One of the most successful 21st century racecars is the R8. It won Le Mans and eight ALMS races n the first season which set a trend for subsequent seasons.
The R8 was built at for the LMP900 class and followed two development with the Audi R8R and R8C. The R8 was designed in a modular fashion so that parts like the complete transaxle could be replaced during a race.
For the first three seasons Audi Sport Infineon Team Joest and Audi Sport North America represented Audi in an official manner. At the R8’s Le Mans debut, the cars swept the podium in a 1-2-3 finish. In total the R8 won 63 out of 79 races giving it a winning record of 79.7%.
In 2001 Audi replaced the R8 with a new variant that had a turbocharged direct injection known as the TFSI.
After the successful debut at the 1999 Le Mans race, the team from Audi did not allow itself one day’s rest. ‘Our work on the new R8 began the Tuesday after the race,’ declared Wolfgang Appel, Head of Vehicle Technologies. After competing with a closed and open version last year, the Audi crew concentrated solely on further developing the roadster. And the result, especially in the field of aerodynamics, is stunning.
‘We spent a great deal of time in the wind tunnel,’ says Appel. The objective was to further reduce the drag coefficient, while at the same time increasing the downforce. Additionally Audi lowered the centre of gravity of the R8, and reduced the basic weight of the vehicle. ‘Now we have the chance to balance the car for individual races by positioning additional weights optimally’, explains Head of Audi Sport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. This advantage became immediately apparent at the beginning of the season. At the racing debut all pilots were enthusiastic about the excellent road holding characteristics of the R8 on the bumpy Sebring track surface.
Powering the R8 is a 610 bhp V8 bi-turbo engine. For the transmission, which comes under immense stresses during an endurance race, Audi installed a pneumatic control. ‘This was rather unusual,’ declares Wolfgang Appel, ‘but this option considerably reduces the chance of technical problems.’ The transmission was completely redesigned and is now just half the size of the 1999 predecessor.
Audi Sport Team Joest is well prepared for ultra-fast changes of all components. ‘This is simply an integral part of a 24 hour race,’ Appel concludes. For this reason focus was given to developing components that could be replaced as quickly as possible. Hence, Audi profits as well from the company’s wealth of rallying experience, where repairs under immense time pressure are the norm.
Acceleration, braking, gearshifting – in the R8 cockpit, pilots have the chance to exert their influence. The six gears can be selected via rocker switch on the steering wheel, and with the infinitely variable adjustment of brake balance, drivers can react to the changing grip of their tyres. Additionally, the fuel mix can be changed, for example during long rainy phases. Otherwise, the regulations forbid drivers to make any technical changes to the vehicle.
In the safety field, Audi has set new standards. Engineers developed a new style of cockpit: the side panels have been raised higher, topped off with a carbon-fibre CFC rollbar which is glued to the carbon fibre monocoque. These measures far surpass the FIA safety regulations. The rules stipulate a load limit of minimum ten tonnes, the roll-bar of the Audi R8 was tested with a load of up to 27 tonnes.
1-2-3 at Le Mans
The 2000 Le Mans 24 Hours has produced a dream result for Audi. A dominant victory was achieved in argualby the most difficult and demanding race in the world in front of a 200,000 plus crowd. After triumphs in world rallying and in touring car racing, Audi wrote a further chapter in to its already successful and illustrious motorsport history.
The three Audi R8s dicated the pace from the outset. In all practice sessions and almost during the entire race, Audi held the top three positions. With 368-laps, the winning car completed three more laps than last yearÂ´s winner.
The ultimate winner, the no. 8 Audi R8 driven by Frank Biela (Germany), Tom Kristensen (Denmark) and Emanuele Pirro (Italy), was delayed during the first half of the race by two punctures. Apart from that, the car was running like clockwork and was on top of the field from the 11th hour to the finish.
Despite Audi enjoying a big advantage, there were no team orders. Dr Ullrich explained: ‘We wanted to have a sporting fight. Our drivers had no team orders and they all showed during the race that they were true professionals and that they can handle a high-pressure situation. Everyone was clear that the success should be for Audi and because of that, to me, all of the drivers are winners.’
2000 LeMans Results
1. Biela/Kristensen/Pirro (Audi R8) 368 laps
2. Aiello/McNish/Ortelli (Audi R8) – 1 lap
3. Abt/Alboreto/Capello (Audi R8) – 3 laps
4. Bourdais/Grouillard/Clerico (Courage) – 24 laps
5. Katoh/OÂ´Connell/Raphanel (Panoz) – 26 laps
6. Suzuki/Kageyama/Kageyama (Panoz) – 28 laps
7. Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy (Chrysler) – 35 laps
8. Tsuchiya/Kondo/Iida (Panoz) – 38 laps
9. Donohue/Amorim/Beltoise (Chrysler) – 40 laps
10. Pilgrim/Collins/Freon (Chevrolet) – 41 laps
The Le Mans 24 Hour race ended with a clear triple victory for Audi in 2000. This classic is not only one of the greatest challenges in international motorsport, it is at the same time one of the most popular sporting events in the world. For two years a new championship has been run specifically for the fascinating Le Mans sportscars: The American Le Mans Series (ALMS).
The Team Audi Sport North America competed in the twelve round series for the first time in 2000 with huge success: Two races before the season final, Audi already clinched both the manufacturersÂ´ and the drivers’ titles. At nine out of twelve rounds an Audi R8 crossed the finish line first. Audi celebrated six double victories. With a triumph at the season final in Australia’s Adelaide, AUDI AG crowned one of the most successful years of its long motorsport tradition.
1. Audi 264
2. BMW 217
3. Panoz 208
4. Lola 154
5. Reynard 136
6. Cadillac 116
2001 Audi R8 501 – sold for $1,034,000 One of 16 Audi R8 Sports Prototypes to be built; one of five in private hands. Race-winning car at Jarama in 2001; finished Seventh Place at the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans. Last raced at Road America in 2007. Auction Source: Monterey 2012 by RM Auctions