Famous Five... Audi's best endurance racing moments

23rd November 2016
Henry Hope-Frost

After 18 seasons of top-flight international sportscar racing, with an enviable number of victories in every event and series it tackled, Audi has bowed out at the very top.

The German marque triumphed in its last race – the World Endurance Championship finale in Bahrain last weekend – with its sophisticated R18 e-tron quattro hybrid LMP1 racer. The #8 car crewed by Brit Oliver Jarvis, Frenchman Loic Duval and Brazilian Lucas di Grassi got one over the sister car and its rivals from Porsche and Toyota in the six-hour enduro to bring a long period of dominance to an end.

During almost two decades of long-distance action, Audi has of course generated plenty of headlines, with more memorable moments than the internet has room for. So we’ve whittled them down to our favourite five. As always, though, let us know which other Audi milestones you recall fondly.

The start of something big – Le Mans 1999

Four Audis were entered for sportscar racing’s crown-jewel event, the Le Mans 24 Hours, in 1999 – two open-top R8R prototypes in the LMP class run by Joest Racing, and two closed-cockpit versions, the LMGTP-class R8Cs, run by Audi Sport UK. All four were powered by the twin-turbo, 3.6-litre V8 engine. Problems befell the coupés, one crewed by Christian Abt, Stefan Johansson and Stéphane Ortelli, the other by Brits Perry McCarthy, Andy Wallace and James Weaver, while the two R8Rs soldiered on to finish third (Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro, Didier Theys), albeit five laps behind the winning BMW V12 LMR. The sister Audi, raced by Laurent Aiello, Michele Alboreto and Rinaldo Capello, was 14 laps in arrears of the podium, but the intent was clear: Audi was taking its Le Mans effort very seriously and a debut 3-4 was the start of something big.

Milestone moment – Le Mans 2000

Just 12 months after its debut in the twice-round-the-clock enduro at Le Circuit de la Sarthe, Audi was back with three all-new R8 prototypes, one of which had already taken victory in the gruelling Sebring 12 Hours, courtesy of Biela, Pirro and Tom Kristensen. And this time, the cars, still powered by the trusty 3.6-litre, twin-turbo V8, cleaned up. After monopolising the first three slots on the grid, the Biela, Pirro, Kristensen car took an historic victory, backed up by the polesitting car of Aiello, Ortelli and Scot Allan McNish, which was just one lap behind. Third went to the Abt, Alboreto, Capello car. So dominant were the Audis that the fourth-placed Courage-Peugeot was 24 laps shy of a podium slot.    

Diesel R10 does the job – Le Mans 2006

With victory in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005 (2003 belonged to sister marque Bentley) using petrol propulsion, Audi made a bold tech-nical decision for 2006: to build and run a diesel-powered prototype. With a successor for the R8 needed in the face of rule changes designed to slow it down, the R10 arrived, featuring a 5.5-litre, V12 diesel engine. Frankly, the car would move the powerplant technology goalposts onto another pitch. Like its petrol R8 cousin, the R10 TDI won first time out at Sebring in 2006 and came to Le Mans as a clear favourite. Two cars were entered and would feature at the familiar end of the grid after qualifying – comfortably ahead of the petrol-powered Pescarolo-Judd competition. One of the French machines managed to split the Audis come the end of the race, but it was win number six for the German marque – thanks to Biela, Pirro and Marco Werner – and the first for diesel technology.

Petit Le Mans perfection – Road Atlanta 2008

4 October, 2008: a day at Road Atlanta in Georgia that Allan McNish will never forget. In the space of about 11 hours, he had gone from zero to hero. The two-time Le Mans winner had crashed his #1 Audi R10 TDI while heading round to the grid for the start of the Petit Le Mans, the penultimate round of that year’s American Le Mans Series. The resulting damage meant that his Audi Sport North America mechanics had a frantic hour on their hands to get the car he shared with Capello and Pirro back in shape for the 10-hour race. Spurred on by their efforts, and the two laps he lost at the start while repairs were finished, McNish went on a monster charge. Back in the car for the final stint, he hunted down the leading Peugeot, driven by fellow former Grand Prix driver Christian Klien, and mugged the Austrian in traffic in the closing stages to take a memorable win. Forever close to the top of any votes on ‘motorsport’s classic comebacks’, it was one of Audi’s greatest victories.  

Thirteen seconds in it – Le Mans 2011

Imagine charging round the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe all day and all night at speeds of more than 200mph as you battled for Le Mans 24 Hours glory, with driver changes, pitstops for tyres and fuel and backmarkers to contend with, only to lose out on victory in one of the world’s oldest and toughest motorsport events by 13 seconds? That’s exactly what happened to the second-placed Peugeot 908 HDi of Sébastien Bourdais, Pedro Lamy and Simon Pagenaud in 2011. The French machine completed 355 laps of the famous track, but was beaten by an agonising amount by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoit Tréluyer in the #2 Audi R18 TDI that had started on pole position. It was the fourth-closest finish in the history of the race, which stretches back to 1923, and the first time since the Ford-Porsche scrap of 1969 that the cars fighting for the win were at full speed on the final lap. There were certainly no staged, photo-friendly finishes that year! Another coup for Audi as it celebrated its 10th Le Mans win was that British Audi Sport engineer Leena Gade became the first female crew chief to win the event.

  • Audi

  • Le Mans

  • R8

  • R10

  • R18

  • Petit Le Mans

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