Frank Biela started at the rear of the pack and with a 10-second time penalty. His quattro had been rebuilt after a fairly serious wreck during qualifying, and he was suffering from slight injury to his neck. Nevertheless, he fought his way through the ranks of drivers and went on to claim third place.
Though they may have sounded unbeatable, the A4s had their weaknesses. The increased friction of the quattro drivetrain took its toll at very high speeds. Weight penalties imposed on the cars added to this weakness. On long straights, the Audis had a hard time keeping pace.
Due to their 1996 success, Audi began the 1997 season with an additional 95kg weight penalty to aid in making the all-wheel-drive cars more competitive with their less dominant rivals. The Audi team cars dropped back in the standings considerably, resulting in a choice by the FIA to lift the penalty later that season but all-wheel-drive would eventually be banned by the FIA governing body in France for 1998.
It would appear that Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system had again become an "unfair advantage" as it had for other Audi Sport endeavors in the 1980's. Even without the added weight penalty the A4 quattro touring car weighed in at 1040kg vs. the 975kg weight of its front-wheel-drive rivals. The results of their winnings clearly show the advantage bestowed on the cars via Audi's famed quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Many other manufacturers complained about the dominating aspect of all-wheel-drive over the more popularly used front-wheel-drive TOCA cars. What is less known is that both Ford and Nissan experimented with all-wheel-drive variations of their own Mondeo and Primera models for the German Super Touring Cup but were unsuccessful. This proved that it wasn't just all-wheel-drive that provided the advantage, but also Audi's careful engineering and years of experience with quattro's use in motorsport.
Audi has fought the FIA's ban on all-wheel-drive vehemently. Currently, Audi and BMW are the only cars competing with a longitudinally (north-south) mounted engine.
Cars with transversely (east-west) mounted powerplants benefit from a lower positioning of the engine. With the transverse layout, the engine appears almost beneath the feet of the driver. This positioning offers a lower center of gravity that also aids in improved handling. The Audi longitudinal setup places the engine significantly higher and further forward than the tilted and lowered transversely mounted rivals do.
In an effort to evaluate further participation with the ban on quattro, Audi chose to run a single front-wheel-drive A4 racecar in the German STW (Super Touring Wagen) Cup. Then in 1998, Audi had a dismal season backing front-wheel-drive versions of the A4 touring car, which was partially due to the loss of quattro and partially due to finally making the change from Dunlop tires to Michelins with which they had little racing experience.
This has lead to the pull out of most factory-backed teams in the Touring Car format worldwide with the exception of Australia.
Privateer teams continue to carry the torch for the Audiphiles. In addition, most of the series have allowed the return of all-wheel-drive. Unfortunately it may already be too late for a major return by Audi to TOCA. The A4's own production cycle is quite mature, and it is rumored that the A4's replacement will be larger in size. In the meantime, sister brands SEAT, Skoda and Volkswagen have all recently introduced new sedans based on the corporate A-chassis, which could also benefit from motorsport involvement. Further, the Bora TDI-R endurance racer has successfully competed in several events and just happens to be built very closely to a TOCA spec racecar.