Le Mans

Models Racing Special
Rallye Pikes Peak TransAm IMSA Talladega DTM STW DTM2000 LeMans Others

There are some races that simply are special: The 500Miles from Indianapolis, the Rallye Monte Carlo, the Grand Prix of Monaco _and_ the 24hours of LeMans.

LeMans 1999
As Audi announced in 99 that they wanted to participate in this legendary race, Audi fans were anticipating the race, especially as Audi wanted to race for the win, as they told. That, however, was a heroic goal, considering the short preparation time.
Mercedes already had a well working car, BMW's 12-cylinder went like crazy and Toyota had an excellent car up and runnung already, too. Even exotic cars like the Panoz or Mazda had a time advantage over Audi.

The presented concept car looks clumsy in my eyes. Die Studie

During development, the original design was completely changed, so that a very harmonic car resulted. To have diffrent options during the race, Audi constructed the planned R8R (Roadster) and the R8C (Coupe). Both cars looked good but had one disadvantage: They were too slow, pretty much. The engineers had to make them faster, as reliability was not much of a problem.

R8 Coupe R8 Roadster(1)

Their hard fight for a few seconds was rewarded not too much. In the final training session Audi had not much to be happy about: The R8Rs started from lines 6 and 7, the Coupes were even farer behind with row 10 and 12. But the race lasts 24 hours, and in that time, much can happen!
And it did. While 98 was a really bad year for the Porsches, now Mercedes was due. Small problems were normal, but a Mercedes getting air under the car and becoming airborne was too much. The drivers had reported problems to the box. The car was to "light" on the front axle. However, Mercedes had tried to improve things with additional wings, but that did not help enough. So Mercedes got quite a different kind of publicity than expected. In the training session on Thursday a Mercedes left the track already. When that happened again during the race, the logical consequence of Mercedes was the withdrawal from LeMans, at least for 99.
How could this happen? Apparently, Mercedes had too little downforce on the frontaxle. Little downforce makes you fast on the straightaways but is critical in curves. Should be, as the accident happened on a fast straight. The CLK drove close behind a Toyota over a top. Now, behind every car there is an area of air in turbulence. This destroys the perfect air flow on the spoilers of the car behind. Together with that top on the track that somewhat lifts the car in front, much air can come beneath the car, further lifting the car and even more air comes under the car. A dangerous lift-off is now impossible to prevent. Even if it sounds as if this is a Mercedes problem: It is not, even fast race boats have to cope with this effect.
Not touched too much by these problems, the Audi Roadsters drove around the track and got in front by accidents, problems and mistakes of the others. In the end, Audi was behind the superior BMW (365 laps) and Toyota (364 laps) in places 3 (360) and 4 (346). The Coupes dropped out after 55 respectively 198 laps with gear box problems. All in all, this was a result almost noone would have expected after the test and training laps


LeMans 2000

Before the race:
For 2000 much will happen. DaimlerChrysler will be represented by Chrysler, Cadillac will see its return since some decades ago, BMW will not participate with an official team (As they are into Formula One now), Toyota has given up after two years nearly winning, Panoz will try again to win and Audi will use three Roadsters. These Roadsters, now called R8, already won the first race of the American LeMans Series. Now, the old R8R is still raced in the Amercian LeMans Series. However, I think under the body shell many parts of the R8 are tested. The new cars have placed first, second and third in the qualifying for LeMans.

The roadster for 2000
This is it, the new car for the American LeMans Series and the 24h of LeMans

The results:
From the beginning on, the three Audis were almost always in front. Even when Number 7 had a pit stop to have its rear axle and gearbox replaced, the lead of the Panoz was of only short duration. The logical consequence of the flawless drive were places 1 (368 laps), 2 (1 lap behind), 3 (3 laps behind). Place 4 is surprisingly held by the Pescarolo Courage Peugeot with 24 laps distance. These are 21 laps to the slowest Audi or more than one hour! Place 6 goes to the first works Panoz, followed by a private Panoz'. Then follows the first GTS car: The Dodge Viper with Wendlinger, Beretta and Dupuy.
Audi will be told by many people that they had nearly no competetition. Well, even if that is true -Cadillac (places 20/22/23) and the Mopar prototypes (place 21) had problems as had the Panoz', it is not Audi's fault. If other manufacturers try their fortune in Formula 1, they can't expect to win in LeMans. For the developers of the 1999 newly introduced BMW V12 LM, the decision of thei company was surely hard. But if you consider how the Audis won against the BMW in Sebring and also how flawless their demonstration in LeMans was, with three cars in 3 laps after 24 hours, I would say that it would have been very, bery hard to beat Audi this year.
So: Congratulations!


