us render our own Audi look, the idea of a turbocharged engine that popped into our heads in the process has captured our hearts even moreso. As a refresher, the LMDh formula allows each manufacturer to use any engine in a spec prototype drivetrain, with their choice of chassis partner and unique bodywork. Rumor is Audi and Porsche are working more together in this than the previous completely stand-alone R18 and 919 LMP1 programs, but they’ll still have unique bodywork and likely divergent engine strategies. Further ideas floated around the press suggest Porsche will derive theirs from the production V8 biturbo from the Cayenne, while Audi is looking at an evolution of their DTM engine not derived from a production unit. The latter is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder developed for the 2019 racing season so relatively current and with many components already tested and developed. Knowing Audi Sport, we’re guessing they’re looking at all engine options with parameters on power, efficiency and reliability. Makes sense. We’ll be honest, as enthusiasts, we’re hoping Audi evaluates using a production engine as a basis… specifically one particular production engine – the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder TFSI. The DTM was cool and maybe well suited, but it had little technology transfer to the road, and technology road relevance has always been important to Audi. So, when it comes to production engines, there is no engine more quintessentially Audi than its 2.5 TFSI in-line 5-cylinder TFSI. Why do it? We doubt you’re asking because the answers are likely obvious, but we’ll list them anyway just in case someone from Audi Sport is reading and might be swayed by our heartfelt pitch. Here’s our short list. Brand History Audi has been synonymous with turbocharged I-5 engines in racing since the earliest days of quattro. The engines dominated the WRC, and then continued on into TRANS-AM and even the IMSA GTO class. In the latter, they dominated IMSA in just one season, though sat out Daytona and Sebring that year because the 90 IMSA GTO and its 5-cylinder mill hadn’t been optimized for 24 hour running. A shame.
That Sound Racing is an emotional experience for participants and fans, and at the heart of that is sound. The 5-cylinder configuration is distinctive in the world of engine notes. In many ways, it is a unique audible signature synonymous with the Audi brand.
The Modern Legend Audi hasn’t raced the modern 2.5 TFSI much at all. Sure, there was the front-wheel drive TT RS VLN, but that was pretty obscure and not terribly legend-inducing. That’s not to say there’s no legend though. The 2.5 TFSI has been busy winning the internet nearly as long as it’s been in production. Check out the Hoonigan channel for Hank Iroz taking on Ken Block’s Hoonicorn in his own drag-prepped RS 3 sedan, while Iroz’ own company caters to an army of 2.5 TFSI owners tearing up dragstrips all over the world. The modern “07K” 2.5-liter engine has been fitted in insane Donkervoort sportscars, and it’s the darling of swap specialists like Boosted Brothers’ Porsche 924/944/968 builds, or more unique one-offs like the TT Mk1 built by Nothing Leaves Stock. That U.S.-specific non-turbo, non-FSI blocks from Volkswagen Golfs are also readily found at junkyards, cheap to buy and cheap to turbocharge has only added to the car culture lore of the Audi 5-cylinder turbo. Likes and Engagement Audi’s leaving Formula E after next season, but they should take a page from the electric race series’ book as they hit the exit. Formula E has Fan Boost, where drivers’ social media mentions earn drivers extra boost in the race. While popularity boosting performance is something I suspect most hope we’ll never see in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the idea of doing something not just for performance but also for fan engagement shouldn’t be lost. Yes, that DTM engine may be an already developed and solid solution, but I guarantee more fans will be engaged and personally invested in Audi racing if they go back with the 2.5 TFSI. We’re not sure if the 2.5 TFSI is the most efficient or reliable option for Audi Sport, but could you imagine if it is even remotely so. Audi prototypes tearing up the tracks in 2023 with that distinctive 5-cylinder wail would be so very uniquely on brand for Audi. Add to that the idea of motorsport derived upgrade parts, or even a hybrid 2.5 TFSI R8 road car successor and… well… now we’re definitely getting ahead of ourselves… but we find day-dreaming of such things is an easier way to pass the time in 2020.