Audi Sport Spa preview

Story Highlights

  • Le Mans “dress rehearsal” at the 1000-kilometer race at Spa (Belgium)
  • Record field comprising 60 sports prototypes and GT cars
  • Audi Sport Team Joest competes with three cars

First racing commitment of the Audi R18 TDI

We want to mainly use the race at Spa-Francorchamps again to prepare for Le Mans.

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich

Now the action will begin in earnest. After thousands of test kilometers including the recent test day at Le Mans, the new Audi R18 TDI is ready for its first race. At the 1000-kilometer race at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) on May 7, Audi Sport Team Joest will perform its "dress rehearsal" for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The racing debut of a new race car is always a very special event and Audi Sport has good experiences in this regard. Since 2000 every new sports prototype of the brand with the four rings has won its first race. In 2000, 2006 and 2009 Sebring in Florida (USA) was the venue of the respective debut victories of the R8, R10 TDI and R15 TDI models. The updated R15 TDI, internally designated as "R15 plus," won its maiden race as well, at Le Castellet (France).

Now Spa-Francorchamps is the track to see the debut of the latest LMP1 sports car made by Audi which turns the company’s ultra-lightweight technology into a visual experience and which is equipped with a new type of ultra-compact V6 TDI engine. The circuit in the Belgian Ardennes region is seen as particularly demanding and therefore well suited as the "dress rehearsal" for the season’s pinnacle at Le Mans on June 11/12. Audi Sport Team Joest learned a lot at Spa-Francorchamps last year as a month later, Audi celebrated a one-two-three result with the R15 TDI and broke the 39-year distance record.

The squad led by Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich would again like to decide the "dress rehearsal" in its favor, given that the 1000-kilometer race at Spa-Francorchamps is also the second round of the newly incepted Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC).

At Spa-Francorchamps speed and reliability will not be the only crucial factors as a massive 60-car entry comprising of sports prototypes and GT vehicles have entered the race. Consequently, the 7.004-kilometer track will be extremely packed.

Practice in the Ardennes will start as early as on Thursday. Qualifying is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The 1000-kilometer race will start at 14:05 on Saturday and last a maximum of six hours.

#3 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 TDI: Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello, Allan McNish
#3 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 TDI: Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello, Allan McNish

Photo by: Claude Parpex

Topics of the weekend

• Will the Audi R18 TDI be able to win right away on its debut?
• How will Audi fare in the first comparison with the competition?
• How fuel-efficient will the new V6 TDI engine of the Audi R18 TDI be?
• Will Audi manage the first victory in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup?
• What role will the often changeable weather in the Ardennes play?
• How many spectators will turn out for the Audi R18 TDI’s race debut?

Quotes by the officials

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): "We want to mainly use the race at Spa-Francorchamps again to prepare for Le Mans. It’s important for the teams to develop a feeling of working together in a racing situation before going to Le Mans. We’ve already started to work on this at our 30-hour endurance run at Le Castellet and the test day at Le Mans. But Spa also gives us a first assessment of where we stand compared with the competition. For us the 1000-kilometer race is a very important preparatory race for the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours."

Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): "The 1000-kilometer race at Spa is an ILMC round, which makes it very significant for us since we’re contesting the whole ILMC season. Spa is the second round after Sebring. We’re running behind in the championship and want to score as many points as possible. Our aim, very clearly, is to try and equalize Peugeot’s advantage or to take the lead ourselves. Naturally, for us Spa is also a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the Le Mans 24 Hours, so it serves a dual purpose."

Facts and quotes by the Audi drivers

Timo Bernhard (30/D), Audi R18 TDI #1 (Audi Sport Team Joest)
• Clinched position two on the grid in last year’s qualifying at Spa

"I’m looking forward to the first race with the new Audi R18 TDI. I’ve got particularly fond memories of Spa from last year. We had good qualifying there in 2010 because I put the car on the front row of the grid. Although in the end we only finished fifth, the race helped us a lot to prepare for Le Mans. Achieving a great result this year would be a nice motivation for the whole team. In the end this race is intended to be our ‘dress rehearsal’ for Le Mans."

Romain Dumas (33/F), Audi R18 TDI #1
• Won at Le Mans in 2010 together with Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller

"It’ll be an important race for us for two reasons. We’ve got a lot of learning to do again. It’s important to be ready for Spa because obviously we want to win. But the race is also a major practice for Le Mans. Last year we learned a lot. Together with Timo (Bernhard) and Mike (Rockenfeller) I gained a great deal of self-confidence. We did a good job of working together and preparing at Spa - with respect to quick driver changes, for example. I’m hoping that we’ll have the same situation again this year."

