Seven Starts, Five Victories
For Head of Audi Motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is “the greatest motorsport challenge and one of only three races around the world also known by people who have little or no interest at all in motorsport.
232,130 spectators lined the circuit to watch the race in 2005. 1,854 journalists were accredited. According to a study made by the Institute TNS, the global media resonance even exceed that of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix held on the same weekend.
Audi has been competing at Le Mans since 1999 hardly any other automobile manufacturer has been so successful in probably the world’s toughest car race. Five overall victories from seven starts are more than impressive results. Audi drivers mounted the winners rostrum at the end of all seven races.
Audi made its presence felt in the long-distance classic from the very beginning. In 1999, Audi Sport Team Joest claimed a podium position on its Le Mans debut. In sweltering temperatures a year later, Audi, together with the Joest team, added its name to the long-distance classic’s winners’ list with a dream result: The three R8 prototypes that started occupied the first three positions.
During the 2001 season, the Audi squad proved that its victory the previous year was no coincidence: In treacherous conditions with occasional outbursts of torrential rain Audi celebrated a dominant one-two finish. The TFSI technology, used for the first time, played a decisive role. Thanks to fuel-direct-injection, the improved initial throttle response was a huge advantage for the Audi drivers on the rain-soaked track.
In 2002, the lower fuel-consumption arising from TFSI technology developed by Audi played a starring role in the one-two-three finish. The powerful 610 hp Audi R8 prototypes were not only the fastest cars in the field, but they also saved valuable time thanks to the TFSI engines because they had to stop to refuel in the pits less often.
With its hat-trick of wins, AUDI AG not only added another chapter to its motorsport history, but also to the Le Mans history books. Audi is the first manufacturer to be able to call a Le Mans trophy its own. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Automobile Club de l´Ouest (ACO), organisers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, created the trophy that is awarded annually to the Le Mans winner and is returned to the ACO before the start of the next race. At the same time, the organiser decided that a manufacturer winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in succession with the same team could keep the trophy.
Audi Sport Team Joest achieved this “hat-trick in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In September 2002, Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, accepted the trophy from former ACO President Michel Cosson. Since then it has been on display at the Audi Museum Mobile in Ingolstadt. In return, an example of the most successful Le Mans Prototype ever can be seen today in the automobile museum in Le Mans.
The link between Audi and the worlds most important long-distance race goes even further: At the IAA in 2003, Audi unveiled the Le Mans quattro a sportscar study, which will go on sale as a production car at the start of 2007 and carries the name that wrote motorsport history: Audi R8.
Audi importer teams clinched two further victories at Le Mans since 2003 but Audi now returns to Le Mans as a “works team with the new R10. The development team from Audi Sport is supported by Reinhold Joests squad which also performed this task during the R8 project and has won Le Mans already seven times.
An entry of two R10 prototypes is planned. In addition, the new R10 could be entered in all racing series with their roots in Le Mans. “We consider programmes in the ALMS, the LMS in Europe and possibly also in Asia, says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. “Nothing has been confirmed as yet.