Remembering the Audi R8 - Part One

Feature

By Sam Tickell


The Audi and its first 1-2-3 at Le Mans, nine happy drivers and an extemely happy team
Courtesy of Audi

Sixty-four wins, eight championship titles, five Le Mans titles and six Sebring titles. This car was something special.

This is the first of two articles that will delve into life of the all conquering Audi R8.

The Audi R8 story began in 1998 when Audi decided to go Le Mans racing. They commissioned two different cars for 1999. One a coupe (R8C) and one a prototype (R8R).

The R8R achieved a third and fourth at Le Mans in 1999 but neither of these cars were to see the 2000 season. Rather a new machine was penned. This R8 is the one that has created so much history.

The car was designed and run by the legendary Joest team for the 2000 season. Audi could not have made a better choice for this car.


Tom Kristensen driving the Audi R8 at its Sebring debut in 2000
Courtesy of Audi

The Audi R8 won its first race in the Sebring 12 Hours in 2000. In the hands of Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emmanuele Pirro, the Audi R8 appeared invincible.

The sister car also came home in second making an amazing debut for the car. What was even more amazing was the ease that it beat the BMW that won Le Mans the year before.

The next two races presented no victories for this new car but nobody could forget the performance at Sebring when the 24 Hours of Le Mans rolled round.

Their memories would prove to be accurate when the race had ended. Audi had dominated testing, qualifying and the race. A 1-2-3 result was more than even Audi could have expected.

From then on the 2000 season was a stellar one for Audi. From the next nine races, they won eight and finished on the podium six times.

In fact they only had one retirement, due to an accident. Not only is this a testament to the drivers skill but a testament to the reliability of the car. A trait that would give nightmares to their competitors.

2001 started how 2000 had ended. The first three rounds (including Sebring) saw a 100% record for Audi. They were not beaten. Not just for wins but for seconds, thirds and fourths. Things could not be getting any better.


Even Audi could not avoid tradegy. Michele Alboreto sadly lost his life in an Audi R8
Courtesy of Audi

But then tragedy struck. A blow so cruel that no one could have expected it.

While testing at the Lauitzring in Germany, Michele Alboreto had a tire blow-out, the car rolled and violently hit the barrier.

Alboreto died. Audi and the sportscar community were devastated. Everyone knows these things can happen but no one is ready.

But life goes on and life at Audi had to continue. Alboreto would have wanted the team to continue and win whatever came their way.

The team honoured Alboreto in the only way they knew how. By winning. The next race in Jarama saw another 1-2 for Audi with another Audi finishing fourth.

Then came Le Mans. They defended their title with the same dominance that they won it the year before. A 1-2 finish saw them claim yet another record.

They became the first ever manufacturer in Le Mans history that got all of their cars to the finish line twice. A feat never before achieved.

The rest of the season was run out in style. Eight races and five wins – a record to be proud of. The second last race in the season did prove to be one off for Audi. It was the only race that the R8 retired for mechanical reasons, every other race was a finish or an accident.

But a second ALMS championship and an ELMS (European Le Mans Series) championship was the reward for the season.

2002 read much like 2001, but without the tragedy. Sebring domination. Le Mans domination. Season long domination.

In fact out of the 11 races held, Audi won nine and came second in the other two.

The competitors must have been wondering when the Audi domination would end. And when they would have a chance.

But one must be careful what they wish for as the only car that could outpace the Audi was the Audi engineered Bentley.

This car could not beat the Audi at Sebring but it did succeed in beating the R8 at Le Mans. Audi made the best of it, however coming third and fourth.

Biela had an embarrassing race, after missing the pitlane (after it was blocked by a back marker) and running out of fuel the next lap. Not something that you would want to repeat.

Audi driver would see the top step of the podium for every race bar one for the remainder of the season. This gave Audi yet more titles.

The domination was not to stop there. Having seen off works completion from Cadillac, Panoz, BMW and Bentley; the Audi R8 was just getting into its stride.

2004 saw the most dominate season yet for Audi. Sebring and Monza saw a perfect score for the Audi R8. Two podium whitewashes from two races and Le Mans was the next race.

Without Bentley to distract the Audi’s, there was never going to be another winner. A 1-2-3-5 was the reward for another 24 hour classic.

If anyone thought Audi were sick of winning, they had something else coming. Their competition nightmare was to continue.

Audi was only off the winners spot once the whole year. The ALMS round in Mosport was the only race missing off their 2004 CV.

This saw them take another ALMS championship and the inaugural LMES title.

2005 saw a rule change that would see them lose competitiveness for the season. But such things could not stop Audi.

2005 would also be the last full year of competition for the Audi R8. It was to go out with a bang.

The Audi R8 would take its sixth and last Sebring 12 Hour with another convincing 1-2 result.

But Sebring was not the one they were worried about. Le Mans was going to be the tough one with the French Pescarolo Sport squad.

Pescarolo Sport would have the speed advantage with their car fully conforming to the new rules. To win, Audi would need all their guile and expertise.

And that is exactly what they used and captured their fifth Le Mans title. Their staggering reliability and race tactics saw the Audi R8 to its final taste of glory at Le Mans.

An Audi was to finish on the podium for every race of the season. In the ten races after Le Mans, Audi won six and finished second the remaining four times and the R8 took its sixth ALMS title.


The last photoshoot with the R8 was at Lime Rock - its last appearance
Courtesy of Audi

2006 was the Audi R8’s swansong. It was only to compete in three races but it won all three.

Technically it lost to the LMP2 Porsche at Mid Ohio but the Audi R8 won its class. This oddity blemishes the ease of the Audi’s stats but for a car this great, it can be forgiven.

So that is the rundown of the Audi R8’s results, a record that is virtually unequaled in any form of racing.

But as the Audi R8 passes, the Audi R10 has come into being to continue the nightmare for the competition.

Stay Tuned.

FeedMeSportscars will soon deliver part two of this Audi R8 story recalling the feelings and emotions behind the great car. This can now be found here

The Audi R8 roll of Honour:

Drivers:

Frank Biela
Emmanuele Pirro
JJ Lehto
Tom Kristensen
Allan McNish
Stephan Ortelli
Marco Werner
Frank Montagny
Jean Marc Gounon
Stephan Johansson
Michele Alboreto
Michael Krumm
Johnny Herbert
Phillip Peter
Seji Ara
Jamie Davis
Pierre Kaffer
Guy Smith
Christian Pescatori
Mika Salo
Jan Lammers
Andy Wallace
Yannick Dalmas
Dajari Katoh
Perry McCarthy
Christan Abt
Laurent Aiello
Dorsey Schroeder
Ralf Kellners
Patrick Lemarie

Team List

Joest
Champion
Audi Sport UK
Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx
Audi Sport NA
ORECA
Audi Team Goh
Johansson Racing

Titles

6 Sebring Titles
5 Le Mans Titles
6 American Le Mans Series Titles (driver and manufacturer)
1 European Le Mans Series Titles (driver and manufacturer)
1 Le Mans Endurance Title (driver and manufacturer)

Stats

2000-2006
80 Races
141 entries
64 wins
8 titles