The First of Many: Audi Celebrates 20 Years Since Its Victory at Le Mans

source: Audi Australiaphotos:Audi Sport

  • Two decades ago this month, Audi celebrated the first of what would become the most dominant performance in endurance racing in the modern era.

It was the start of one of the most extraordinary chapters in motorsport. A story of dominance that  has rarely been seen and will perhaps never be seen again. In only its second attempt at the race acknowledged as the most gruelling endurance race on earth – the 24 Hours of Le Mans – Audi took the checkered flag and registered the first of 13 wins in just 15 years.

In fact in June, 2000, the brand didn’t just win the race with the now famous R8, but in fact took all three places on the podium – an ominous omen for competitors of what lay ahead.

In 1999 Audi made its first appearance at the great race and made in instant impact, the driver combination of Emanuele Pirro, Didier Theys and Frank Biela put their #8 Audi R8 on the podium in third place, with another Audi R8 not far behind in fourth.

In 2000, not content to just go one place better, Audi took an historic 1-2-3, with Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Danish driver, Tom Kristensen sharing the driving duties in car #8. For Kristensen it was his second win at Le Mans and although recognised as a great driver, he was not yet known as Mr Le Mans, the title he would cement over the coming years winning another seven times at the Circuit de la Sarthe to become the most successful driver in the history of the race.

Finishing second was the Audi R8 #9 with Laurent Aiello, Stéphane Ortelli and Allan McNish at the wheel. McNish retired from motorsport with three LeMans titles to his name and is now the Team Principal of the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler Formula E team.

Rounding out the podium was the Audi R8 #7 with Christian Abt, Michele Alboreto and Rinaldo Capello sharing the driving duties.

To say it was a comprehensive result would be an understatement, but as it turned out it was just the start. Also in the year 2000, in the American Le Mans Series, Audi drivers finished in the first four places in the drivers’ championship.

Of course this was just the start, with record after record falling to the Audi Sport teams driving a succession of groundbreaking Audi race cars.

The R8 which clinched that first victory proved to be an incredible champion throughout its time on the race tracks of the world. During the seven years that it was campaigned by Audi, it won 63 out of 80 competitions including a total of five times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It also went on to give its name to the brand’s first-ever supercar – the Audi R8.

Indeed, over the next 14 years, Audi would go on to completely dominate this greatest of all races, winning in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Not content to just win, the brand also used the cauldron of motorsport to test new automotive technologies and in the process became the first manufacturer to ever win with a diesel-powered race car, the R10 TDI in 2006. That diesel technology tasted victory at Le Mans again in 2007 and 2008.

In 2010 the new Audi R15 TDI celebrated a one-two-three result in the fastest Le Mans race of all time and set a new distance record that has not been broken to date.

Then in 2012, Audi became the first manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with hybrid power, when the Audi R18 e-tron quattro won on debut before going on to also win in 2013 and 2014.

It would be fair to say that there was a collective sigh of relief from the opposition when in 2016, Audi announced that it would wrap up its hugely successful sportscar racing program and turn its motorsport attention elsewhere. But by then, the records were written and the brand had done what it set out to do.