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The Audi R8 is a sports-prototype race car introduced in 2000 for sports car racing as a redevelopment of their Audi R8R (open top LMP) and Audi R8C (closed top LMGTP) used in 1999. It is one of the most successful sports cars ever (alongside such greats as the Porsche 956/962) having won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mansmarker in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005 (five of the seven years it competed). A streak of six straight Le Mans victories was broken-up only by the Bentley Speed 8 (powered by the same V8 twin-turbo engine) in 2003, when the R8 finished 3rd.

The petrol-powered Audi R8 race car was replaced by the new Audi R10 TDI Diesel in 2006; however, the need to further develop the R10 meant that the R8 saw action in a few races leading up to Le Mansmarker.

History

1998: The challenge

In 1997, sports car racing and especially the Le Mans 24 Hoursmarker was popular among factories like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Toyota, Nissan Motors and others. At that time, Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ullrich started to evaluate the options of joining.

With the upcoming American Le Mans Series also providing a stage for the US-market, Audi announced plans in 1998 to compete in 1999, with the R8R and powered by a V8 turbo. As it was considered the better choice for a whole race due to less weight and wider tires, Audi ordered an open top roadster from Dallara, to be developed and run by Joest Racing.

Yet, during the fall of 1998, after the necessity of GT1 homologation was dropped in favour of LM-GTP prototypes, regarding the speed and success of these closed GT coupés like the Porsche 911 GT1, Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR, and the Toyota GT-One, Audi also ordered their newly acquired Norfolk based RTN (Racing Technology Norfolk, led by Tony Southgate) to build a closed-cockpit car using the same drivetrain.

The ACO rules for closed-top prototypes allowed cars to run with larger air restrictors, resulting in more power (about 600 hp), which resulted in a higher top speed in combination with the lower drag. To compensate this advantage over the duration of a race, the LMGTPs were limited to smaller tyres and smaller fuel tanks.

1999: The R8R and R8C

Following a period of testing, two R8Rs debut at the 1999 12 Hours of Sebring. The BMW V12 LMR won, which was a strong sign towards the race in France. The already tested open-top Audi R8R, entered by Joest Racing was not fast enough to challenge for a win, finishing 3rd.

After further tests and modifications, the Audis returned for Le Mans. The new debuting R8Cs lacked pace and unfortunately suffered mechanical gearbox woes. Lap times were 10 seconds down from the leading LMP and LMGTP competitors. Joest's R8Rs ran steady, yet still was too slow to run for pole position. After a race which saw the spectacular flights of the Mercedes-Benz CLR as well as leading cars of Toyota and BMW crashing out, the Audi R8R took 3rd and 4th behind the surviving #15 BMW V12 LMR and the Japanese-driven Toyota.

Based on the experiences, Audi decided to regroup for 2000, and built a new R8 spyder together with Joest and Dallara. The British-built R8C coupe was retired, but Audi-owned Bentley developed the concept of the R8C closed cockpit LMGTP and entered the Bentley EXP Speed 8 in 2001, winning the race with the Bentley Speed 8 in the 2003.

1999: Retiring competitors

After the 1999 Le Mans shame, Mercedes retired from GTs to focus on the return of the DTM touring cars in 2000, as well as on F1. Toyota and BMW also went to F1, with BMW at least continuing to race for two years in the ALMS, where the open roadster of Bill Auberlen also suffered a "back flip" during the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlantamarker in 2000, as the closed-cockpit Porsche of Yannick Dalmas had done in 1998. Despite the BMW V12 LMR not receiving further development, the German team Schnitzer Motorsport was almost as effective as Joest. Still the BMW V12 LMR could not match the Audi R8's might in the championship and lost almost every race against it. BMW returned to race the BMW M3 in the GT class since, dominating in the ALMS and in WTCC as well as at the 24 Hours Nürburgring.

