After claiming wins in four of the last five major endurance races it has entered, Audi heads into this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour looking to continue the remarkable success story of the new Audi R8 LMS.
The second-generation mid-engined sports car, which debuted less than one year ago, has been on a tear, having claimed overall victories at the Nürburgring 24, Sepang 12 Hours, Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai, and just last weekend, class honors in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
In fact, the only endurance race the new R8 LMS didn’t win was the Total 24 Hours of Spa, where it claimed two podium positions.
“I made a joke when we came here after Daytona. The car hasn’t existed for a year and it’s won almost everything it’s achieved to win,” Audi GT factory driver Laurens Vanthoor told Sportscar365. “It’s been on an incredible streak.”
Vanthoor, who was part of three of the four victories — all with Belgian Audi Club Team WRT — will be looking to continue the streak this weekend, but instead with the Phoenix Racing squad.
The Belgian driver returns to the Ernst Moser-led operation alongside Markus Winkelhock and Australian Alex Davison, after narrowly missing out on the win last year in the previous-generation R8 LMS ultra.
“We were on course to win for a big part of the race,” Vanthoor said. “We kept building up a lead then the safety car would interrupt it.
“We were a bit disappointed, even if it was second [place]. But this year, our chances are high. We have a very good lineup that’a experienced here.”
For Rene Rast, who is fresh off GTD class victory at Daytona with Magnus Racing, the German is hopeful of achieving back-to-back victories with the car, but with two different teams.
Rast has been a late addition to the No. 75 Melbourne Performance Centre Audi, filling in for the injured Craig Lowndes alongside V8 Supercars star Garth Tander and Steve McLaughlin.
“We know the competition here is quite tough and it’s also the same like in Daytona,” Rast told Sportscar365. “With the BoP, you never know which car will be strong or not.
“Like we saw last year, the Nissan had some ‘boost’ which was helpful on the straight. The Audi is normally good on the high speed.
“We’re hoping for a good result. The Audi seems to be strong this year. Let’s hope it will be strong here.”
While the car made its debut in VLN competition last March, its first major triumph came two months later at the Nürburgring 24, where WRT delivered a dominant victory in its 24-hour debut.
According to Head of Audi Sport customer racing Romolo Liebchen, the Nürburgring win, as well as the most recent victory at Daytona rank as his two memorable.
“The first victory at the Nurburgring, as you can imagine, was special because this was something that nobody expected,” Liebchen told Sportscar365.
“I [also] didn’t even dream about the podium in Daytona because with the situation there had been some significant differences in the performance of some cars. It didn’t look very promising.
“[Daytona] was something very good for us because it showed that customers could do it on their own.
“This is the best advertising you could get for your program. For me it was very important to have a customer in front. This was very good I’d say.”
With a total of four new R8 LMS cars here this weekend, and the early pace shown by the Pirelli-shod Melbourne Audis, hopes are high for the streak to continue this weekend.
A victory would also be a special moment personally for Liebchen, whose last race as head of Audi’s customer racing programs is this weekend, after launching the division five years ago.
“Of course I think there is a chance and I hope we can grab the chance,” Liebchen said. “Again, 12 hours is a long race.
“The car is new for the teams except Phoenix, who has a lot of experience with the car. The Australian guys here didn’t have too much time to work on the car.
“The good thing for Audi is that we have a lot of experience coming out of the mileage we already did with the car. Nobody else has done anything similar.”
Vanthoor added: “The Bathurst 12 Hour is growing each year. Being able to put this race on the list of wins, for me, would mean a lot.”