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Ex-Formula One drivers Allan McNish and Johnny Herbert plus Darren Turner have been recruited in to the British Audi team’s “Magnificent Seven” line-up which bids for sportscar honours this year.
McNish (34) and Herbert (39) join fellow Le Mans race winners Guy Smith and Frank Biela in the two-car Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx squad along with Turner (29), Jamie Davies and sportscar newcomer Pierre Kaffer.
Audi UK’s “Magnificent Seven” gun for success in the Sebring 12 Hours (20 March), Le Mans 24 Hours (12-13 June) and inaugural four race Le Mans Endurance Series. Audi will be bidding to score its fourth victory in five years at Le Mans.
Dumfries-born McNish has concentrated on Formula One for the past three years, testing for Toyota in 2000 and then contesting the FIA Formula One World Championship the following year for the Japanese team. Last year, the Monaco-based Scotsman was Renault’s official F1 test driver.
But McNish is no stranger to sportscar racing, having won Le Mans in 1998 and the American Le Mans Series with Audi in 2000, achieving second places in the annual French race and in the Sebring 12 Hours – two events Allan will now contest again.
“I had a very successful and happy time when I was with Audi previously while Le Mans is a very special race and dear to my heart,” said McNish. “The Audi R8 has been further developed since I raced one and is an outstanding sportscar. But Le Mans glory, in the actual 24 Hour race or the new Series, will not be easy – we’ll need to fight hard for victories.”
Brentwood-born Herbert and triple Le Mans race winner Biela (39) will only compete in this year’s gruelling French marathon plus Sebring for the British Audi team. Monaco-based 1991 Le Mans winner Herbert won three Grands Prix during a 12 year F1 stint and has spent the last three years racing for Audi in America.
Johnny added: “I’ve finished second at Le Mans for the past two years – including 2002 with the ‘factory’ Audi team – and have regularly raced an Audi in America since 2001 for its American ‘customer’ team, scoring four wins last year.
“We’ll be up against two similar Audis at Le Mans run by American and Japanese teams so it will be tough but I have every confidence in Veloqx and am looking forward to the challenge.”
Turner, like Davies, drove with Veloqx at Sebring and Le Mans plus the FIA GT Championship last year, and has been an official McLaren Formula One test driver for the past six years. Darren, from Banbury, will compete in the Le Mans Endurance Series and will be the Brackley, Northamptonshire based team’s reserve driver for Sebring and Le Mans.
Darren commented: “I’m delighted to be continuing my relationship with Veloqx and overjoyed I’ll be driving an Audi – to be racing an R8 in the LMES is a tremendous opportunity for me.”
Turner joins McNish, 2003 Le Mans winner Smith (28), from Beverley, Yeovil’s Davies (29), a Le Mans GTS class winner last year, and sportscar “rookie” Kaffer (27), in the Le Mans Endurance Series – which features a race at Silverstone in August.
All drivers, apart from Turner, will test at Road Atlanta in Georgia this month (18/20/23 Feb) in preparation for the Sebring race in Florida – the opening round of the American Le Mans Series. Darren’s first test opportunity is likely to come at Paul Ricard in France in April.
David Ingram, Audi UK’s Motorsport Manager, confirmed: “It’s great to have Allan back in an Audi R8 – the first time since winning the 2000 ALMS title. He has always been a popular member of the Audi squad and his ability in the car will add considerable strength to our team.
“Johnny has been a regular part of Audi’s sportscar activities in recent years and when we had the opportunity to put together an Audi Sport UK programme, he was an obvious candidate.
“Furthermore Darren brings added ability and experience to the team for the LMES and I am very excited about our prospects.”
Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx’s Principal, Sam Li, concluded: “The appointment of Allan, Johnny and Darren completes our star line-up for the season. Having seven drivers on board reinforces our commitment to the programme and demonstrates our intention to minimise any risk.
“Even if sickness or other unforeseen circumstances arise, we will maintain our ability to compete at the highest level. We will make a decision on the Sebring driver combinations for each car after the Atlanta test.”
Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx – Programme:
Sat 20 March: Sebring 12 Hours, America (American Le Mans Series, Rd1).
Sun 25 April: Official Test Day, Le Mans 24 Hours, France.
Sun 9 May: Monza, Italy (Le Mans Endurance Series, Rd1).
12-13 June: Le Mans 24 Hours, France.
Sat 3 July: Nürburgring, Germany (LMES Rd2) – evening race.
Sat 14 August: Silverstone (LMES Rd3) – evening race.
Sun 12 September: Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium (LMES Rd4).