For Audi enthusiasts

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18 August 2006

There’s a bit of a tradition at Audi Sport, begun in the ‘80s with the advent of quattro all-wheel drive and its considerable impact on rally racing as the world then knew it. Audi has shown a clear pattern of choosing a racing series very carefully, considering the rules and regulations, developing a unique approach, and then completely dominating to the point where competitors cry foul.

In the ‘80s it happened in rallying with the UrQuattro. In the ‘90s it happened in the height of the Touring Car years with the A4 quattro. And now, this decade, it returned with the R8, though in force with the new diesel-powered R10.

As of this writing, the R10 has led a record of dominance that is somewhat precedent setting in the world of motorsport. Not only did the car win its first race at the 12 Hours of Sebring last March, it has won every other race in which it has been entered since then, at Le Mans, Salt Lake City and Portland.

In reaction to this all-out show of dominance, the American Le Mans Series has levied some new restrictions on the car for its next race this weekend at Road America. Beginning this weekend, the R10’s chief competition in the P1 class, the Dyson Lolas, will race with 65kg less weight, and then even get a five-liter larger fuel tank for the following race at Mosport.

In the wake of these rule changes, Audi Sport is reconsidering its continuation in the American Le Mans series and its boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich fired off some choice words in a press release filed this week from the company.

“To us, the recent regulation changes made by IMSA appear to have been made at random and are unjustified. A year ago hardly anybody could believe that it would be possible to win a race with a diesel powered sportscar. We demonstrated that it is feasible, and thanks to ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ we produced the world’s most state-of-the-art LM P1. We can not accept that our life will now be made artificially difficult. Audi, the manufacturer, which has supported and promoted the ALMS for years and helped to make it what it is today, will only continue its American Le Mans Series programme if there are again stable and consistent rules, like at Le Mans, which also contribute towards justifying manufacturer’s involvement and expenditure.”

In response to Audi’s stance, Chris Dyson of Dyson Racing fired off a press release of his own.

“We were perplexed by Audi Sport’s reaction to the well-intentioned measures the ALMS is taking to improve the quality of racing. We normally wouldn’t respond to such remarks, but since we have been directly addressed by a competitor, we feel it is appropriate to respond.

We understand the ACO’s need to grant latitude in the rules to encourage an unproven technology, and Audi’s diesel R10 is a technological wonder. There is no question that Audi have produced an amazing machine under the current regulations.

But when it is proven on the track on multiple occasions that this new technology provides an insurmountable and crushing advantage, then it is no longer racing but rather a demonstration run. “

Dyson went further to say…

“We applaud the American Le Mans Series’ understanding of the spirit of sports car racing and we hope that their collaborative efforts with the ACO will continue to make the ALMS and Le Mans a place for fair competition. We trust that our competitors will understand the need to work together to foster the growth of our racing series.”

We’ve been following the story as it develops through the publishing of these press releases on the website, and then today I found an interesting post in our Audi Sport discussion forum. A user “S4Aero” writes…

“What a load of crap!

I’ve got an idea. Let’s change the rules in any sport that has a dominating champion. Not only that, let’s do it in the middle of the season. Imagine basketball – we’ll just outlaw the dunk for the Miami Heat. That’ll even things up a bit! While we’re at it, we’ll outlaw the blitz for the Steelers. That’ll help all those teams that haven’t figured out how to protect their quarterback. As long as I’m on a roll, let’s force Tiger Woods to putt with his wedge.

I have always believed that rules are created (and agreed to) before the game starts. Anything else is a fix and frankly, cheapens the competiton.”

S4Aero makes a great point. Rule-changing is really basically handicapping, though it’s usually argued on the positive end by folks pushing for better, more close racing or perhaps an effort to cap costs. While I can usually understand that argument, I believe it to be short sighted in this particular case.

In this instance, the TDI-powered Audi R10 is more than just an overly strong competitor. Sure, Audi spent plenty, is exerting complete dominance in a brand new car by posting a thus-far perfect win record, etc. etc. HOWEVER, they’re also raising the bar on alternative fuels at a particularly poignant time in world history. They’re putting a spotlight on the importance of fuel economy and raising the bar on noise pollution or lack thereof. Sure, Audi may have made the car’s clear lack of smoke and ultra-quiet running because they’re trying to rewrite diesel’s image, but those are also very important qualities that the R10’s non-diesel competitors should also aspire to attain. In this case, it’s not just about the money or the close racing.

Some at the ALMS and Dyson say the R10’s dominance is bad for the series. I disagree. They ought to levy weight penalties for things like bad fuel economy and decibel level of exhaust. It’s these very reasons, specifically noise, that keep the ALMS out of street circuit venue races like the once-and-done National Grand Prix of Washington, D.C. Concern over noise pollution is even encroaching on the ALMS’ own ability to race at Lime Rock. The general, non-racefanatic public won’t put up with it.

Unfortunately for the ALMS, this lessens their ability to even hold races in the valuable metropolitan areas like Boston, New York, D.C. and Miami that are some of the strongest marketplaces for companies like Audi, Aston Martin and BMW, and where you’d expect them to have their biggest draws.

Related Links:

Audi Road America Pre-Release
Dyson Racing Road America Pre-Release
Fourtitude Audi Sport Discussion Forum

For more discussion on this story, click on the link to our discussion forums to the left.
For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.

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