Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grazie Dindo: Fourteen great years with Audi at Le Mans

By Tarek Ramchani

At Audi Sport, Dindo Capello is without any doubt an iconic character and a superstar. The Italian ace has been part of the full Audi legacy at Le Mans 24 Hours, the world famous endurance classic. 2012 was unfortunately his last appearance at La Sarthe with the Four Rings. In fourteen years at Le Mans, Dindo never lost his fighting spirit, his top speed and also his smile and very cool feeling. Capello won the race three times, two of them with Audi.

Audi A4 STW with Audi Sport Italia
Dindo Capello and Audi is a very long story that dates back to the supertouring era. A factory Audi driver since 1994. He raced the Audi 80 quattro first and later the all conquering Audi A4 quattro Super Touring. In 1996 Capello won the demanding Italian Superturismo with team Audi Sport Italia. After the touring car years the Italian along with Audi Sport switched to endurance and prototype racing.

In 1999 Audi Sport arrived at Le Mans. The German brand partnered with team Joest Racing entering two R8R spiders. Dindo Capello was part of the effort driving the #7 car with team mates Michele Alboreto and Laurent Aiello In the end they got a very strong fourth behind another Audi R8R.

Le Mans 2002
From 2000 to 2002 Dindo was always been part of the full factory effort with the Audi R8. In 2000 Dindo and his team mates Michele Alboreto and Christian Abt finished in third overall. By the end of the season he was second in the American Le Mans Series final standings. In 2001, Dindo took a stunning pole position with the #2 Audi R8, yet that wasn't enough. Dindo along with Christian Pescatori and Laurent Aiello finished second again. Second also that year in the ALMS. 2002 was the last year for the Audi R8 as a works team at Le Mans. Dindo was able to dominate the qualifying taking a second straight pole position. However the race turned in favor of his team mates Biella, Pirro and Kristensen. For the third straight year, Dindo finishing behind that trio. Second again in ALMS behind series champion Tom Kristensen. 

Le Mans 2004 victory
In 2003, there were three Audis. However Capello was racing for Bentley. The Italian driver won his first ever Le Mans 24 Hours in a Bentley Speed 8. A dominant race for the "Bentley Boys" with Capello among the very fastest on track. A year later again with Tom Kristensen in addition to Seiji Ara, Capello won the race with the customer Audi Sport Japan Team Goh. Dindo's first ever win with Audi after a titanic battle with the R8 of Audi Sport UK. In 2005 Dindo didn't race at Le Mans, being fully committed to DTM racing for Audi Sport Team Joest.

Le Mans 2008 victory
2006 saw the introduction of Audi's new R10 TDI, a car that gave Dindo Capello great race victories and championship titles. At Le Mans he raced the #7 diesel powered LMP1 and finished in third place. Months later along with Allan McNish he won the American Le Mans Series with Audi Sport North America (Champion Racing). A year later, he was dominating the race with team mates Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen. The #2 R10 was strongly leading before crashing at Indianapolis after a tire issue with Dindo was behind the wheel. The first time ever that Capello failed to finish with Audi at Le Mans. The end of the season was a lot better with a back to back championship title in ALMS. 2008 was the year of revenge at Le Mans. Capello along with his regular team mates McNish and Kristensen defeated a superior Peugeot team. Dindo's win ended the R10 TDI effort at La Sarthe as a works team.

Le Mans 2010
Moving to 2009, the new Audi R15 TDI was introduced. Capello won at Sebring earlier in the season with the new car. Later at Le Mans, the car was completely outpaced by the Peugeot 908s. A very disappointing third place in the end, far behind the two Peugeots ahead. In 2010 Audi scored a great 1-2-3 win, yet Capello wasn't in the right car, taking third overall with the updated Audi R15 plus. 2011 was even harder for the Italian. The new Audi R18 TDI was quick. However Dindo wasn't even able to take part in the race. In the very opening stages Allan McNish had a horrific crash ending the #3 R18 TDI’s race.

Le Mans 2012
2012 was the last Le Mans for Dindo Capello at Le Mans. Again he drove with Allan McNish and Tom Kristinsen. The three drivers finished second overall behind the winning Audi, a lap down. Capello again unlucky as his #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro was clearly fighting for the race lead before Allan McNish’s excursion. Dindo just missed again the race win on his birthday, with his last race with Audi at Le Mans. Now Capello will be concentrating on his Italian GT season, helping Audi Sport Italia defending their 2011 title. He will share the #31 Audi R8 LMS ultra with Andrea Sonvico.

Dindo Capello alone resumed the full Audi legacy at Le Mans. Successes, glory and pain. Capello won Le Mans three times but was unlucky in many editions. Three outright wins at La Sarthe, that's already a very strong achievement, but without bad luck that could have been even greater for the Italian ace. Fourteen great editions and for that we could only say "Grazie Mille" Dindo for all these moments, big thanks for all these emotions. Audi fans will miss you during the next years. Just like the legends Hans Joahchim Stuck, Walter Rohrl, Frank Beila and Emanuele Pirro. Dindo Capello will stay forever in the hearts of all Audi’s loyal motorsport followers.