Great racing cars: 2006-08 Audi R10 TDI30th November 2015
A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Cars, which is available to buy here
From the editor Damien Smith
How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.
But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.
Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.
As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.
Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.
Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.
2006-08 Audi R10 TDI
This is my favourite, the one that makes me smile. It was a pioneering car in 2006, with its new diesel technology, and it had a heck of a lot of power, a massive amount of torque. We got everything we could out of that car over the years, it couldn’t have gone any faster.
It was a beast, but a beast you could throw around – and you really had to throw the R10 around. If you drove it gently, then you were slow, but if you grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, and chucked it around the circuit, then you got the lap times. You had to attack, every single lap of the race, and the bizarre phenomenon was that you could race the car at the same speed as you did in qualifying. So we didn’t always qualify at the front – but we knew that, when it came to race pace, we would be right in the fight.
Back in December 2006, at the Essen Motor Show, Frank Biela had just come back from the very first test at Misano, and he had a huge grin on his face, and said ‘You cannot believe how good this car is going to be’. And Frank was right – when I first drove R10 at Sebring I’d never felt anything like it. Never, in all my life, had I experienced acceleration like that. It was just electrifyingly quick out of the corners. That car was born fast, first lap out I knew it was special, and we developed it from there over three seasons until it was at its absolutely ultimate performance.
The weird thing was, it was so quiet, you couldn’t hear the engine revs when you were downshifting from high speed and so we had these big gear numbers displayed on the dash. We even considered piping the engine noise into our earpieces... but it didn’t come to anything. At 100mph the wind noise drowned out the engine noise, which was nice at Le Mans because there was much less noise fatigue, and that was a benefit. No question, the Audi R10 was a whole new experience.
Three-time Le Mans winner
The Audi R10 has a very special place in my heart. Mainly it is because of the power of the car, because it was the first TDI, diesel racer. In the first two years of the project, the power was just amazing and, to be honest, the more I look back to the shape of the car, the more I think this is the most beautiful front end we had in the last 10 years at Audi Sport.
The nose looks like a single-seater in many ways. For sure, the negative aspect of the car was the heavy weight on the rear because of the engine but I have to say that this is the car I like the most and for many different reasons.
I did three Le Mans with the R10, in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Actually the R10 gave me some very tough moments in my career. With the R10 I probably got the best emotions and the worst, too. The best was the pole position I achieved at Le Mans with the R10 in 2007. On the Friday morning after qualifying my engineer came to me very excited and said 'Congratulations on your pole, what a job!’ I said suspiciously, ‘OK, thanks, but why so happy? I did it already two times before!’ He said: ‘You did not have the soft tyres, you did it with the hard tyres! The other car was on soft tyres. Our mistake’.
The race was fantastic and we were in complete control until about 7.30am, when I lost a wheel and crashed at Indianapolis.
The contrast the following year was extreme because we were really second best on pace to Peugeot, but with the rain we came back into it and won. However, it only killed 50 per cent of the disappointment I had the year before.
But the reason why 2008 was one of the most beautiful Audi Le Mans wins is because everything ran perfectly. And it was unexpected, which made it sweeter. But we always said that we won because the human and the technical aspects all worked in perfect unity. That is why we are very proud.
Saving the best ’til last
Tom Kristensen recalls the Audi R10 TDI’s finest moment in its final year of competition: Le Mans 2008
Tom Kristensen is the acknowledged maestro when it comes to endurance racing, a winner through and through with an enviable reputation for skill at speed in the dark. Kristensen/McNish/Capello was always quite simply the benchmark, the team to beat. The Dane’s highlight? Le Mans 2008, with the R10 in its final season. “We qualified fourth behind the three Peugeots,” he says, “but always felt we had a chance. The Audi preparation is so good and the car was strong, the diesel having improved enormously since we started with the new technology. We knew we did not have the speed of the Peugeot but I sensed we could win. We were so determined and believed it was possible if we stuck to doing our maximum and executed the perfect strategy. It was a real team effort, all down to the five Ps — ‘proper preparation prevents poor performance’ so every mechanic did a perfect job during the refuelling stops.
Essential info: Audi R10 TDI
Entrant: Audi Sport
Notable drivers: Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello, Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro, Marco Werner, Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller
Debut: 2006 Sebring 12 Hours
Achievements: 36 wins, 12 poles
Constructors’ Championships: 4 (ALMS 2006-08, LMS 2008)
Drivers’ Championships: 4 (ALMS 2006-08, LMS 2008)
“The race was a turning point for me because I’d had a huge crash in the DTM the year before and had been suffering for months with a constant headache. I wondered if it would ever go away. So I focused on being quiet, being as relaxed as possible and concentrated on the circuit. At the start we were four and a half seconds a lap slower than the Peugeots, but Dindo and Allan did a fantastic job and, when the rain came in the night, we really started to eat into their advantage.
“We came into the morning with the lead and then there was more rain around lunchtime. The race was going down to the wire, but it rained again — in some places around the track — in the afternoon and we had discussions about the right call on tyres, slicks or wets, for the conditions. It was a truly epic battle. People have said it was the best Le Mans 24 Hours ever and fans can relive it with that great film Audi made, Truth in 24, which captures the intensity of that weekend.
“It was my first win after the DTM accident so it was kind of a new beginning for me. And it was just a unique feeling to win that Le Mans. The teamwork was fantastic. If you looked at pure performance, nobody ever expected us to beat the Peugeots. But we had such a raceable and driveable car, we studied the weather forecast — the more rain that came, the better we prepared the aerodynamics for the rain and we were prepared to take risks. You have to do that in changing conditions.
"A great memory.”
Taken from the June 2013 issue of Motor Sport. To read more click here.