For now, the score of the match between Audi and Peugeot at Le Mans is 2-1 to the German manufacturer after the victories of 2008 and especially the magnificent triple in 2010. However, the Ingolstadt based manufacturer, whose racing department is headed by Dr Wolfgang Ullrich did not rest on its laurels during the off-season. Early 2011, in compliance with new regulations in LMP1, the R15 plus made its final appearance at the Sebring 12 hours, giving way to the R18.
"The R15 had the hardest life", confided Dr. Ullrich, "because it was an open car, and even when the car made its first appearance, it was already clear that the closed prototypes had the advantage. The car was never at its peak, yet it won Le Mans, " he added with a mischievous smile.
While the R15 was not the fastest car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2010, it still broke the distance record which dated from 1971. Like its predecessors, the R8 and R10 and its replacement the R18, it was designed around the compromise between speed and ease of operation. This last feature has often been admired, not only fans but also competitors. Remember that the complete change of gearbox had been reduced to 8 minutes on the Audi R8 before the amendment of the regulations, but also that victims in 2004 of an exit from the circuit in the same corner after a competitor has covered the track with oil. JJ Lehto and Allan McNish managed to bring their damaged cars to the pits before returning and finishing the race, with a podium finish for the Finn.
"In endurance, it is important to make a repair in one or two laps," said the Head of Audi Motorsport. "With the level of competition today, major interventions are impossible without significant loss of position. "
Finally, will the German carmaker follow the lead of French rivals with a hybrid prototype? The response of Dr. Ullrich was clear: "No, for me, the hybrid, it's just marketing! "
We should therefore see the great German diesel engine for a long while. The R18 has already set itself apart from its ancestors: it did not win at its first race, the 1000 km of Spa. Is that a good or a bad omen? We will know the answer on the 12th June at 3pm ...
Interview by Cécile Bonardel
Info:lemans.orgPhoto : Nicolas COUSSEAU - ACO/Nikon