In the following interview, the Head of Audi Sport customer racing explains the future of the brand’s GT program.
The arrival of the new Audi R8 LMS highlights 2015. What expectations do have of the new car?
2015 will be a particularly exciting time for Audi Sport customer racing and quattro GmbH. The new R8 LMS is closely linked to the production model, which means we follow the cycles that also apply for the product. We spent six years building up a completely new business segment for Audi with the previous R8 LMS ultra, and firmly established ourselves on four continents. The level of success achieved with the race car for its share of the market, and its racing record set high standards for the successor. Our future work will be measured by this.
Like the production car, Audi also presented the new Audi R8 LMS at the Geneva Motor Show in March. How closely related are both models?
The various sectors at Audi and quattro GmbH work very closely together. This has big advantages. As a result, it was not just possible to start early with the development, but we also found many solutions benefitting both sides. One example: during the body design phase, we suggested making the rear more angular, which makes the aerodynamics more efficient. Around 50 per cent of the race car parts are carried over from the production model. The motorsport and production versions are also closely linked when it comes to manufacturing the Audi Space Frame (ASF) with its multi-material techniques. The race and production cars pass through many manufacturing stations together at the Böllinger Höfe. The two cars finally go their separate ways after the cathodic dip painting. Development of our race car started in 2014; it had already completed 40,000 test kilometers before the premiere in Geneva. We will continue to perfect the car while racing throughout the 2015 season, so that the customers can race with it from 2016.
Your customer base has grown steadily. 136 race cars have been built worldwide since 2009 – a remarkable number in GT3 racing. What factors made this success possible?
We did everything within our powers to establish the Audi R8 LMS as a reliable and race winning car. 26 championship titles worldwide are no coincidence, and likewise seven overall victories in 24-hour races. However, a good car alone is not enough to gain market acceptance. We have established a network of satellites in Japan, China, Australia and North America. Service centers that allow us to better support our customers in the regions and to supply them with spares. We also send our customer racing advisors to races around the globe. They are on hand to offer teams help and advice. Another important plus point: the running costs and maintenance are crucial issues for every customer. The Audi R8 LMS has always performed exceptionally well when this aspect is compared. The successor is very competitive in this area as well.
What distinguishes the new race car from its predecessor?
It’s better in every area. Where safety is concerned, we set benchmarks at the level of Le Mans Prototypes with a new rear crash structure. On top of this come solutions like the roof hatch to assist helmet removal after an accident. The regulations do not currently demand these measures. With the Audi Space Frame (ASF) featuring multi-material construction, we demonstrate our expertise impressively in lightweight construction. Although the chassis weighs 30 kilograms less, it is now stiffer: our engineers have improved the torsional stiffness by 39 per cent. Also with the aerodynamics, which are so important in motorsport, we have made a big step. Even though the regulations set tighter constraints for 2016, we have significantly improved the efficiency – meaning the ratio between downforce and drag. With this in mind, we are well prepared, because from 2016, it is not allowed to develop a GT3 race car anymore for three years within its homologation.
So, your customers can look forward to an attractive new model.
Of course. A reliable race car is even more important today because the competitive environment gets harder year after year, and GT3 racing gets more and more exciting. When we won the 24 hours of Spa in 2014, sixty-one race cars representing eleven brands started in a single category. Our competitors are wide-awake and are working incredibly hard on their models for 2016. The amount of customer enquiries shows just how popular the new Audi R8 LMS is. Many teams and drivers would prefer to race our car in 2015. The time will come at the end of the year when teams will receive a GT3 race car developed to the highest level, and with which they can chase titles in 2016.