After a three-year stint as Head of its LMP1 program, Audi’s Chris Reinke takes on a new challenge this year as the new Head of Audi Sport customer racing.
Sportscar365 caught up with Reinke during last weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring — his first official race on the new job — to get insight into this year’s efforts with the new Audi R8 LMS, which has expanded production again due to increased demand.
How are you acclimating into your new role?
“Sebring was my first official race. In general, it’s a very exciting phase for me after all those years, to change the responsibilities to a complete new product.
“While I can rely on some things, but I have to learn new teams, new car, new structure. All of a sudden it’s not you that’s responsible for a winning entry. You’re responsible to enable the customer to have a winning product.
“That’s the challenge now. It’s interesting. I met a lot of people here and a lot of dfferent views.”
And you’re entering at a good time in the first season of full customer racing with the new Audi R8 LMS…
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great product. It’s been developed, for me, in a very nice, strategic way. We obviously had the announcement at Geneva a year ago and we had very successful strategic entries throughout this year.
“Therefore, this year, we’ll have good preparation. There’s been a lot of test kilometers, good evaluation and support on the setups we supply to the customers, which are to a very high standard.
“We’ve gotten a very positive response from the market. We’ve built a lot of cars and hopefully we’ll see a strong Audi R8 LMS GT3 car this year.”
Do you think the car’s early success in the major GT endurance races has helped drive more sales?
“I think it helps drive your product when it comes to the decision-making process, but at the end, I think the product is the one that has to meet expectations.
“What I hear a lot from our drivers and teams why they choose the Audi, it’s really the drivability for amateurs, low running costs — because we build it around a production engine — and a good service system.
“So it’s far more than a couple of strategic wins. I think the complete package is second to none, and that makes a difference. That’s what makes the decision happen.”
Do you see any additional interest in the U.S. for the new car?
“The topic of our priority in my agenda is to understand why a product that has more worldwide success, in relation, has a fairly limited number [in the U.S.].
“The contacts I’ve had throughout the last days in the [Sebring] paddock would allow me to forecast that there will be more cars coming into the States.
“If they will start to be entered towards the end of the season, or the beginning of next year, remains to be seen. It relies on [the customer’s] business model in relation when we are able to deliver cars.”
Where do you see the key markets for expansion with the new car?
“At the moment I believe we have a good, strong standing in Asia, with the Audi R8 LMS Cup. We have good sales in Australia and have had tremendous sales in Europe. But we have limited sales in the U.S.
“To match the number of cars [sold] this year, for sure we won’t be able to [next year] because we won’t sell another 60 or 70 cars next year.
“I have to still market a fairly good volume to keep the product going. It’s No. 1 U.S., No. 2. Asia and No. 3 Europe [in priority].”
Is it important for you to still see the previous-generation R8 LMS ultra still be running and be competitive?
“It’s fully acceptable. The customer has to make sure his business case is stable because then he’ll stay as a customer of ours.
“But in a championship that’s on the level of [IMSA], for sure it’s important the old cars continue running but I think they would be in different level championships [next year].
“There’s a lot of cars like that in the States that are run at country clubs and club races and so on. That number will increase by the nature of the U.S.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t have scheduled competitions. They have intense businesses to run and they want to take the car to the country club. I think this is an important scene and a perfect second-hand market.”