A groundbreaking announcement

Exactly 21 years ago, AUDI AG decided to rewrite motorsport history.

Exactly 21 years ago, AUDI AG announced its intention to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time. The rest as they, is history.

13 December, 2019


A podium finish in its first year was just the start for Audi at Le Mans

It was exactly 21 years ago to the day – December 13, 1998 – that AUDI AG announced its intention to contest the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time the following year. This was no small announcement given the standing then and now, of this gruelling 24 hour sports car race. This was a race that since its inception in 1923, was considered the most influential and coveted race in the world. And with Audi’s credentials and reputation in world motorsport – think complete dominance in world rally and world touring car racing – it was obviously not something the brand would take lightly.

Few though, could have foreseen just what would come from that announcement when the four rings lined up at Circuit de la Sarthe the following year for the very first time.

The car was the now world famous Audi R8 – and open top sports car entered in the top, prototype category. In its first year, the Audi, driven by Emanuele Pirro, Didier Theys and Frank Biela put their #8 Audi on the podium in third place, with the second Audi Sport Team Joest Audi , #7, right behind them in fourth. 

In incredible debut, but Audi was just getting warmed up.

On debut, Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Didier Theys put their #8 Audi R8 on the podium.

The following year, Audi was back with a vengeance, with three Audi Sport Team Joest R8s taking every sport on the podium, with an historic one-two-three result. Danish driver, Tom Kristensen was behind the wheel of the winning car with teammates Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela. It was his second Le Mans win and his first for Audi – he would of course go on to win a further seven times (six more with Audi) to become the most successful driver in the race’s history.

Certainly, a new era in world motorsport had arrived. 

The rest as they say, is history. Over the next 14 years, Audi would go to completely dominate this greatest of all races, winning in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Indeed, between 1999 and 2017 Audi competed 17 times at Le Mans with the Audi R8, R10 TDI, R15 TDI Plus, R18 and R18 e-tron quattro and won 13 victories in the world's most famous long-distance race. 

But Audi was not content to just keep winning, and continually pushed the envelope in terms of new technologies to wrack up a number of motorsport milestones within those victories.

In 2006, Audi debuted the R10 TDI and became the first manufacturer ever to win with a diesel engine.

In 2000, just its second year at Le Mans, Audi occupied every place on the podium

Emanuele Pirro, Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela give Audi its first win in 2000.

Between 1999 and 2017, Audi competed a total of 17at Le Mans, recording 13 victories

In total, TDI technology won the race a total of eight times at Le Mans. In 2007 and 2008, Audi was again victorious with the R10 TDI at La Sarthe as well as winning the American Le Mans Series with the R10 TDI three times in succession and, in 2008, the European Le Mans Series as well. 

In 2010, the new Audi R15 TDI celebrated a one-two-three result in the fastest Le Mans race of all time and set a new distance record that has not been broken to date. During the entire TDI era, Audi reduced diesel consumption by 46 percent within the space of one decade. 

In 2012, Audi created another first, becoming the first manufacturer to clinch the coveted title with hybrid power, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro taking the race win and then going on to win again in 2013 and 2014.

In 2016, Audi made another announcement that again had an impact around the motorsport world – that the brand would cease its sportscar program. Over the course of 18 years, Audi had completely dominated the sportscar world, from its very first outing stamping its authority on the category. Now, it was time to look elsewhere for new challenges.

Nevertheless, this was extraordinary era in motorsport, that all started with that simple announcement 21 years ago today.

The Audi R10 TDI – 2008.
The Audi R18 TDI – 2011.
Victory for the third straight year with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 2014.
A field of champions.