Following Audi's win in Sunday's 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the German automaker is still basking in the international media spotlight. Drivers Allan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen claimed the historic victory for the diesel-powered R10 TDI, in front of a record crowd of over 258,000 packed around the legendary Circuit de La Sarthe.
"It was an emotional one because it's not only been a very good race, but a very special race and really, extremely strong competition," Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport said while addressing the media after the race. "It has also been the second time Audi has managed three consecutive wins, so that will mean the trophy will remain with us again."
Few constructors are lucky enough to take home the trophy with three consecutive class wins, yet alone have two in the same decade. Audi's latest trifecta was the first since Corvette Racing 's LM GT1 three-peat from 2004-2006. Ingolstadt's first came in 2000-2002 with the all-mighty Audi R8. Team Oreca also earned the trophy with the Dodge Viper GTS-R from 1998-2000.
"I would say it was a historical day for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ACO, and the competitors that have been here in showing up with such a good race," Ullrich said. "And all of them - for sure the top was Peugeot and Audi, but all the others have done quite a lot to make this race as good as it's been. I think we can all be proud of what we've done, because it was motorsport on its highest level."
Heading into this year's twice-around-the-clock marathon, Audi had one of its toughest challenges ever as it was up against sophomore sensations Team Peugeot Total. The French 908 HDi-FAPs defeated the Audis hands down in the opening three Le Mans Series races and took that momentum into race week. Stephane Sarrazin claimed a convincing pole position and the No. 7 car of Nicolas Minassian, Marc Gene and Jacques Villenueve as well as the No. 9 entry of Franck Montagny, Christian Klien and Ricardo Zonta were seen out front frequently in the first half of the race.
However, it all changed when the rain came in the early morning hours of the race - conditions better suited to Audi - when the event was turned in the favor of the silver and red machines. Audi had set up its cars to perform well in dry and wet conditions, something Peugeot may have overlooked. The French Lions have vowed to return to Le Mans next year with a more reliable and versatile package.
"It was an exceptional fight and an absolutely thrilling race," said Team Peugeot technical director Bruno Famin. "Nothing can ever replace actual competition, especially at Le Mans. We lack experience and we also hit on two problems we had never previously encountered with the 908: a faulty battery and a problem with a gear selection component. We'll be back in 2008 and we have already profited from the weekend to start work on the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours."
With Audi's eighth win a Le Mans in the books, there has been much speculation regarding the future of the German diesels. Talk has been rapid regarding a second-generation diesel prototype surfacing next year - or a completely new project built for a LM GT class. While Ullrich was tight-lipped about the manufacturer's future, he did confirm that Audi will likely remain in ACO racing for years to come.
"I can tell you that there is a big chance that we'll be here, because we already announced in the middle of last year that we have a five-year motorsport program," Ullrich said. "Prototype racing following the ACO rulebook is a part of it. But for sure, as we did it in all the years, it is all around budget, people and all you need to go racing. We will have to file a decision for of the final program of the [this] season as usual in the last third of the year. In general, we have this as a program for the next five years."