On the heels of a breakthrough victory at the Nürburgring in the car’s 24-hour debut, Audi has outlined the race development program for the new R8 LMS, as well as its customer delivery schedule.
The mid-engined sports car will compete in at least three additional races this year, including the Paul Ricard 1000, Total 24 Hours of Spa and at Macau in November as part of the FIA’s new GT World Cup race.
According to Romolo Liebchen, Head of Audi Sport customer racing, there’s a possibility of seeing the new R8 LMS in other end-of-year events, such as the Sepang 12 Hours or Gulf 12 Hours, in the hands of customer teams.
He confirmed production of the car will begin in September, with the first deliveries to customers estimated for late October.
There’s already been a strong level of interest in the new R8 LMS, with more than 50 requests from prospective teams as of last weekend. Liebchen said he expects a production limit of 45 cars for the first year.
“To see the interest is one thing but to get the signature on the contract is another thing,” Liebchen said. “So far I think we can be very optimistic.
“I think we can come to our limits on what we can do for the first year.”
Moving into 2016, Liebchen expects Audi to again have a strong presence with factory support at the key endurance races, but not quite at the same level it attacked the Nürburgring, which effectively saw two works operations.
“Next year, the plan is to go to a customer approach,” he said. “Of course there are some highlights. We have to introduce the car in different markets.
“I’m quite sure there will be something special for Daytona. I’m sure Bathurst will be something special.
“Nurburging will be special anyways and there will be quite a big number of new cars and we have to show that we’re still competitive.
“Spa, for me, besides the Nurburgring, is the biggest race for GT3 because no race has so many cars in one category, so we have to show up in a competitive way.”
On the North American front, Liebchen said there are no plans for the R8 LMS to run in the GT Le Mans class of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship next year, with the focus entirely on customer racing in the new GT3-structured GT Daytona category as well as Pirelli World Challenge.
While two other GT3 manufacturers are pursing national homologations of their cars, Liebchen said it would not be possible for the normally aspirated R8 LMS, which would require an all-new engine in order to conform to sonic restrictors.
It’s understood GT3 cars with turbocharged engines would be easier to homologate for IMSA’s GTLM class.
Liebchen, who had been one of the staunch supporters of GT Convergence, doesn’t feel there’s a need for two GT categories, particularly GTE/GTLM, which is nearly exclusively run by factory teams.
“From our side, we are sure we will stay with the GT3 approach because we have to reduce the costs and stay with road car solutions, like the engine and so on,” he said. “We don’t feel any necessity to change.
“Nevertheless, I think [Stephane] Ratel showed that with [a GT3] car, you can do everything. You have the Pro category, Pro-Am category and Gentleman category. You can race on a very high level.
“Everybody who was at Spa and everyone at the Nurburgring [can see] that this is real racing. We don’t need a special category only for the factories.”