Audi’s Assault

October 2, 2010

Audi’s Assault

October 2, 2010

Rinaldo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen anchor the lead No. 7 Audi. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

The last American Le Mans Series round of 2010 marks a first for Audi – their first ALMS start of the season. An abnormal year for the German manufacturer saw them only compete in Europe, but with a twist – a completely updated version of their R15 prototype. The new R15 Plus TDI didn’t have the outright pace of the Peugeots at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it did have the reliability needed to win, and a 1-2-3 finish was the end result.

Audi has two cars with a shot to win at Petit Le Mans, and they couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

In the No. 7 are the Audi strongholds, the veterans, and the fan favorites. Allan McNish, Rinaldo “Dindo” Capello and Tom Kristensen are among some of the best sports car drivers worldwide, Kristensen of course earning his star as the only eight-time winner at Le Mans.

Yet “TK,” the dynamic Danish driver, is making his first start at Petit Le Mans since 2002.

“I love racing in the States,” he said. “Having more than 100 thousand spectators is crazy. To win takes pushing and staying aggressive without touching other cars – easier said than done.”

Regardless of his absence, Kristensen in an Audi is akin to hopping back on a bicycle. He is one of the tutors of the three pupils that make up the team’s second car.

Audi's young guns make up the No. 9 R15 Plus TDI. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Audi’s “young gun” lineup is the trio of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer in the No. 9 R15 Plus TDI. While Fassler has a handful of ALMS starts, this is the first ever for Lotterer and Treluyer. That said, the two have a lot of experience racing together in Japan and Europe, and come to the team as great friends.

Treluyer is an interesting case. The Frenchman is the only one of the 12 combined drivers of Audi and Peugeot who has raced both cars. He made a start in a customer Peugeot 908 HDi FAP for Henri Pescarolo at the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans and became remembered for all the wrong reasons. He suffered a savage accident nearing 4 a.m., completely writing off the car.

“The Peugeot, I didn’t know that car so much, but knowing that I could prepare better here with Audi,” he said.

Uninjured and undeterred by the incident, Treluyer is just happy to have this new opportunity, and seems poised to grasp it with open arms.

“It’s racing… of course you are thinking you could be close to death. But it’s my job. I really love it. You just have to forget it happened.”

Lotterer, for his part, improved his stock in the sports car racing world at that same 24 Hours in 2009. The German was called into the customer Audi team – Kolles – and raced Audi’s previous generation R10 TDI on less than a week’s notice before the green flag. When one of his co-drivers injured himself before the race started, Lotterer and Charles Zwolsman had to run the entire event themselves, but finished in the top 10 overall.

“Once I got there, now I have to learn the track, take it slow and steady and of course there is some rain,” he said. “It’s a lot at once. It was tiring but flat out the whole race. But the perfect chance to learn a lot, and to help promote myself into the big team.”

Promote himself he has, and combined with his friend and other young gun, the No. 9 Audi is the sleeper of the four major contenders for victory.

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