When it debuted in 2006, Audi’s first-ever supercar faced stiff competition from Porsche, as did the race-spec GT3 that followed three years later. With race wins at the world’s most illustrious 24-hour race events already under its belt, the Audi R8 LMS GT3 has proven itself to be among the strongest GT3 machines on the planet, as we found out recently with Car Collection Motorsport.
Audi’s motorsport heritage transcends most others. The greatest hits album alone includes 13 outright wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (more than any other manufacturer bar Porsche, incidentally), two World Rally Championship Constructors’ trophies courtesy of 23 wins for the legendary Quattro S1, and more than 100 wins on the DTM circuit en-route to four Manufacturer championships. And that’s before we delve into the GT and touring car side of things. Not a bad haul considering ‘Audi Sport’ has only officially been going since 1978.
Given that Car Collection Motorsport is the only front-runner in the 24H GT SERIES to regularly compete with four rings on its nose, we can’t help but wonder whether this illustrious history puts added pressure on the Wiesbaden-based team to get results…
“Maybe, yeah!” admits Car Collection’s jovial team manager, Denis Ferlemann. “But mainly we just want to beat the other teams. It doesn’t matter if they are running a Porsche or a Mercedes, or if there’s a Ferrari, a Lamborghini or another Audi we’re fighting against, we want to beat them. And if we can add to Audi Sport’s history with the R8, then we want to do that too!”
Ah yes, the R8. Unveiled embryonically in 2003 as the ‘Le Mans Concept’, Audi’s first-ever supercar made its official debut at the Paris Motor Show three years later with a vertical wall of expectation staring it in the honeycomb grille. This was the first time after all that the perennial manufacturer of premium family saloons and estate cars was putting itself in direct competition with the 911, in a segment, no less, that Porsche had owned for nearly half a century and into which Audi had never stepped. That the new supercar was also named after the prototype that won five of the first six Le Mans of the 21st century didn’t help.
Critics however were floored when Audi’s new R8 was both fast and capable straight out of the box, courtesy of its Lamborghini Gallardo underpinnings, its mid-mounted 420hp 4.2-litre V8, and a rear-biased Quattro all-wheel drive setup that allowed the R8 to put its power down early. Built atop a monocoque with strategic use of aluminium, carbon fibre and magnesium meant the R8 was light(ish) without compromising structural rigidity. Throw in unprecedented practicality for a supercar, plus those distinctive sideplanes, and Audi’s newboy quickly made its mark.
In 2008, further potency would emerge with the ‘sister’ Gallardo’s 517hp, 5.2-litre V10. It was with this and the race-spec R8 LMS GT3, Audi’s first GT3 racing program, that the R8 would once again exceed expectations in 2009.
Beneath the new carbon fibre rear spoiler and revised aero package, more than half of the road car’s componentry remained intact on its racing counterpart. Still, Audi eschewed a full GT factory assault for 2009 during its “year of learning”, and instead delivered 15 examples to customer outfits – including Abt Sportsline, Phoenix Racing and Team Rosberg – to be raced in national series across France, Italy and Belgium, as well as the FIA GT3 European Championship and ADAC GT Masters. Incredibly, in its debut season, the first R8 LMS GT3 collected at least one race win in every series for which it was entered and three drivers’ championships. During its next five seasons of competition, wins would be taken at the Nürburgring 24 Hours (twice) and the Spa 24 Hours (thrice), as well as back-to-back wins at the Bathurst 12 Hours. A specifically-developed ‘Grand-Am’ R8 even took outright GT victory at Daytona on its second event outing in 2013, and by the time the second gen GT3 was rolled out in 2015, the R8 had already taken 26 GT3 Championship wins, 23 further class titles, and seven overall 24-hour race wins. Expectations, once again, were high for the R8.
“Unveiled embryonically in 2003 as the ‘Le Mans Concept’, Audi’s first-ever supercar made its official debut at the Paris Motor Show three years later with a vertical wall of expectation staring it in the honeycomb grille.”
Among the interested parties was Car Collection Motorsport. Established as ‘Schmidt Automobiles’ back in 1983 and after its owner’s brief run with IMSA during the 1990s, it wasn’t until 2002 that Peter Schmidt’s Wiesbaden-based automotive trade business finally stepped into motorsport under its own name. Part-time campaigns included annual entries for the Nürburgring 24 Hours, and bar 2007, the Hankook 24H DUBAI (2007 and 2018 are the only occasions Peter himself wasn’t on the CCM entry list for the event). As the 24H SERIES grew, so too did Car Collection’s commitment, and by 2013, a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 had joined the team’s Porsche 997.
Competitive from the outset, the three-pointed star went on to claim Car Collection’s first class win, first outright podium AND first outright win at Zandvoort in 2014. Come the end of 2015 though, and with just one double podium at Mugello to brag about after a tough season, the time had come to replace the ailing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 with something altogether different.
“We’d had a lot of success with the SLS,” Denis continues, “but at the end of , we spoke with Mercedes and Audi, and the package that Audi offered us was better, so we made the swap. That was a big decision for us because we’d never run the R8 before. But we were very happy with the pace and the support Audi still gives us to this day, not just here in the 24H SERIES but everywhere. The support has always been very professional, they’re very hardworking…it’s perfect, really.
“Compared with the SLS, the R8, I feel, is more of a ‘race car’. It’s easier for the mechanics to setup, the overall balance is very good, and there’s plenty of feedback for our drivers. The handling is very precise, so they can react a lot quicker than in the SLS. The Audi also has really good aerodynamics, so in high speed corners, the [R8] is very quick because there’s so much grip, and that gives our drivers a lot more confidence. We haven’t really had any big technical issues this year, and we’ve been on the podium a few times, so it’s been a good season for us with the R8.”
