Audi will be using the second FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) round at Spa-Francorchamps on May 5 as a “dress rehearsal” for the Le Mans 24 Hours as well. For the first time, two new vehicle models have to prove their viability on one of the world’s most challenging race tracks.
This date has a special significance on Audi Sport’s calendar of events. The second WEC round not only signifies a double vehicle debut. For the first time in Audi’s history, a race car will not be exclusively powered by an internal combustion engine. The new Audi R18 e-tron quattro is ringing in a new era in motor racing, being the first diesel hybrid sports car with all-wheel drive. Yet it is not only this concept that pioneers a forward-thinking trend. A key prerequisite for making it reality in the first place is ultra lightweight design – an Audi core competence. The hybrid model is based on the Audi R18 ultra that features a largely identical design but is conventionally powered by a V6 TDI engine. It is the lightest LMP sports car ever designed by Audi. Two cars each of the two new models will be celebrating their racing debuts in Belgium.
The cars’ debuts coincide with four other premieres. For the first time, Audi Sport Team Joest is fielding four LMP1 race cars. 1999 last saw Audi put four vehicles on the grid at a sports car race under a factory commitment. The models back then, at Le Mans, were the Audi R8R and R8C, the “progenitors” of today’s sports prototypes, albeit being fielded by two different teams. The other debuts: Marc Gené, the newly signed reserve driver from Spain, is standing in for Timo Bernhard, who is taking a break due to injuries from an accident. Also contesting their first sports car race for Audi’s factory team are the previous test driver Marco Bonanomi from Italy and the former DTM driver Oliver Jarvis from Great Britain.
Audi’s new signing Marc Gené has won the sports car race at Spa twice in the past four years. The other Audi drivers are traveling to the Ardennes with zest and vigor as well. Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish as the winners created a top-notch farewell for the Audi R18 TDI at the WEC season opener at Sebring. By clinching victory there they took the lead of the standings in the new FIA World Endurance Championship and are now looking forward to their debut in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. Ranking just seven points behind them are Loïc Duval, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard, who finished the event in Florida as the runners-up. André Lotterer, who is competing alongside his colleagues from the Le Mans winning team, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer, proved what is possible by taking pole and posting the fastest race lap at the season opener.
So, each of the four Audi driver teams has high ambitions on the 7.004-kilometer roller-coaster circuit in the Ardennes. There is one thing they all aim to achieve for Audi at the 6-hour race that starts at 14:30 on Saturday. Like the Audi R8 in 2000, the R10 TDI six years later and the R15 TDI in 2009 that successfully made their debuts at Sebring, and the “R15 plus” that won at Le Castellet in 2010, the youngest generation of the R18 shall now start its career with a success as well.
Topics of the weekend
-How will the relative strengths between the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro and the R18 ultra pan out?
-Can Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish continue to show their good form from Sebring?
-In the absence of Toyota, who will be Audi’s strongest rival at Spa-Francorchamps?
-How good are Audi’s new sports car drivers, Marco Bonanomi, Marc Gené and Oliver Jarvis?
Quotes by the officials
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): “Like last year, Spa will be a ‘dress rehearsal’ for us for the Le Mans 24 Hours. We’d been planning to compete there with exactly the same teams as at Le Mans, in other words with all four vehicles and the squads assigned to them. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to completely follow our plan with respect to the drivers. Mike Rockenfeller is not available because he’ll be running in the DTM at the Lausitzring. And Timo Bernhard isn’t completely fit yet after his accident at Sebring. That’s why we’re giving reserve driver Marc Gené the chance to contest a race. He’ll be driving together with Romain Dumas and Loïc Duval in order to get used to the vehicle and to gel with the squad in case we should be using him at the Le Mans 24 Hours. We’re firmly assuming that Timo Bernhard will be in perfect shape to run again at Le Mans. Yet with such a large line-up of drivers there’s simply a risk that one of them may not be one hundred per cent fit. That’s why it’s important to have a reserve driver. For Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis, Spa has the positive effect that as a team of two they have the chance of driving more race kilometers than the teams of three drivers. So, Spa is an important premiere for them – just like it is for our two car models, the R18 e-tron quattro and the R18 ultra.”
Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): “Everyone is looking forward to Spa, yet everyone has the necessary respect for the race as well. Four cars pose a challenge per se and on top of that we’re competing with two new types of vehicles – the Audi R18 ultra and the e-tron quattro. We’ve got eleven drivers and one of them is new. Timo (Bernhard) isn’t fit yet but we’re hoping to have him with us again at the Le Mans pre-test. The cars have just been assembled. The preparations are underway but the event will be a huge challenge for us. Toyota, unfortunately, will be missing at Spa, which is really a shame. We’ll only be meeting with our competitor at Le Mans. But there are many other good cars in the field, as we could already see at Sebring. We had a very good season opener and will obviously try everything we can to continue this string at Spa.”
Facts and quotes by the Audi drivers
Marcel Fässler (35/CH), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1
-Achieved his best sports car result to date as the runner-up at Spa in 2006
-Has previously won a 24-hour race at the circuit in the Ardennes
“Spa is one of my favorite tracks, which gives me a positive feeling. Plus, running in the R18 e-tron quattro this year is very special anyway. It’ll no doubt be a great experience and we’re all very excited. I’m very confident because we’re well prepared and am looking forward to this endurance race.”
André Lotterer (30/D), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1
-Set the best time in qualifying and the fastest race lap at Sebring
-Last year’s Le Mans winner grew up in Belgium
“At Spa we’ll be driving the e-tron quattro for the first time. I’m very confident because I thought the car was really superb in the track tests. I can hardly wait to go to Spa. It’s a special track for me where I spent a lot of time even as a child and teenager. Driving a sports car there is huge fun. I’m hoping for things to go better for us than they did at Sebring. At least we showed a lot of potential there. Now we’ll be giving everything again.”
Benoît Tréluyer (35/F), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1
-The Frenchman is running in a hybrid vehicle for the first time
-At Spa, the 2011 Le Mans winner will be competing for Audi for the third consecutive time
“I’m looking forward to returning to Spa, especially in the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro. This is a very important debut because for the first time we’ll see where we stand with the hybrid compared to the competition. The comparison with the Audi R18 ultra counts as well. On a track like Spa you can obviously expect the driving to be huge fun – that’s fantastic for us drivers. I really like my R18 e-tron quattro. Hybrid drive simply gives you an interesting sensation at the wheel.”
Dindo Capello (47/I), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2
-Clinched his fifth victory at Sebring in March
-Is the only current Audi sports car driver to have competed before in his career in a Super Touring car with quattro drive
“Now I’m experiencing another debut with Audi, and for the first time in a world championship. With the new R18 e-tron quattro Audi intends to prove its hybrid technology in competition – and naturally with the aim of winning. In the past, Audi was the first manufacturer to be victorious with a diesel, so the second WEC round is an important race to which my team-mates and I are traveling as the leaders of the standings. Audi wants to start a new chapter in motorsport history, and Spa is exactly the right track for it.”
Tom Kristensen (44/DK), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2
-Celebrated his sixth victory at Sebring in March
-In 2003, won the 1,000-kilometer race at Spa in the Audi R8
“I can hardly wait for the second WEC round. We’re experiencing a premiere. Looking back, the Audi’s premieres were always fantastic, from the R8 and R10 TDI through to the R15 TDI. Now it’s the R18 e-tron quattro’s turn. We’ve again got a new technology for proving on a challenging track like Spa. Allan (McNish), Dindo (Capello) and I are traveling to the second race as the championship leaders after giving the Audi R18 TDI at Sebring a superb farewell.”