This left only Porsche as a major possible challenger for 2000 — however the Porsche LMP project was scrapped before it had a chance to race. Rumours at that time said that Ferdinand Piech himself made them stay away, using his influence as a co-owner of Porsche as well as his management role at Volkswagen, which would develop the upcoming SUV VW Touareg in cooperation with the Porsche Cayenne . The Porsche V10 racer was turned into the Porsche Carrera GT instead.

2000: The R8

The Audi R8 is a sports-racing car prepared for the LMP900 class at Le Mans and in the American Le Mans Series. The car was developed by Audi Motorsport and Joest Racing and first debuted in 2000, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring.

The R8 won Le Mans five times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005) and the overall season championship in the American Le Mans Series six times in a row (from 2000 to 2005).

The Audi R8 was the only car until today to have beaten the 1999 Toyota GT-One's Le Mans record qualifying lap in 1999 (3:29:930) with a time of 3:29:905 in 2002. This proved the R8 to be the fastest LMP category car around the circuit.
Audi R8 2001


The R8 won a hat trick at Le Mans in 2000-2002, campaigned by Audi Sport Infineon Team Joest and driven by Tom Kristensen, Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela. First time out in 2000, the team won a 1-2-3 finish, which was just a small preview of what this all-new Audi was capable of. Since then, the Audi R8 has won numerous championships and races, including further wins for 'privateer' teams at Le Mans in 2004 and 2005.

The R8 is powered by a 3.6 L twin-turbocharged and intercooled Audi FSI V8. FSI stands for Fuel-Stratified Injection, which is a variation on the concept of gasoline direct injection developed by VW which maximizes both power and fuel economy at the same time. FSI technology can be found in products available to the normal public, across all brands in the Volkswagen Group.

The power supplied by the R8, officially listed at about in 2000, 2001 and 2002, in 2003 and 2004 and in 2005, is sent to the rear wheels via a Ricardo six-speed sequential transmission with an electro–pneumatic gear change. That means it has a computer-controlled clutch that allows the driver to make gear changes without touching the clutch pedal. These gear changes can be done by the computer far quicker than even the fastest human being with a conventional manual transmission.

Unofficially, the works-team Audi R8 for Le Mans (2000, 2001 and 2002) is said to have had around instead of the quoted . The numbers were quoted at speed, and were due to the car making 50 extra horsepower due to twin ram-air intakes at speeds over . Official torque numbers were quoted for this version of the engine at 516 ft·lbf@6500 rpm. The equation for horsepower (torque divided by 5250, multiplied by rpm) for these numbers produces a horsepower rating of at the same 6500 rpm (516/5250*6500=638). Peak rpm for horsepower was 7200, so it can be safely said that the engine made much more than in those years.

However, while the R8's speed was quite dominant during the races, speed is but a minor factor in winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The main key is reliability. The R8 was a reliable car, yes; but not far more so than its competitors. The real reason for the R8's dominance at La Sarthe was its ingenious design.

The Audi R8's structure was designed from the very beginning to expedite parts changes during the race. The car has a chassis that has been likened to a Lego model — anything on the car can be changed and changed quickly. During its campaign, the Joest pit crew was able to change the entire rear transaxle of a damaged R8 — a process which usually takes between one and three hours — in three and a half minutes, a feat that was unprecedented in its efficiency and speed. The reason for this was that the transmission, rear suspension and rear subframe were built as one unit. The car had numerous quick-connect hoses and easily removable bolts. The whole rear section of the car could be removed as a whole and a new back half installed with the help of a crane. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mansmarker and the American Le Mans Series acted quickly to void this advantage by mandating the gearbox casing be the same item through the duration of the race, with only the internals being allowed to be changed. However, the R8 still had quicker access to the gearbox internals than any other car due to its quick-change construction . This was critical as the gearbox was the weak link in the car.

The R8's structure and body are both composed of carbon fibre, a strong, lightweight polymer material that is both expensive and time-consuming to mold.

