February 8, 2003
Former Grand Prix driver Mika Salo, of Finland, and Germany’s three-times Le Mans 24 Hour race winner Frank Biela spearhead Audi Sport UK’s assault for honours in this year’s round-the-clock endurance sportscar race along with Briton Perry McCarthy on 14-15 June. While Helsinki-born Salo (36) will be making his Le Mans début in the all-conquering Audi R8, Monaco-based ex-British Touring Car Champion Biela (38) will be bidding to become the first ever driver to win the French “classic” four years in a row. McCarthy (41), from Brentwood in Essex, like Biela, has raced at Le Mans on four previous occasions.
The ultra-experienced trio will drive a 2002-specification Audi R8 that will be prepared and run by Littlehampton-based Arena Motorsport. Meanwhile Salo and McCarthy are joined by London-based Jonny Kane in the Sebring 12 Hours next month, the up-and-coming Ulsterman deputising for Biela in the Audi Sport UK R8.
Switzerland-based Salo, who has driven over 100 Grands Prix in the Formula One World Championship for Lotus, Tyrrell, Ferrari, Sauber and most recently Toyota, commented: “The opportunity of making my Le Mans début in a car that has won the race for the past three years, with one of the drivers that has been victorious in each of those years, was simply too good to turn down. The Audi is an awesome machine in this category and we will start both the Sebring and Le Mans races with a very realistic chance of podium finishes.”
Biela, driving for the “factory” Audi team, has won the 2000, ’01 and ’02 Le Mans races, and is optimistic of scoring a fourth victory in a 2002-specification Audi R8 owned by Audi UK, the German prestige car manufacturer’s Milton Keynes-based British importer.
“To be racing at Le Mans again in an Audi makes me very happy and I truly believe we have a great chance to win,” confirmed Biela who won the 1996 British Touring Car Championship in an Audi A4 quattro and finished runner-up the following year.
“Amazing reliability and performance, in terms of both speed and fuel economy, have allowed me to score three consecutive Le Mans wins. This year’s race will be hard, the opposition will be tough but I’m certain the R8 will be competitive.”
The Audi R8 sportscar, powered by a 3.6-litre twin-turbo V8 engine featuring petrol direct injection (FSI) and limited to 610bhp, made its race début in March 2000 and has gone on to dominate endurance sportscar racing. In addition to scoring a first, second and third result (2000), first and second (2001) and first, second and third (2002) at Le Mans, an R8 has chalked up 26 wins in 33 races of the American and European Le Mans Series.
McCarthy finished fifth with Biela driving a “factory” Audi R8R in the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours – Audi’s maiden sportscar race – and piloted an Audi Sport UK entered Audi R8C at Le Mans that year. Perry raced in British Formula Three and FIA International Formula 3000 before graduating to Formula One in 1992.
“I couldn’t be happier,” exclaimed McCarthy. “To be in a position of winning Sebring and Le Mans, of re-paying the people who have shown faith in me, and to be working with Frank Biela and Mika Salo – two drivers who I don’t just admire but respect as professionals and also like as mates – is a fantastic feeling. I’m certain that Audi Sport UK’s attack on two of the world’s biggest sportscar races will ultimately prove highly-effective.”
The Sebring race in Florida on 15 March will act as a perfect “warm-up” for the Le Mans race itself and although Kane (29), who was born in Comber, Northern Ireland, is a “reserve” driver for Audi Sport UK at Le Mans, Jonny is eagerly looking forward to his US Audi opportunity.
“The Audi has been the car to beat for the past three seasons and I’m relishing the chance of getting behind the wheel,” said Kane. “Nothing is ever guaranteed but with Audi’s famed reliability, the R8’s fuel economy and of course its pace, I believe we’ll be fighting for a place on the rostrum in Florida.”