Audi Sport’s Head of Customer Racing Chris Reinke has described the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli manufacturers’ title as “probably the most important one to get” for the brand.
The German marque returned to IGTC champion status by scoring enough points in Saturday’s Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour to maintain its prior standings lead over Ferrari.
It marked Audi’s fourth title in the globe-trotting series organized by SRO Motorsports Group and came after two seasons in which Porsche sealed the championship crown.
Audi entered the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa by supporting customer teams Attempto Racing, Sainteloc Racing and runner-up Team WRT, before focusing on the latter two teams for the Indianapolis 8 Hour, which Sainteloc won, and this weekend’s Kyalami 9 Hour decider.
“From the manufacturer’s point of view, it’s probably the most important title to get,” Reinke told Sportscar365.
“We are a worldwide operation and the Intercontinental GT Challenge has exactly that in mind: we go from continent to continent and rack up the points for that title.
“Obviously this year only three races did take place, but I think the vision and the concept behind it confirm the performances that all our partners and customers made together.
“Audi Sport racing customers have now officially ended the season with more than 60 titles around the world. It was a special end to a special year.
“We are relieved and excited that following all these national and continental titles, we were also able to secure this international title.
“To head into the next season… it has already started due to the unique situation of this 2021 finale in 2022. With the double victory in [the 24 Hours of] Dubai, we have proved that we want to start 2022 where 2021 ended.”
Reinke added that he has the “biggest respect” for SRO to put on the 2021 IGTC season against a backdrop of constantly-evolving international travel regulations and logistics challenges.
The series previously had five rounds but the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated impacts saw the 2020 and 2021 calendars reduced to four and three races respectively.
“Where before experience made you plan things more thoroughly to gain an advantage, these days it’s more about professional short-term reaction to situations,” said Reinke.
“The COVID pandemic changes the situation from day to day, and you have to react to it.
“To mastermind an intercontinental series – my biggest respect that these three races did happen.
“If we look at Spa, there were almost 60 cars and at Indianapolis, there were about 40 cars. Those are tremendous numbers for Intercontinental GT races, so big respect to everybody at SRO.”
Audi Hoped for “Sharper Weapon” at Kyalami
Despite securing the IGTC manufacturers’ title, Audi missed out on the drivers’ crown after struggling to compete with the entries from Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG in the Kyalami 9 Hour.
The best Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo finished third in the hands of Markus Winkelhock, Patric Niederhauser and Kelvin van der Linde, albeit 42 seconds behind the winning AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo and 26 seconds off the title-winning Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020.
Audi appeared to lag behind Ferrari in the race while Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA-ASP took a dominant win, undeterred by a 5 kg BoP weight increase after Pre-Qualifying.
“We live in a sport where obviously many things have to come together,” Niederhauser told Sportscar365.
“Here, I think we saw the Audi just didn’t have the pace like the Merc and the Ferrari did. I don’t want to blame everything on the BoP, but I think we maximized everything.
“We already saw in practice that we were lacking a lot of pace and we didn’t know why, because the car was working fine.
“Honestly the car was on rails during the race and had a really good flow. But we were lacking like half a second in performance, it’s pretty clear.
“Because it’s so high here in Kyalami at 1500 meters, I think our engine was struggling a little bit more compared to the others.
“I’m happy to finish third, but obviously it would have been nice to show up a bit of a sharper weapon and fight the other two manufacturers.”