Whatever you do, don’t call it “The Great Experiment.” Audi is at Le Mans with its new diesel-powered R10 TDI to win the 24 Hours, not merely to try.
The hundreds of hours of testing and preparation are nearly complete as the most famous motorsports race in the world approaches. With an impressive five overall wins at Le Mans since 2000, No. 6 for Audi would be the most meaningful to everyone associated with the R10 TDI project.
Never before has a diesel-powered car contended at Le Mans, and Audi is the first manufacturer to put so many resources toward the goal of winning outright. Already the car has won at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which leaves one more page of history to write in the record books.
“We all feel we are part of a great and new project,” said Sebring winner Dindo Capello, who will reunite with Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish at Le Mans. “If it is successful, we can write many history pages in motorsport. We really are making a difference.”
Since the Sebring win, McNish and Capello have been competing in the American Le Mans Series with the Audi R8. Meanwhile, Marco Werner, Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela – Audi’s other trio of Le Mans drivers – have been aiding in the testing and further development of the R10 TDI in Europe.
“Audi has already written history at Le Mans with the R8,” said Pirro, who won three straight years at Le Mans from 2000-02 with the Audi R8. “The Audi name is written with very strong letters in the history book of Le Mans. But there is still one void page, which hopefully will be filled with the diesel engine. It would be a dream to put my name on the history book next to the R10 TDI logo.”
The early prospects look as good as ever. The two Audi prototypes were second- and fourth-fastest in the Le Mans Test Day eight days ago. But those who follow Audi’s endurance racing program know that outright speed isn’t the main objective. Rather, it is reliability and flawless performance that has made Audi the most successful marque at Le Mans in the past 10 years.
The united front at Audi is readily apparent. The teams and drivers aren’t overly concerned with which car has the best chance of winning, as long as one of the R10 TDIs gets the checkered flag first.
“Sebring is really hard, especially for a new car. But it’s difficult to replace the 20 seconds of full throttle on the Mulsanne Straight,” McNish said. “It doesn’t factor in the Le Mans circuit. All three of us (McNish, Capello and Kristensen) are good together when it comes to racing. There are no egos, and that was proven at Sebring.”
“We all three have been Le Mans winners before,” Werner said of himself and his teammates. “Frank and Emanuele even have won Le Mans three times. I did it last year for the first time. Everybody has a lot of experience. What we need now is a little bit of luck.”