After winning the opening two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, Audi heads into the 24 Hours of Le Mans with momentum on its side.
The German manufacturer, seeking its 14th overall victory in the endurance classic, has arguably made the biggest off-season gains with its updated Audi R18 e-tron quattro, which has been able to take the fight to Porsche and Toyota this season.
According to Head of Audi LMP1 Chris Reinke, the disappointments from the second half of the season last year helped motivate the turnaround, which puts the three-car squad firmly as one of the favorites for next month.
“We had to [make improvements],” Reinke said. “It didn’t look too bad at the beginning of last year but at the end we lost the World Championship.
“For sure, our target is not only to win Le Mans but also win the World Championship.
“If you’ve fallen out on one of your goals, you will adjust something to make sure next year you have a better chance of not missing out.”
Some of the biggest improvements have come in the power and aero departments, with the car doubling its hybrid output and capacity, thanks to a move to the 4 MJ subclass.
There’s also been updates in aero efficiency, namely with how the airflow is routed around the chassis, coupled with suspension updates as well.
“For sure we are getting good driver feedback about the confidence in all different speeds, from a stable aero balance of the car,” Reinke said.
The Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler-driven Audi claimed victory at Spa last weekend in Le Mans aero trim, a package that surprised many for not only its straight-line speed but improved cornering ability.
Reinke, who hasn’t ruled out running the low-downforce package in other FIA WEC races post-Le Mans, isn’t expecting to see a change in performance for the R18, although he’ll be keeping an eye on the competition.
“I think the main philosophy is that we’ve stayed with the same car. I wouldn’t expect too dramatic of a difference,” he said.
“When it comes to outright speed on the straights, I expect the most excitement by the Nissan, to be honest. In that particular [element], I’m looking forward to seeing the Nissan down the straight.”
Following a 30-hour simulation test at Paul Ricard and further testing in the low-downforce kit at Monza, an additional endurance test is planned this month prior to the Le Mans Test Day on May 31.
Reinke admits there is still some work to be done in order to be fully prepared for the twice-around-the-clock enduro, but nothing out of the ordinary given the current timeframe.
“We feel confident that we are in a good stage in the preparation phase,” he said. “We’re not all the way there yet. But that’s still within the process… There’s no need to panic but there’s still things to be sorted out.”
With the top-speed advantage of the Porsche 919 Hybrid, which has moved from the 6 to 8 MJ hybrid subclass this year, Reinke noted its a strength of their concept at Le Mans.
However, Reinke still remains bullish over Audi’s overall package, which he feels can contend for the race.
“It’s about picking each category,” he said. “We haven’t been on pole but we came to win the race and we won the race.
“What is overall performance? Overall performance is the top step of the podium, period. That’s how simple we define it.
“We have two great competitors out there, which we fully respect their technical competence. We’re confident about Le Mans and are ready for the competition.”