The explosive success of the Audi “R8” and the cars that have bore the name can simply not be understated. Though this nomenclature was unknown outside of Ingolstadt prior to 1999, it is hard to imagine Audi without such a model. In many ways, the quick and dominant success of the R8 Le Mans prototypes, the R8 road car and the R8 LMS or GRAND-AM racers mirror the brand’s own rapid growth during the same period of time. Today, with freshened R8 road cars and a lightened R8 LMS ultra GT3 racer tearing up tracks, it seems an excellent time to reflect upon the history of the R8.
Looking back, it’s fair to say that the original Audi quattro was both blessing and curse for Audi. The blister-flared turbo coupe set the bar in the 1980s, dominating the roads, the rallying circuit, building a brand for the re-surging Audi marque and achieving legend status from the first time it layed rubber to tarmac. Anything Ingolstadt did from that point forward was measured against the “ur quattro” and nearly every product or racing campaign that followed fell short in raw appeal. At least, that was the case until the R8.
By the turn of the century Audi was pushing a new alphanumeric nomenclature and the iconic quattro was an antique… a much-loved antique, but an anchor to the past when what Audi really needed was signal of a bright future. Rallying no longer appealed to premium buyers or direct market competitors. The theme of quattro had progressed well beyond a singular model. It was indeed time to move on to the next stage. That change came in the many forms of the Audi R8.