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We know what you’re thinking. We were thinking it too. Rumors in the world of motorsport are lucky to have much basis in actual fact, so we’re always quick to take them with a grain of salt. Rumors that involve relayed quotes from senior Audi executives though… that’s different.
Rumor #1 – Daytona Prototypes
Audi Sport boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich has a long record for being notoriously unwilling to talk about future endeavors by Audi’s motorsport division but perhaps that’s changing just a bit. Our first rumor comes directly from Ullrich, via Racecar Engineering Magazine.
According to the report, Dr. Ullrich says Audi is considering the top Daytona Prototype class in the upcoming United Sportscar Racing series that will begin next season following the functional merger of GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series. There’s just one problem right now and that is having an engine that qualifies.
“The rules say the engine should be based on a production unit with a maximum of eight cylinders and a maximum capacity of five litres. This is a little bit of a problem we have a 5 litre V10 and a four litre V8. This is what we are discussing, trying to find a solution. We have to race in the USA. Running just with customers is not right, it is not pushing the brand of Audi to run some cars in the lowest category, this only works well if you have some activity in the top category and thats what we need to do.”
Our Take: Daytona Prototypes (a.k.a. DPs) are an interesting formula to consider. Audi hasn’t had a program that is affordable, even by official importer-backed teams like Audi Sport North America, since the days of the R10 TDI. Ever wonder why there are plenty of R8 LMP prototypes out there being run by rich guys in vintage classes and one of the few privately held R10 TDIs has a hard time selling at auction? The problem is price – not purchase price, but cost and complexity to field. To pretty much anyone outside of Audi Sport, this makes the modern diesel prototypes effectively very expensive paper weights.
While not particularly fast by Le Mans standards nor particularly pretty by anyone’s standards, DPs are affordable to run. DPs are certainly affordable enough for Audi of America and likely even for current GT-fielding teams like APR Motorsport – the only North American team thus far to actually buy and field an R8 GRAND-AM. Also, they’re the top class in the American series, meaning Audi could vie for overall superiority in this particular field of competition versus settling for a class win as they did this year at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
There’s another rumor pertinent to this subject that’s going around. It hints that the ACO may allow for a DP class at Le Mans. Such a move would allow tertiary markets or privateers to field cars in that fabled 24 hour race, something we haven’t seen in any number since the R8 LMP days when Audi of America stepped up via Champion Racing, Audi UK via Team Veloqx, Audi France via Team Oreca and Audi Japan via Team Goh. While we’d prefer to see a more affordable and presumably petrol-powered R18 ultra or the like running in P1 in that same vein, we’d settle for some Audi DPs.
Rumor #2 – IndyCar
When talk of Audi and IndyCar was reported over at SPEED, it wasn’t Dr. Ullrich doing the talking but Audi’s recently named board member in charge of development and Volkswagen Group motorsport boss Wolfgang Duerheimer. While on the ground for Audi’s victory at last week’s WEC round at Silverstone, Duerheimer spoke to some of the assembled motorsport press and emphasized Audi’s wish to raise its game in the North American market where a single WEC round at Circuit of the Americas and a small customer program in the GT class of GRAND-AM isn’t quite cutting the mustard.
“Another opportunity can be IndyCars, that I also think is still very popular.The Indy 500 is an outstanding race. That’s about all I can see right now.”
The SPEED story goes on rather thoroughly to quote brass from the IZOD-IndyCar series as well as competitors and then walks through interesting background involving previous statements and stances on various fields of motorsport while also mentioning Audi’s interest in 2008 when the IndyCar series got a reboot and the Delta Wing was famously considered then infamously rejected only to land on the grid of Le Mans and the ALMS series.
The story is worth a read for some great background.
Our Take: We may not make friends by saying this, but IndyCar is irrelevant. It is a spec chassis with a spec engine. The cars are ugly and the now re-unified series has never fully reestablished the aura it lost when it suffered the great split between CART and IndyCar. While followed by longtime IndyCar racing fans, it lacks the world class technology of the more closed spec F1 or the openness to revolutionary technology such as diesel, hybrids or the aforementioned Delta Wing. It’s hard to emphasize the premium nature of the brand or its penchant for engineering in a spec series where on track (if not off track) competitors like Chevrolet are complaining about costs being kept in check.
Mercedes-Benz had a grand experiment in IndyCar and we’re not sure that got them anything. Other than IndyCar fans, did anyone care that Mercedes-Benz was in IndyCar? The Indianapolis 500 was once a grand race that represented the forefront in technology and where the best racers from around the world came to compete. Arguably, Le Mans is that race today – a place where F1 and NASCAR drivers often admittedly retain on their career bucket lists.
Indy isn’t really that place anymore and the predominantly younger audience that would follow Audi in motorsport likely don’t look at it with the same rose colored glasses as those remaining IndyCar fans. All open wheel is not open wheel and while INDYCAR may have had a bit of an F1 aura about it back in the day, it no longer does.
The trick here for Audi is to hit the right mix. Yes, they want exposure, and nothing in the USA really has that exposure other than NASCAR. Indy may have that sort of following if you place it between you and the sun and squint, but in our opinion, even squinting into the sun, it still really doesn’t. Sportscar does have that aura in Le Mans and the ALMS once offered a good foundation for this, but the state-of-flux status of sportscar racing in America leaves that somewhat of an unknown.
Last, there’s the American DTM series that’ll launch in two years. We like the idea, but it is a startup to be clear. Mixed in a field of BMW, Mercedes and joined by Cadillac, Lexus or Infiniti, this might make for a cool series even if it is somewhat spec. From a marketing standpoint, Audi would then be amongst its peers and racing product that looks like their road cars even if the technology isn’t as open as past touring car series like 1990s era BTCC or STW. This US DTM series is also unproven, but there’d be no really large additional investment so long as it’s compatible with the German DTM program.
Beyond US DTM, we’d almost argue for further investment in top level of sportscar or in F1. These series match Audi’s premium stance and world class push for engineering. In a day when TV distribution is in place (NBC Sports in the case of F1) or internet streams are readily available (audi-liveracing.com to name our favorite of many), these somewhat remote races just got a whole lot more accessible to a tech savvy American fanbase. In such cases, pushing satellite or web fed viewing parties at dealerships might be a lemonade take on the bitter taste of races held in other countries or on other continents.
Lobbying for more races by the WEC or F1 that take place in America or developing a solid DP or P2 prototype program for independents and market importers like Audi of America to compete at the top class locally seems to be a better strategy. Even better, get the new US sportscar racing series to open up to P1 in some races like Sebring, Petit Le Mans, Indianapolis, Daytona or Watkins Glen.
In the end, most of the above is just our never-to-be-humble opinion. The real news here are the quotes from Ullrich and Duerheimer. Check out the full story on both via the links below.
Read more: Racecar Engineering on Daytona Prototypes, SPEED on IndyCar
Editor’s Note: The image used at the top of this story was one used from a story done back in the R10 era when a rumored closed-top LMP was imagined by the Segra Group. That car with its wide canopy looks a lot like a DP so we used it to help visualize this report. See more photos of that car via our photo gallery.