R8: How Audi made the legendary car that brought Le Mans domination

It took five Le Mans 24 Hours victories and launched an era of single-manufacturer domination: the Audi R8 conquered endurance racing in the early 2000s, and Audi threw everything at its development



Audi’s R8 Le Mans Prototype set a new standard in endurance racing. The car won for the first time at Sebring in 2000, and that year went on to record the first of five wins at Le Mans. The legend grew with every race. Tom Kristensen, Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela won Le Mans three times together between 2000 and 2002, Audi drivers won the American Le Mans Series every year from 2000 to 2005 for Audi Sport North America, Team Joest and Champion Racing, and the European Le Mans Series for Apex Motorsport. The car looked unbeatable, setting all kinds of records on its way to achieving legendary status.

It was the start of the Audi era, a time when the company was building its profile as a maker of sports cars, and later performance diesels. The car was active on both sides of the Atlantic, supporting the American Le Mans Series as well as racing in Europe mainly in private hands, supported by importers.

Audi had contested the 1999 race with its first ever prototype, the R8R. The car was the company’s first attempt at a carbon chassis and there was a worry from the directors that they would be able to achieve it. The car was designed by Dallara and it was functional, but not fast enough to compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Toyota. The road to Le Mans was anything but smooth for the brand or its development team.