Performance - from top speed to acceleration - was, as in most race car cases, variable depending on the car's setup. The highest speed of the R8 at Le Mans was in the practice sessions of the 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours Race. A low downforce setup could generate about 350 km/h (217 mph).

Audi Sport's program saw tragedy in 2001 when on April 25, popular ex-F1 driver Michele Alboreto died in an accident after suffering a high-speed tyre failure during an R8 test session at the Lausitzringmarker in eastern Germany .

2003: Bentley breaks the streak

The Bentley Speed 8, which ran at Le Mans from 2001 to 2003, winning in 2003, utilised a heavily modified 4.0 L version of the turbocharged V8 engine from the Audi R8. The Bentley racing effort was campaigned by Team Bentley (Apex Motorsport) with assistance from longtime R8 competitor Joest Racing and Audi Sport UK.Tom Kristensen, who won the previous three 24 Hours of Le Mans races in an R8, was assigned to drive the Bentley Speed 8, and helped guide the team to victory. (Kristensen went on to win the 2004 and 2005 races in an Audi R8). There is some similarity between the Bentley Speed 8 and the Audi R8's successor, the R10 TDI. In some places the Bentley is referred to as being the R9.

2005: End of a legend

Very few racing cars have a racing pedigree comparable to the R8. However, as amazing as the R8 was, during the 2005 season, it was evident that its time at the front of the pack was drawing to a close. Audi had made the development of the Audi R10 TDI diesel public, and cars from other manufacturers and teams started to catch up in terms of on-the-track speed. The ACO still felt that the R8 needed to be kept in check, therefore they reduced the restrictor size on the R8's engine and stipulated the car shall carry ballast in an attempt to make the races more competitive. At the 2005 Le Mans, the Audis failed to qualify on pole position; the fastest R8 started the race in third position. However, as a hallmark to the R8's legendary reliability, the car was able to outlast all other competitors to take its fifth checkered flag at the venerable Circuit de la Sarthe and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This victory was also notable since it was Tom Kristensen's 6th straight 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, and a record 7th overall, beating legendary driver Jacky Ickx's previous record of 6 career 24 Hours of Le Mans victories.

Records

Throughout its six year history, the R8 has proven to be one of the most dominant cars in history. Indeed, of all the races it had entered over a seven year period, the R8 lost a mere sixteen races total. Here is a list of some of the achievements of the R8.

† - Season partially run by the Audi R10 as well.

Legacy

2006: The R10 TDI

In response to the new level of competition, development of the successor, known as the Audi R10 TDI, has been completed. The V12 engined turbodiesel won at its race debut at the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring with both cars starting on the front row. However, the pole sitting R10 had to start from the pit lane due to the need to rectify heat exchanger issues.

Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Marco Werner made history by becoming the first drivers to win the Le Mans 24-hour race in a diesel-powered car. The Audi R10 TDI completed a record 380 laps of the La Sarthe circuit, with Pirro at the wheel for the finish. French trio Sebastien Loeb, Eric Helary and Franck Montagny took second in the Pescarolo Judd No 17, four laps adrift. Scotsman Allan McNish was third in the other Audi, which came in 13 laps down after suffering mechanical problems.
Audi R8 road car at the 2006 Paris Motor Show
The venerable R8 continued to campaign the American Le Mans Series through the first half of the 2006 season, and made its final US appearance on July 1, 2006 at Lime Rock Parkmarker, Connecticutmarker, piloted by McNish and Capello. The R8 ended its career in style by winning the race, the 50th American Le Mans Series win for the Audi R8. The R10s participated in the rest of the ALMS season, beginning with the race at Miller Motorsports Parkmarker, Utahmarker.

2007: R8 road car

The name Audi R8 also is used by the production road sports car Audi R8 which is based on the 2003 Audi Le Mans quattro concept car, not the R8 race car. Production started in 2007.

Notes

  1. Mulsanne's Corner: 1999-2000 Porsche LMP1
  2. Alboreto Is Killed Testing Audi R8, New York Times, April 26, 2001, Page D7.


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