Allan McNish (42/GB), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2
-Celebrated his fourth victory at the WEC’s inaugural event, the Sebring 12 Hours
-Third place has so far been his best sports car result at Spa
“It’s great to be returning to Spa as the leader of the standings after my fourth Sebring success. Spa is the first race for the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. My adrenaline level has already begun to rise. When you test the car you get a feeling for it, begin to understand it a little and try out a few things. But you really start to understand its advantages only in a racing situation with respective weather and in the battle with other competitors. We’ll certainly have a learning curve with such a new system. The technology is brand new but we’ve got a good base. I love Spa with its contours; the track perfectly suits my driving style, but I’m still waiting for my first victory there. Obviously, we want to score as many points as possible and hopefully give the new car a victorious debut.”
Romain Dumas (34/F), Audi R18 ultra #3
-Took second place at Sebring on the Audi R18 TDI’s farewell
-Started from the pole position at Spa last year
-Has already won the Spa 24 Hours twice
“At Spa, I’ll be running with a new team-mate. At Sebring, we saw that Timo (Bernhard) and I quickly started to work together really well with newcomer Loïc (Duval). I’m sure that’ll work out equally well with Marc (Gené). He has a lot of experience in sports prototype racing and is intimately familiar with Spa. It’s a shame that Timo isn’t able to run but under these circumstances Marc is no doubt the best possible replacement. At Spa, we want to attack as best we can. I’m eager to see how the relative strengths will pan out between the hybrid vehicle and the conventionally powered car. I’m sure it’ll be an open race.”
Loïc Duval (29/F), Audi R18 ultra #3
-Is contesting the sports car race at Spa for the third consecutive time
-Finished as the runner-up right on his Audi premiere at Sebring
“It’s a nice feeling to compete at Spa. It’s a very unusual track with a layout that practically all drivers love. It’s simply fun to drive there. This’ll be the first race for us in the Audi R18 ultra. In Marc Gené we’ve got a new team-mate standing in for Timo Bernhard who is unfortunately injured. I came to highly respect Marc as a driver in the past. He’s joined the squad as a solid team player. For the first WEC race in Europe, I’m wishing for the event to go as well as the premiere at Sebring did. Obviously, it would be great to see all three Audi driver teams on the podium. But it’s primarily an important race in preparation for the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
Marc Gené (38/E), Audi R18 ultra #3
-The newly signed reserve driver is contesting his first race for Audi
-In 2008 and 2011, the Spaniard clinched overall victory at Spa
“For me, this is an honor and I’m delighted to be competing for one of the most successful brands in history, Audi. And Spa is one of my favorite tracks. It’s a beautiful circuit for a race with an LMP1 car. I didn’t want to lose touch with this class because I particularly like sports cars. I’m happy that this opportunity with Audi came about. I immediately received a warm welcome. Dr. Ullrich, my driver colleagues and the team have been giving me this positive feeling. I couldn’t wish for more on tackling this new challenge. I’m hoping to be able to return as much as I’ve been receiving.”
Marco Bonanomi (27/I), Audi R18 ultra #4
-Is making his sports prototype racing debut with Audi
-Has been familiar with the R18 since last year as a test driver
“Finally, I’m experiencing my racing debut in a sports prototype. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a year and a half. This is an important point in my career and I’m making this debut on one of my favorite tracks. I was on the grid on this track in Belgium in Formula 3000 and the World Series, and finished on the podium several times. So, I know the track well but in the sports prototype in traffic with other vehicles it’ll probably be a different thing. In any event, I feel the motivation in every fiber of my body.”
Oliver Jarvis (28/GB), Audi R18 ultra #4
-After running for an Audi customer team at Le Mans in 2010, is contesting his first race with Audi Sport Team Joest
-Is sharing the R18 ultra with Marco Bonanomi at Spa
“I’ve been looking forward to my first run as an Audi factory driver in the R18 ultra at Spa for a long time. We’ve got a new car and I’m forming a new driver team with Marco (Bonanomi). At Le Mans, we’ll be joined by Mike (Rockenfeller). There’s a lot to learn for us at this race that we’re using as a test for Le Mans. But it doesn’t mean that Spa is not important as a single race. It’s a good opportunity for the whole driver squad to grow together. Working together with the engineers is another key aspect. In the competition, we obviously want to battle for a podium place but as a relatively new member of the sports car family I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
(Image: Audi Motorsport)