By Kris Hansen
The Audi R8 Grand AM of the Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech Racing team has won the 2013 Rolex 24 Hours! To top it off, the APR Racing R8 came in second! After the problems that the Audi teams had last year, this result was phenomenal, and honestly, somewhat unexpected, but highly hoped for.
We’ll stop short of comparing Audi’s 1-2 finish to the story of David and Goliath, but given the circumstances, it isn’t as much of a reach as it appears on face value. See, because the R8 LMS is so dominant in European racing, the Grand Am bosses decided that it would be best if they lowered the performance floor of the R8, relative to their competitors, in the interest of “fairness”.
Given this, the 3 Audi teams of Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech Racing, APR Racing (with 2 cars), and Rum Bum Racing, come into the Rolex 24 Hours at a severe disadvantage. We were told that the R8 Grand AM had better braking and cornering balance than rival Porsche and Ferrari, but because of the weight penalties, and relatively puny inlet restrictors, they lost badly in a direct drag race. The Audi, with the largest engine in the field, also had the smallest restrictors, meaning significantly less air volume into the combustion chamber, which means less power. Audi’s Brad Kettler compared the breathing situation of the Audi R8 to taping all but 1/4 of one nostril over, then running a marathon. The immediate result of the inlet restrictions is that in a direct lap by lap comparison, the Audi was up to 6 car lengths slower than most of the Porsches in the field.
This became evident in qualifying, when the top Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech Audi R8 managed only 6th place, with little room for improvement according to the team drivers. Audi had to bank on the extremely talented people working behind the scenes to come up with the best strategy for success. It is not an ideal scenario when you need the other competing teams to have a problem in order for top finishes, but that was one of the hopes leading up to the start.
Once the race started though, it became increasingly clear that not only did the R8 have the speed to keep up with, and pass the Porsches and Ferraris, they managed to stay out of most of the problems that were finding their rivals. The AJR and Rum Bum cars were running very strong early on, and the APR 52 car began to run very strongly as well once a few hours went past.
Much of the lead swapping throughout the 24 Hours was down to pit stops, and here again the Audi team benefited with supremely well orchestrated and performed stops. We have no doubt that this played a large part in the success for the Audi based teams. The Audi teams found great luck with some of the timing of the caution periods, especially when the Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech car needed new front brakes.
Also clear to us was that the 3 Audi Customer Racing infused cars had superior driving crews. The AJR/WeatherTech drivers Filipe Albuquerque, who is an Audi a DTM driver, Oliver Jarvis, an Audi R18 pilot, Edoardo Mortara, also a DTM and Macau GT Cup winner, and lastly Dion von Moltke, a very young, but exceedingly talented driver, who is a regular member of the Alex Job Racing team.
The second place APR Racing #52 also had an experienced driving squad, made up of Ian Baas, who is a regular member of the APR squad in World Challenge and others, Marc Basseng, who has raced a Mercedes Benz in GT1 in Europe, Rene Rast who actually won the GT class at the 2012 Rolex 24 Hours in a Porsche, and finally, Frank Stippler, who is an Audi development driver, as well as DTM and Porsche supercup.
And for sure, the exceedingly colorful Rum Bum entry ran a very strong race, and were fighting for 2nd place (and an Audi 1,2,3 finish) when they exhausted the fuel on track, and coasted in for 7th place. Hotshoes Frank Biela, Christopher Haase, Matt Plumb, andMarkus Winkelhock kept the #13 in contention throughout the race, but a few missteps of their own cost laps, and forced them to take a gamble on fuel, which sadly they lost on.
For us, we’re thrilled that an Audi won the Rolex 24 Hours GT class. For us, it brings this historic race back to relevance, which it had been lacking for years (since the “spec class” Daytona Prototypes). With any luck, more teams will snap up the R8 Grand AM, and we’ll see them on the full Grand AM calendar. With the merger of ALMS and Grand AM, we’ll hopefully have the chance to see the R8 winning the GT class at many more historic race tracks throughout the next few years!