April 26, 2000

Audi Sport R8's Ready for Le Mans Practice

Le Mans, France - Audi Sport is preparing its three R8's to take to the famed road course on Sunday, April 30th for open practice in readiness for the twice around the clock classic to be held in June.

Team Joest and Audi Sport will campaign three R8's to be piloted by:

Number 77 R8:
Frank Biela
Tom Kristensen
Emanuele Pirro

Number 78 R8:
Laurent Aiello
Allan McNish
Stephane Ortelli

Number 79 R8:
Christian Abt
Michele Alboreto
Rinaldo Capello

The three-car Audi assault is focused on winning the 24 Hours of Le Man. "Audi has built a very quick car, we've already proved that with our dominant one-two result at Sebring. I won't be surprised to see 210 mph on the clock just before the first chicane along the Mulsanne straight. There are another three places where we'll be up around 200 mph so it's no Sunday drive," said Allan McNish.

This practice is crucial for us," confirms head of Audi Sport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "The objective is to gather data from our cars in their latest stage of development and find an optimal set-up for the race."

"Le Mans is the Superbowl of sports car racing," said Len Hunt, head of Audi Sport North America. "With our strong start at Sebring and the continued development of the 2000 Audi R8 Prototype we are anxious to see how we rate against the competition."

The Audi Sport R8's will take to the track in round three of the American Le Mans Series on May 13th at Silverstone.

A Lap of Le Mans With Audi Sport R8 Driver Allan McNish

On race day, crossing the start-finish line is an awesome sight. On the right hand side you've got lots of people in the pits with members of each team on the pit wall giving updated race information on a board that drivers must look out for every time we go past. The driver has to pick out his relevant board, not an easy task sometimes, while above the pit garages there is the new concrete grandstand. Opposite is the old grandstand, which, on race day, is a heaving mass of people - many waving flags.

It would be a great sight if I'd time to look properly, but on a flying lap, I'm changing in to sixth gear going up the hill past the pits. Past pit lane we are going into a long and quite difficult braking area in to the Dunlop chicane which sees us come down into second gear. But the car is turning all of the time and so it is a little unstable while there are a couple of bumps too which also upsets the balance. I'm also trying to carry as much speed into the chicane, to keep the lap times low, but it's a fine balance, because too much speed and you can easily be off the track.

I'll just touch the curbs left and right before accelerating away, putting a lot of power down on to the road and the aerodynamics do not help here much as the speed is low - it's a shame Audi cannot use its permanent four-wheel-drive quattro system!

Under the famous Dunlop Bridge, down to third and then fourth gear towards the Esses. These corners are some of the trickiest at Le Mans because you have to brake hard to go in, and then you enter the first corners "blind" before going over a crest on the right. Not surprisingly, when you go over the crest the car goes "light" and it's a strange feeling because you don't really know where you're going to land so the correct "line" through these corners is absolutely critical. It's also a place where you can gain, or lose, half a second quite easily.

Next is the right hand Tertre Rouge corner and in my experience of Le Mans, you can always guarantee that the brake pedal has a soft feel and so I try to anticipate that as I brake while changing down to third gear. I'll let the car run wide on to the curb on the right, but I'll keep off the curb on the left when exiting - unless I'm feeling exceptionally brave.

Then its third, fourth, fifth and sixth gear and just wait for the next chicane. This is a point on the circuit where you find things start to speed up. Before hitting the brakes for this chicane at around the 120-meter mark, I'll probably be doing 208 mph. It's especially important to carry speed through here, changing down to third, touching the curb on the right - but not too hard because those curbs are very aggressive.

You can gain, or lose, a lot of time in this section and you can always tell an experienced Le Mans driver at this point, they are much quicker than the others going through here.

Back into sixth and again wait for the next chicane. This one is more difficult because you cannot see the turn-in point. Also, on the inside of the right apex in the middle and the left apex on exit, there are a lot of bumps and so normally the car is a little unsettled but in general, it's a pretty basic third gear chicane. Back into sixth gear and head for the Mulsanne corner, which I personally find difficult.

It's incredibly bumpy. You have to drive from the left-hand side of the track across the road to prepare for the Mulsanne right hander. You can feel all of the "tram lines" through the steering wheel made by the trucks the 50 weeks of the calendar when racecars are not pounding around once a year. The car really jumps and bounces around while I put a lot of pressure on the brake pedal and at the same time dropping down into second gear for this very slow corner. I'll leave my braking very late entering the corner, but at the same time I'll be wanting to get out of the corner as fast as possible because there's a long straight afterwards so it's a delicate issue trying to get both right - especially in qualifying.

Back into sixth gear heading towards Indianapolis at around 193 mph. This is certainly the most daunting corner on the track where the driver must be brave. You brake very briefly, changing down in to fifth gear and then back on the accelerator. Then you go hard on the brakes again, back into third, to go around the 90 degree, positively cambered right hand corner called Arnage. At night it's worth spectators heading out to this point because they can see the red glow coming from the brake discs. From a driver's point of view at night, it must be one of the most frightening places. The only good thing is that you can't see where you would crash!

You exit Indianapolis, accelerate up to fourth gear and then back down to second gear ready for the slowest point on the circuit at Arnage. Once again, braking doesn't ever feel particularly good and coming out you just try to put the power down the best you can, getting on the power ready for the run down to Porsche Curves and back into sixth.

Entering the Porsche Curves is again very bumpy, it's very fast - it's taken in fifth gear - and it's all about trying to keep the momentum through the right and then flat through the slight left and the following left. In qualifying at least, this will be flat in fifth gear, perhaps 224-230 mph.

I'll brake, change down to fourth gear for the long right, which features adverse camber and is extremely difficult and you must hit the apex of this corner perfectly otherwise you'll run over the curb and ultimately run out of track. It's bad news if you catch a slower car here as you will lose a lot of time. This section is a series of very unforgiving corners. So you then accelerate out, into fifth gear, through the right and left, which is easily flat and then brake for the Ford chicane although you must carry a lot of speed through here.

Left, right and once again, it helps to know your way around this section because for the inexperienced Le Mans driver, it's easy to brake too early. Down to third, through the left and right, going over the curbs as much as you can, then down to second gear for the next left right. This is a little bit harder because you can't use the curbs here - they're too big so you must be clean - and like the Dunlop Chicane, you're wanting to put all the 600-hp down on to the track, with little aerodynamic grip, so the rear wheels will spin a little while the car snaps into oversteer momentarily.

That's one lap - three minutes 30 seconds should be the time for a good qualifying lap. Keep in mind for that 8.45-mile lap, we'll be averaging 145 mph so it's certainly a fast and daunting place! But it's extremely satisfying when you finish the lap with a good time

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