Mission Impassable

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Acute attention to detail is a vital weapon in Audi’s armoury… and its winning habit shows no sign of abating after more than a decade

The recent success of Audi Sport is based on some essential principles laid down by Dr Wolfgang Ullrich (below) and Joest team boss RalfAittner. Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen are perfectly placed to reveal some of the secrets behind the domination.

“It’s the people,” says McNish. “The technology is designed and implemented by people. Computers don’t invent things, people do. And we have all been together for a long time, which creates stability.”

“Yes, and they have definite goals,” chips in Kristensen. lot of it is down to Ullrich; his approach is calm, steady, and he commands a lot of respect. There are internal differences of course, but they are discussed, because there has to be compromise. If we all try to optimise our own ‘deal’ then you end up with what I’d call a Lego car — in other words it’s not a compromise but it’s fantastic to play with. So we work as a team, always. Some wear the white shirts, some wear overalls, but we all work together as one.”

McNish has another take on this.

“The calm, efficient approach is a Germanic thing, the Germanic mentality. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong you fix it. No arguments, you just fix it. There’s always a plan of action. When things go wrong, they don’t apply a sticking plaster, they solve it. Every eventuality is examined, however unlikely. We had some problems with the new car at Sebring in March, that’s to be expected, but every little possibility will be examined and solved before we go to Le Mans.”

They both agree that the influence of the Joest organisation can never be underestimated. The team brought a wealth of long-distance experience in the early days when Audi came to sports cars from touring cars.

“They don’t tickle with things, they focus always on detail,” says Tom. “Right from the start they came to Le Mans, learnt lessons from any failures, went away, fixed them and came back to win. The R8R in ’99 is a good example: Audi was third behind BMW and Toyota. There were issues to be addressed and over the winter they looked at every detail. The engineers would say the problems were fixed, but just in case something still failed they found a way to change the gearbox, the differential, everything behind the engine, in less than six minutes. And that’s what won Le Mans for me in 2000.

“It’s the same thing with pitstops: when we have a problem we don’t rush to the pits, we stay out while they decide exactly what to do, so when we stop they are immediately ready and prepared. You can lose time on track but when you are stopped you are losing so much more time. These disciplines are infused into the whole team.”

You can see all this in action once again at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 22/23.