Mike Rockenfeller (27/D), Audi R18 TDI #1
• Will race at the DTM season opener at Hockenheim one week before Spa
• Finished Spa in 2008 as the runner-up in the Audi R10 TDI

"I’m really looking forward to driving the Audi R18 TDI for the first time in racing conditions. We’re all very excited to see where we stand. We put a lot of work into the car during the winter. It’s great to see it on the track for the first time now. I’m happy that after Sebring, where we ran with the R15 TDI, we can now race the new car."

We’ll be represented there with all three race teams. That adds further spice to this race.

Allan McNish

Marcel Fässler (34/CH), Audi R18 TDI #2
• Was the 2006 runner-up at Spa in a Courage
• Also knows the track from numerous runs in 24-hour races

"I’m looking forward to this first race in the Audi R18 TDI at Spa with eager anticipation. This track is a challenge, it’s like it was built for sports cars. It has really great sections with very fast turns such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. Generally speaking, Spa suits me very well. I’ve frequently won there and am always happy when I get the chance to drive there again."

André Lotterer (30/D), Audi R18 TDI #2
• Had an accident on the formation lap last year at Spa

"After so many tests and preparations with the new car you’re particularly eager to drive it at the first race. Spa’s a great track and not far from the place where I grew up. Last year I spun on the formation lap in difficult conditions. Unfortunately, the wall there was very close and that meant I destroyed our race. I’ve learned a lesson from that incident and am sure something like that won’t happen to me again. But we still managed to prepare well for Le Mans. A good preparation for Le Mans is again our goal this year."

Benoît Tréluyer (34/F), Audi R18 TDI #2
• Contested a race in Japan between the test day at Le Mans and the round at Spa

"For the first time we will drive a closed car in a race. That’s a very special thing. It’s always fun to begin the season with a new car. That’s why we’re just dying for the first race. New regulations have come into effect. We’re eager to see the performance of the vehicle compared with the competition. Naturally, nobody will have finished their preparations 100 percent, but Spa gives us a small but vital pre-taste of Le Mans."

Dindo Capello (46/I), Audi R15 TDI #3
• Clinched second place at Spa in 2004 together with Seiji Ara
• Contests the Italian GT Championship this year as well

"On any debut of a brand new car like the Audi R18 TDI it’s difficult to make a prediction. We’ve been working hard on making this car fast and reliable. Everyone is optimistic about managing a good result right in the first race. The whole team knows that Spa is a very beautiful as well as a difficult and demanding track. What’s more, there will be about 60 cars in the field, which makes the race even more demanding. For Spa you need a combination of performance and agility. We’re there to win but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that our main job is to improve the car for Le Mans and to prepare for the 24-hour race. Spa’s our only chance to drive the R18 TDI at a race before the big run in June."

Tom Kristensen (43/DK), Audi R18 TDI #3
• Won the 1000-kilometer race at Spa in 2003 in the Audi R8

"We’re all looking forward to the ILMC race at Spa. It’s the debut of our Audi R18 TDI, our new baby, on a fantastic race track. Personally, Spa is my favorite track, but I think all drivers like it. This year there will be 60 cars in the field, so there will be a lot of traffic on the track. That means You’ve got a car about every 100 meters. It’ll be a very demanding situation for all the drivers. But we’re looking forward to what will hopefully be a good ‘dress rehearsal’ for our run at the Le Mans 24 Hours a month later."

#2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 TDI: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer
#2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 TDI: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer

Photo by: Philippe Hubert

Allan McNish (41/GB), Audi R18 TDI #3
• Clinched Audi’s only ILMC pole position to date at Silverstone in 2010

"I’m always particularly keen on going to Spa. With a new car like the R18 TDI the race will be very interesting for us and the fans. It marks the first occasion that all our main rivals will be on track at the same time, so everyone looks forward to qualifying with particularly eager anticipation - at least I do. The track is arguably one of the top three for any driver. The weather at Spa though is usually unpredictable. Last year it was raining on the grid while the track was bone dry on the other side. We’ve tested the Audi R18 TDI a lot this year. We understand the potential of the new car and know that we’ve got to get into a racing situation now to see how the car performs in different conditions. Tom (Kristensen), Dindo (Capello) and I are looking forward to being part of the whole action again. We know from last year that Spa is a replica of Le Mans. We’ll be represented there with all three race teams. That adds further spice to this race."

-source: audi