The love story between Audi and the 12 Hours of Sebring has lasted since 1999, with the German marque missing only one edition since that time. Ahead of another season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Audi Sport Team Joest returned to the American continent to break in a pair of R18 e-tron quattros, and to say goodbye to the American Le Mans Series.
At a certain time, a decision will have to be made.
With the launch of the new American championship for 2014, in addition to the team’s forthcoming campaign in the FIA WEC with two cars, there are lots of questions to ask Dr. Ullrich. The man who oversees all of the marque’s sporting activites will once again have a busy year between endurance and the DTM.
Will we see Audi back at Sebring in 2014 ? "If we come back, it won’t be with an LMP1, because of the new rules. It’s hard to know what the future holds but discussions are being held about the possibilities. We’ll see what happens but ‘never say never.’ Sebring has a lot of character and there are many Audi fans out there. It’s a race that is demanding on the equipment and people. The circuit is good for development work. All is open for the future. At a certain time, a decision will have to be made. Our existing product can no longer compete there."
It can be said that between Audi and Sebring, it’s quite a love story... "We came here for the first time in 1999 with the very first Audi LMP, the R8R. We left with a podium. The following year, we presented the R8 on South Beach in Miami and later unveiled the diesel R10 to the American public. There was also frustration at times, notably in 2008 when we were beaten by Porsche and their RS Spyder. Looking back on it all, it was good for the show and the racing. This year, we are debuting an R18 e-tron quattro with more power, a camera on the roof and revised aerodynamics. And we just gave our hybrid technology its first success in America. It’s another step for Audi.”
Did Audi’s presence change its image in the United States ? "You just have to look at the number of Audi fans present at the track. Audi’s USA activities are numerous and this market is important for the brand. Everyone knows that Audi doesn’t hesitate to put new technologies onto the racetrack that we see in road cars later down the line."
Nissan will be at Le Mans in 2014 as the 56th Garage entry with a “full” electric technology. Audi presented an A3 g-tron at the recent Geneva Auto Show, a natural gas car. Would it be possible to see Audi in 2015 as a 56th entry with a natural gas machine? “To be honest, I don’t think so. This would demand a lot of development and we are already busy for 2014. Everyone at Audi is working hard right now, and Porsche is doing the same."
So we will see Audi versus Porsche in 2014? “We wouldn’t start something to quit in the middle of it. There is a program for 2014 and 2015. It won’t be the first time that Audi does battle against Porsche."
Before that, you will have to fight against Toyota to keep your FIA WEC championship. Will this season be more complicated? "Toyota will be in its second year, and will have two cars competing, compared to the lone car from last year. We will be equally matched with two cars as well. Needless to say, this will change things. We will know more next month after the championship’s first race at Silverstone.”
Translation by Rainier Ehrhardt Source: Laurent Mercier / Endurance-Info.com