This year, Audi will not face Peugeot, but it doesn’t mean the German constructor is guaranteed an 11th victory in La Sarthe. Of course, Audi is the favorite but so many things can happen in such a complicated race that nothing is ever certain until 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. During the team’s scrutineering in downtown Le Mans last Sunday, a relaxed Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Sport, welcomed us for a quick discussion looking ahead to the race and also the future possibility of an R8 LMS GTE.
“Every year it’s such a joy to come to Le Mans and it’s been going on for more than a decade now,” he started. “The 24 Hours of Le Mans has always represented such a special race for Audi and you can never know what will happen. Little by little, the adrenaline starts to pump as you could feel the other day during the scrutineering. The public come and get close to the cars and drivers. This year we discovered a new location with the Place de la République, and everything went well. That’s also the charm of endurance racing. But the battle will begin on Wednesday and we will quickly be in the race. The hours will go by quickly.”
The Test Day showed the potential of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro and the R18 ultra, as the team finished on top of the timesheet. “We wanted to complete our testing program and it was conclusive. We were able to do what we wanted to do. It was “only” one day of testing. It’s positive going into the rest of the event, but I have to repeat, nothing is ever certain at Le Mans.”
With Peugeot’s absence, Audi will be fighting against Toyota this year with their new TS030 HYBRID.
“We saw that the Toyotas are close and that they showed well last week. It’s true that I didn’t expect any less from them. Toyota Racing has enough experience to be at the right level. Their competitiveness is not a surprise to me. They know what they are doing. The addition of a team like ORECA is of course a plus for them to be so quickly running at the front. In addition, they have very good driver lineups. All these things added up means we have to take them seriously. The only comparison we have right now is from the Test Day.
“Here, each Audi will have its own program to complete. As for the e-tron quattro, we are confident after the good showing at the 6 Hours of Spa. At Le Mans, we’ll be able to use the hybrid system in seven places on the track. This comes after discussions with the ACO and FIA. The difference to the ‘non-hybrids’ must not be too great.”
After these 24 Hours, Dr. Ullrich will not be done with all-nighters. He plans on being at the 24 Hours of Spa, where he has every intention of making Audi shine again. And as the Audi R8 LMS ultra is shining in competition through the customer race program, the question remains if the company plans on developing an R8 LMS GTE?
“For the moment, it’s not planned to have such a car. Audi is only implicated through its customer racing program. We developed a Grand Am version of the R8 LMS only for that market. All of the teams running the R8 are part of the customer program and we don’t plan on building an R8 LMS GTE in the short term. We provide factory support to the teams during the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and Spa. However, I can tell you that the driving squads for Spa will be quite impressive…”
When asked if a certain eight-time Le Mans champion would be present, Dr. Ullrich answered with a smile: “You’ll know more in a little bit…”