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The Audi R8 continues to write motorsport history: The most successful Le Mans prototype of all time celebrated its 50th victory at the 1000 kilometre race at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend. This milestone is particularly impressive because it was achieved over a mere four year period and in only 60 races.
Since its debut at the 12-hour race at Sebring in March 2000, the Audi R8 has been considered the sports-prototype to beat. The R8 has already won the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans four times. With its five victories in succession at Sebring, it remains, up till now, unbeaten, just as it does in “Petit Le Mans” at Road Atlanta. R8 drivers have won the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) five times in a row. And the R8 was also in a class of its own from the off in the Le Mans Endurance Series (LMES) held for the first time in 2004.
The R8 development, overseen by Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich as well as both Wolfgang Appel (Vehicle Engineering) and Ulrich Baretzky (Engine Technology) has not only set new standards as far as performance is concerned in sports car races. Quite literally its reliability: There has not been a single engine failure in a race to this day.
Since the 2001 season, the Audi R8 V8-engine has been using the worldwide unique combination of FSI and turbo technology. In the meantime it is also successfully used in the new A3 and A4 2.0T models. The advantage of this technology in motorsport is the same as in every day life: reduced fuel consumption coupled with simultaneously improved initial throttle response.
The Audi engineers also demonstrated “Vorsprung durch Technik” in many other areas in the R8 project. The R8 was the first Le Mans prototype with a pneumatic gear-shift. Audi developed also a unique system that allowed the complete gearbox and suspension unit to be changed in a little over four minutes – a fascinating spectacle that the regulations have forbidden in the meantime.
Other regulation changes targeted the performance of Le Mans prototypes. That’s why the Audi R8 must now, in the intervening period, manage with less power (approximately 550 instead of the original 610 hp) and a narrower rear wing. Nonetheless, the Audi R8 is still in a class of its own particularly over the race distance.
The importance of the model designation “R8” was puzzled over for a long time. The explanation is simple: Since the legendary original quattro, Audi has numbered all internal vehicle projects consecutively. With the R8, the project name also became the official vehicle name and is now synonymous for the world’s most successful Le Mans prototype.
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