Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Audi R8 LMS at Le Mans? Not for now...

By Tarek Ramchani

Audi has won the Le Mans 24 Hours eleven times overall with great prototype race cars. However many Audi fans still dream about the Audi R8 LMS competition at La Sarthe in the exotic GT class. Something impossible, at least for now.

The Audi R8 LMS has been introduced in 2009 meeting the FIA GT3 regulations and was developed for customers teams. The Le Mans rules for the GT category are based on GT2 rules, now known as GTE (Grand Touring Endurance). The differences between the two categories (GT2 and GT3) are very big. GT3 regulations are based on a very wide and open Balance of Performance formula. This means many cars with very different engines sizes and weight are welcomed to compete against each other. Before the start of the season it is up to the FIA to balance the performances of all GT3 cars and make them comparatively equals. GTE regulations on another hand have very strict regulations, based on engine capacities and restrictors. The ACO which regulates Le Mans, FIA WEC and ELMS, and IMSA in the American Le Mans Series only add slight adjustments to the rules to help the outpaced cars of the class to reach a balance.

Two radically different visions of Grand Touring racing rules but somehow offer similar pace. Both GTE and GT3 are very close in terms of lap times at many circuits in Europe. The GT3 racing formula is booming worldwide with many national and international sportscars and endurance series having adopted the formula. Many are seriously thinking that GTE is declining mainly due to the higher costs involved with the GTE rules. However the ACO, the organizers of Le Mans 24 Hours are clear that no GT3 cars are allowed in the French endurance classic. The ACO wants to keep GTE as it is now, with some new brands already joining such as Dodge and others planning to do so as BMW. For these reasons the Audi R8 LMS ultra cannot compete at Le Mans. However there is a possibility by converting the R8 LMS ultra into a GTE racer. But as has been proven in the past, with no less than three different cars from other manufactures which were converted from GT3 to GTE it was shown that converting a GT3 to a GTE is not a good choice. The best option for Audi, is to build a full GTE rules legal version of the R8. This would mean far higher costs and the need to field a factory backed team. It is almost impossible for a privateer team to race competitively in GTE as it is now. A privateer team would also require very strong factory support and works drivers as well in order to be competitive. This type of configuration of teams would be in total contradiction with Audi Sport’s current philosophy in developing their customer racing.

It is interesting to note that the ACO is welcoming GT3 cars in the European Le Mans Series as well the Asian Le Mans Series as GTC class (Grand Touring Challenge). However these cars have to carry extra weight and smaller restrictors in order to be slower than GTE cars. The Audi R8 LMS ultra could compete in the Le Mans Series races, but not at Le Mans itself.

GTE is still alive, but many have begun to believe that the future of GT racing is the GT3 formula. The Audi R8 LMS has proved to be one of the best GT3 race cars around. It has already won both the Nürburgring 24 Hours and the Spa 24 Hours overall. It would be great to see the car also competing at La Sarthe and winning the GT class.

Virtual Audi R8 LMS at Le Mans from Forza Motorsport 4. Hope this will happen for real soon