Le Mans 1999
Text courtesy of Audi AG

Audi has scored impressive results on the German manufacturer`s début in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The two Audi R8Rs entered by Audi Sport Team Joest finished third and fourth in the gruelling sportscar race. Ultimately the newcomer, Audi, was immediately on the rostrum in one of the world`s most difficult races. Audi Chief Executive, Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen, remarked: "This result is better than we expected and we will be back next year."

Seldom before has there been a Le Mans 24 Hour race so strong in manufacturer support and constantly exciting. Only half of the 46 cars which started reached the finishing line after almost 5,000 kilometres and watched by a crowd in excess of 200,000. Audi`s Head of Sport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, was delighted the "open" Audi R8Rs had stood up to the challenge. He said: "For a Le Mans newcomer this is a very good result."

Audi Sport Team Joest had specifically worked towards this race and also declined to be involved in the fight for pole-position. Team Director Reinhold Joest confirmed: "The starting position in a 24 hour race means absolutely nothing. The most important thing is to get a good balance for the race and make the car consistently fast and we were able to achieve this."

The two Audi R8Rs were among the top-10 from the start and were able to improve with consistent lap times. At the mid-way point, the no.8 Audi was third, on the same lap of the eventual winning car.

In the early morning hours today, however, Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro/Didier Theys lost precious time due to a unscheduled brake disc change. Later the car had an exhaust pipe replaced. Audi's former British Touring Car Champion Biela, who was named "Rookie of Le Mans" after qualifying on Thursday, said: "Apart from two small problems, the car was perfect."

Confirming Audi`s impressive maiden Le Mans performance was the similar R8R of Michele Alboreto/Rinaldo Capello/Laurent Aiello in fourth place. The Audi R8Cs entered by Buckingham-based Audi Sport UK did not finish the race due to transmission problems. But the sleek silver machines, designed and built at rtn in Higham near Norwich, were still able to show their potential with some fast race laps.

Gearbox problems restricted both cars to a small number of laps in official qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The R8C of Oxford-born Andy Wallace, James Weaver, from Salisbury, and Brentwood's Perry McCarthy lined-up in 20th on Saturday afternoon with the similar Audi of Stefan Johansson, Stéphane Ortelli and Christian Abt in 23rd.

But in the race, the Wallace/Weaver/McCarthy car soon encountered gearbox problems necessitating the first of three gearbox changes restricting their progress to a highest 22nd position before it retired with eight hours remaining. The "sister" R8C managed 19th place before a gearbox fault side-lined the car out on the 13km track after four hours.

Post Race Summary Quotes:

Audi Sport UK (R8C):

Richard Lloyd (Team Principal): "Delighted to have been part of the Audi début at Le Mans. There was a degree of inevitability about our project because it began late. The performance of the R8C when they ran trouble-free confirmed our faith in the project. The whole team have done an immense job - I'm very proud of what we achieved in the circumstances and we look forward to having another go!"

John Wickham (Team Director): "Considering the difficulties we suffered during the qualifying sessions no-one should be surprised we had a difficult race. We had more transmission failures than we expected - we changed gearboxes four times. All the drivers did a fantastic job and when the car was right it was quick."

Stéphane Ortelli: "From the outset of this project, I've been very excited. I'm happy the car showed its true potential but disappointed the transmission let us down but at least we know where more progress needs to be made."

Stefan Johansson: "A disappointing result but it wasn't for the lack of trying, everyone involved has done a brilliant job. It's a shame it didn't pay off but hopefully we can return next year far stronger."

Christian Abt: "I'm proud that I made my Le Mans début with Audi and the team should be proud of what has been achieved."

Andy Wallace: "We did as much as we possibly could. If the last gearbox had not broken on the circuit we would have bolted another on and probably have made it to the end of the race. The car was very new but I believe that we can be proud of what has been achieved."

Perry McCarthy: "You can summarise the whole week by the word character. This week has tested the character of the team and all the people in it. We have faced up to every situation and just worked, and worked, and worked - I have been immensely impressed."

James Weaver: "Not the end result we wanted but Audi has done a superb job here on their maiden appearance with the R8R. If we'd completed more testing miles, a top-10 finish for the Coupé would have been achievable - no question."

Dr Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Sport): "For a Le Mans newcomer, this is a very good result, and we are all extremely pleased. We had very ambitious goals and were highly motivated. Apart from transmission troubles, the R8Cs have been working fairly well as well. We don't know yet what has caused these difficulties."

Audi Sport Team Joest (Audi R8R):

Reinhold Joest (Team Director): "We have shown what could be achieved. With no.7 we didn't have our usual luck but No.8 ran literally without problems. It is a strong performance to get both cars to the finish and in these top positions. I want to thank AUDI AG for the co-operation. I hope that we will be back here next year."

Ralf Jüttner (Team Manager): "To finish third and fourth with a new partner and an entirely new car against such strong opposition is really creditable."

Laurent Aiello: "Congratulations to Audi! To finish on these positions on their Le Mans début is really a great success. Now we can prepare for next year. "

Michele Alboreto: "Before the start, I thought we might get a top-five finish, but the car has made it to the rostrum! For next year, we must improve several technical details. The Joest team excelled again but I am used to that."

Frank Biela: "The race went very well. We only had a small repair on the exhaust. I think victory might have been very difficult this year even without this loss of time. I haven't slept a minute this weekend, everything was far too exciting."

Rinaldo Capello: "The result is a fine success for Audi. We only had a minor problems so it was a successful test for next year! I will now try to find a bed as soon as possible. Last night, I slept for just one and a half hours."

Emanuele Pirro: "It was a big challenge to compete against manufacturers with such a huge experience. For one year, we have been working very hard to finish with both cars. It is simply incredible that we finished on the podium."

Didier Theys: "I'm very happy with the car - it`s an excellent result."

Many pictures of the Audi cars at Le Mans 1999 are available. Click here now!

Copyright (c) 1999 AudiWorld