“Incredibly, in its debut season, the first R8 LMS GT3 collected at least one race win in every series for which it was entered and three drivers’ championships.”
Newly developed from the ground up, and borrowing much from Lamborghini’s new Huracán supercar, the second gen R8 boasted an 5.2-litre FSI V10 from launch in 2015, the fieriest of which, the 610PS model, was faster from 0-100kph on the road than any other production Audi in history at just 3.2 seconds. It was also the first sports car from the company to punch through the hallowed 200mph mark (320kph). Its predecessor’s six-speed R Tronic automatic gearbox was gone in favour of a more precise seven-speed S Tronic version, complete with electrohydraulic multi-plate clutch for more rapid gearshifts. Thanks to a heavily updated Quattro AWD system, 100 per cent of that mid-mounted power could now be sent to the rear wheels, thus helping to improve mid-corner traction.
Grunt alone though was not the only thing on Audi’s to-do list. The Audi Space Frame chassis (ASF) was incrementally lighter, and, significantly, up to 40% stiffer than the previous model in an effort to improve mid-corner stability. Electro-mechanical power steering had also been specifically developed for more consistent handling, race-tuned carbon ceramic disc brakes and double wishbone suspension similarly providing “confidence-inspiring handling on the limit”. Even the aerodynamics and rear spoiler had been tweaked to control airflow over the bodywork and increase downforce for high-speed stability.
Having re-set its own benchmarks in 2006 and again in 2009, the pressure was once again on Audi Motorsport’s ‘third pillar’ to prove itself, the GT3 doing just that when it took outright victory at the notoriously difficult Nürburgring 24 Hours in only its third start. Another would be notched up in 2017, ditto another win apiece at Spa and Bathurst, and the championships again started to roll in.
“We were very happy with the pace and the support Audi still gives us to this day. The support has always been very professional.”
It’s not been a bad run for Car Collection Motorsport in that time. First time out the box in Dubai 2016, the #34 R8 LMS GT3 took an A6-Am class podium on a day Audi walked to its first outright win at the event (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT taking the garlands on that occasion). Further 24H SERIES class podiums would follow at Circuit Paul Ricard and Barcelona in 2016, and come the end of the season, the team was 9th in the overall GT standings, 13 spots higher than the SLS AMG had managed in 2015. This year, the #34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi finished just three points shy of the overall GT European Championship following two class wins and a further five class podiums. And then, there’s the three consecutive Rookie Cup titles for driver Max Edelhoff and that astonishing outright win at last year’s Hankook 12H IMOLA to consider…
“Max has done a great job with us over the last few years, and he truly deserves his Young Driver trophies. He’ll be a significant player in the years to come. And of course Imola was such a special day for us. We knew we had a winning team, but to take the win with a ‘gentleman’s car’ was just incredible. I couldn’t tell you which of those achievements is better, they both mean so much to us.”
Unsurprisingly, CCM’s affiliation with Ingolstadt will continue into next season, the team dipping its toe into proverbial waters with a test race of the brand new 2019 R8 LMS GT3 at the Nürburgring last month (“that was a very strong test for us”). Such is the success of its GT3 customer program, Audi has specifically tailored the new R8 for its clients’ needs for 2019, but admits that, even after 10 years, the changes are “moderate modifications” rather than a “comprehensive evolution” (if it ain’t broke, right…?). The new ‘face’ at the front is the first of several aerodynamic tweaks to further improve airflow for high-speed stability. More efficient brake cooling was another crucial step, as was improved durability of the clutch plate and gearbox in an effort to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs. Perhaps the biggest single change though was work on ‘steadier handling’ for gentlemen drivers…
“This year, the #34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi finished just three points shy of the overall GT European Championship following two class wins and a further five class podiums.”
“The biggest step is the aerodynamics. Now we have more grip on the front axle, so there is little less understeer, and that means our drivers can push much harder. We also found we can run the gearbox and the clutch longer, so that’s good news for the wallet!
“We are planning to enter three cars for Dubai, all with an update for 2019. We’re also looking forward to Mugello. It’s a very technical track that’s traditionally been a good race for Audi, and we also [anticipate] strong runs at Spa and Barcelona. The calendar looks really good to us, and we’re looking forward to improving on what’s already been a good season for us with Audi.”
High expectations. Still, as we’ve already seen since 2006, the Audi R8 has rarely shied away from those.
*Images courtesy of Petr Frýba Photographer and 24H SERIES
Car Collection Motorsport (#32, #34, and occasionally #33)
Technical specifications (as of 2018)
Engine: V10, 5,200cc
Power: ‘Up to 585hp’
Torque: ‘More than 550Nm’
Transmission: Sequential six-speed, rear-wheel drive
Suspension: Independent suspension, double wishbones, struts with coil springs and adjustable dampers, and adjustable stabilizers
Brakes: Steel discs, 380 x 34mm (front), 355 x 32mm (rear)
Wheels: 12.5 x 18in (front), 13 x 18in (rear)
Tyres: 30-68/18 (front), 31-71/18 (rear)
3rd consecutive Rookies Cup title (Max Edelhoff)
1st A6-class win, 1st class 1-2 finish, AND 1st outright GT win at the Hankook 12H IMOLA (#32, Dimitri Parhofer / Max Edelhoff / Horst Felbermayr Jr. / Toni Forné)
1st class podium, on its debut, at the Hankook 24H DUBAI (#34, Ingo Vogler / Elmar Grimm / Max Edelhoff / Gustav Edelhoff / Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff)
*It should be mentioned that Belgian Audi Club Team WRT actually won the event outright with the Audi R8 LMS GT3