[The three before the start](2)
This is before the race. From left to right:
car number: 7 8 9
drivers: M. Alboreto / I
C. Abt / D
R. Capello / I
F. Biela / D
T. Kristensen / DK
E. Pirro / I
L. Aiello / F
A. McNish / GB
S. Ortelli / F
final place: 3 1 2

Season 2001

While the first races in the American-LeMans-Series turned out to be successful as expected, Audi suffered a tragic loss when on Wednesday, 25th of April 2001, Michele Alboreto died in his Audi R8 while testing it on the new Lausitz Ring. The Lausitz Ring is the newest German circuit and is regarded as one of the safest in the world. The 44 year old Alboreto who had F1 experience, lost control over his R8 when doing over 300km/h (186mph), the car flipped over many times during the crash.
The examinations showed that a rear tire picked up a sharp small thing that was lying on the track. The tire lost air slowly, got hot and exploded. The car left the track, lost the last bit of grip, air got under the car and the disaster was unstoppable.
Nevertheless, Audi will start with three factory cars and one private car of last year at the 2001 24 hours of LeMans.


LeMans 2001

Rain, rain, rain, that was LeMans 2001. So much rain that at some times cars spun again and again and the Safety Car had to get out. Some teams obviously had problems with that much water: Their electronic control units (ECUs) resigned their duty. The private Audi #4 of the team Johansson Motorsport (Johansson, Coronel, Lemarie) had to quit relatively early. The works R8 with the Number 3 (Champion Racing with Herbert, Kelleners, Theys) stopped pretty early (Sauturday evening), too. But the two Audis with the #1 (Audi Sport Team Joest with Biela, Kristensen, Pirro) and #2 (Audi Sport Team North America with Aiello -who sacrificed a start in the DTM for that, which cost him quite some points-, Capello, Pescatori) once again did a demonstration of flawlessness. Without major problems they did their turns. At the end, it was 321 laps for #1 and 320 for #2. Only one lap difference after 24 hours! The fewer laps in comparison to the last years are caused by the terrible weather. Third place went to the surprisingly strong Bentley: Bentley did a return to LeMans after ages and the car was temporarily frighteningly fast. You'll have to watch out for Bentley next year! Things were not so well for Chrysler: The Viper dethroned, the prototype not bullet proof, but after all a fourth place. It is a pitty that the Panoz' really got beaten badly: Misluck, problems, mistakes, it was not the year of the Americans. Except for the Corvettes, which dominated their class.


Season 2002

In 2002, too, Audi races with usual success in the ALMS, after they won the championship once again in 2001. One piece in the puzzle of dominance is the FSI gasoline direct injection V8 Bi-Turbo with its low fuel consumption, first introduced in 2001.


LeMans 2002

Even more important is the low fuel consumption for the 24 hours race. Audi managed the feat to win in the order 1-2-3! The winning car of Biela, Kristensen, Pirro reached 375 laps, after 2000 and 2001 they are now the first driver team ever to win LeMans three times. Audi is the first brand making a hattrick (three wins in three years) in the last nearly twenty years. Only lap behind the winners the #2 Audi with Capello, Herbert, Pescatori and with threee laps lag the team of Krumm, Peter, Werner. 2002 was a year of many punctures (so, everything was normal ;), the #3 Audi was struck right in the warm-up lap! After only two hours, the lag was egalized! Rank four of the overall classification went to the Bentley which also belongs to the VW brand and could take home the consolation prize for the fastest car with a roof. Positions five and six were taken by the two Orecas (Chrysler) with 16 laps lag and rank seven with 17 laps lag was secured by a last year's R8 prepared by Audi Sport Japan! The first three Audis are prepared by Team Joest.

Cars, drivers, Team Joest      (2)

More to LeMans here: Official site of the 24 hours of LeMans

Models Racing Special
Rallye Pikes Peak TransAm IMSA Talladega DTM STW DTM2000 LeMans Others

Origin of the pics:
(1) Motor Sport Visions
(2) AutoBild issue 24, June 16th, 2000; scanned by me
(3) Official site of the 24 hours of LeMans
all other pics are to my knowledge official Audi photos
Copyright 2000 Jens
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