May 18, 2002

The Audi A4 Quattro's Domination of Touring Car

In 1995, Audi was coming to market with an all new entry-level sedan to replace the aging 90. Based on the new VW Group corporate B5 chassis, the A4 offered many technical improvements over its predecessor. The sedan would spearhead not only a new nomenclature for Audi automobiles, but also a rebirth of the brand worldwide. Understandably, marketing the new car effectively was key.

The theory was simple. Success on the racetrack helps promote product, which boosts sales in the dealership. With the new A4 sedan, Audi decided upon promotion via the numerous FIA (Federation Internationale De L'Automobile) "Super Touring" 2-liter touring car championships throughout Europe and other markets. Though Audi had been campaigning the 90 sedan previously in the German series, the new A4 would venture out into other TOCA series throughout the world.

The Super Touring (TOCA) Format

The FIA 2-Liter Super Touring format is an intriguing concept for racing fans and marketers alike. The excitement of the series is upheld due to carefully written rules by the FIA in order to make sure that no one maker gains too much success over their competitors.

Regulations state that any four-door sedan with a minimum length of 4.2meters can be entered with an identical body shell of which 25,000 have been built for the public. Engines are limited to 2-liter non-turbocharged units of currently 4 or 5 cylinders and powered through a maximum of six forward gears. Suspension must be the same type as the road car, and there are minimum weights for cars depending on whether they are front, rear or all-wheel-drive.

In the past, 6-cylinder engines have also been permitted. BMW ran a 2-liter M3 dohc 6-cylinder with a modified crank to get displacement down to the 2-liter limit. And, while most teams run a sequential transmission, the regulations also allowed BMW the flexibility to run a conventional manual transmission.

Though the FIA does stipulate that 25,000 units of a production version are built for the public, true homologation is not necessary for the series. Unfortunately, unlike the homologated Audi Sport Quattro Group B rally car, Audiphiles will never be blessed with a super-limited run of street-legal A4 Super Touring models equipped with 19" OZ wheels and 6-speed sequential transmission.

Each event is made up of two rounds of racing. The Sprint Race is a shorter length race while the Feature Race is twice as long. During the Feature Race, each competitor is subject to one mandatory pit stop between 15% and 70% of the total distance to change at least two wheels and tires.

Qualifying takes place at two sessions prior to each event. The first 30-minute session sets the grid for the Feature Race. The second session is a One-Shot Showdown, where each driver uses a single timed lap to qualify for the Sprint Race starting grid.

Tires must be TOCA approved in order to be used in the events. If one tire manufacturer supplies the factory teams, it must make the tires available to all competitors. Each tire company is permitted to supply a maximum of three tire compounds of slick/dry-weather tires at each event. Each car is limited to the use of only six slick/dry-weather tires per round.

Until the 1998 season, the series was open to all sedans, including those equipped with all-wheel-drive. This acceptance of drivetrain provided eligibility for virtually all mass-market manufacturers from Honda to BMW. Such competition led the series to a massive fan following, second only to Formula 1 in Europe.

Series based on the TOCA model have offered high excitement for fans. Action within the races is plentiful as top drivers of evenly matched machines try to outpace and out maneuver each other, creating quite a spectacle for those watching the race.

TOCA racing is very close. It is common for the top ten cars on the starting grid to be separated by no more than one second. One mistake during qualification can cost the errant driver several positions on the start.

Because of the tight proximity during racing, it is very common for cars to swap paint and lose various body panels. Fantastic wrecks can and do happen amidst such tight racing, lending even more to the experience.

Perhaps the most important factor in the emergence of the FIA's Super Touring format as the premier touring car category is that the cars are dead ringers for the common sedans most people drive to work every day. The limited aerodynamic modifications maintain the extreme similarity in appearance to their production equivalents.

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