Celebrating Audi’s giants of motorsport.
3 November, 2016
Every automotive brand has its motorsport heroes – few can match Audi for the sheer depth of extraordinary people who have written motorsport history behind the wheel of its cars. Across all facets of motorsport, from hill climbs to Grand Prix, endurance classics to the ice, gravel and tarmac of rally they have changed the very face of motorsport.
From touring cars to sports prototypes, the revolutionary vehicles and technology pioneered by Audi have been driven by likeminded people, never happy to rest on past achievements but always looking to do better. These individuals and indeed teams have been integral to the brand’s development and become a part of the rich motorsport history and reputation Audi enjoys to this day.
The man who started it all and ultimately gave his name to the company – twice. August Horch was not only an engineer and automotive pioneer, but passionate about proving the worth and performance of his vehicles in the cauldron of motorsport. This mindset would obviously go on to become a staple of the Audi brand and continues to be integral in the development of new technologies.
In 1899, August Horch founded August Horch & Cie in Cologne with the first of his vehicles appearing on the road in 1901. But only a matter of eight years later, difficulties with the board of the company saw Horch leave to form another new company. For this venture, he again wished to use his own name but because of trademark issues with the existing Horch company, opted for the Latin translation of his surname which means ‘listen’, and the name Audi was born.
Still considered one of the greats, Bernd Rosemeyer’s star burned very brightly and all too briefly during his stellar career. Although he started his career racing motorcycles it is his exploits behind the wheel of the Auto Union Grand Prix cars for which he is best remembered.
His performances were legendary behind the wheel of big, mid-engined monsters that boasted some 370kW but were notoriously difficult to drive. He won numerous Grand Prix and was celebrated around the world as one of the finest drivers in the sport.
In what was in surely his finest year, 1936, he took what is essentially the World Drivers Championship, winning three of the four big European Grand Prix – the German, the Swiss and Italian Grand Prix.
The following year he won the the coveted Vanderbilt Cup in the USA, but only a year later his career and life came to an abrupt end. Aged just 28, in January 1938 Rosemeyer set a class speed record of 432km/h on the autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt in a streamlined Auto Union. Trying for a higher speed, his lost control of his car and was tragically killed.
The champion’s champion, Tazio Nuvolari left no stone unturned in his extraordinary motorsport career. From winning the 1925 350cc European Motorcycle Championship to amassing an incredible number of race wins in everything from the 24 Hours of Le Mans to Grand Prix, Mille Miglias, Targa Florio and Coppa Cianos, Nuvolari was the epitome of racing talent.
Nuvolari raced for a number of manufacturers, initially sticking with his native Italian marques, but in 1937 he joined Auto Union and raced very successfully for the brand winning the Italian and Donnington Grand Prix in 1938 and the Yugoslavian Grand Prix in 1939.
Michele Mouton is not only a legend behind the wheel of the awesome Audi quattro cars of the 1980s but a true pioneer, paving the way for women to compete in top level motorsport.
Utterly fearless and possessing incredible skill behind the wheel of anything she drove, Michele Mouton became the first woman to ever win a round of the World Rally Championship – indeed she went on to win four international rallies on the way to finishing runner up in 1982 World Rally Championship, driving for Audi. Her close second in the championship saw her finish just behind none other than Walter Röhrl.
Her race victories not only in rally but other classes of motorsport are impressive – winning her class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the mid 1970s and also claiming the Pikes Peak title in 1985.
Mouton has inspired a generation of race fans and in particular young women looking to follow in her very fast footsteps.
There is no shortage of accolades for the German rally ace who was fast regardless of the car he was driving or the conditions. Röhrl’s exploits in the Audi Sport Quattro cars both in the WEC and conquering America’s highest peak are still talked about in hushed tones to this day.
Röhrl found a special affection and indeed, respect for the snarling Audi Sport quattro cars he drove between 1984 and 1987, the Group B machines massively powerful, but capable of harnessing that extraordinary power through all four wheels to produce the greatest spectacle in international motorsport during the 1980s and change world rallying and motorsport forever.
He drove with Audi during the golden era of rallying when the cars and the driver line-up (others listed here), were the best in the world.
As well as victories in the World Rally Championship behind the wheel of the Audi Sport Quattro S1, Röhrl demolished the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in 1987 becoming the first driver to break 11 minutes up the 19 kilometre ribbon of dirt (now the course is paved) – famed for its 156 turns and sheer drops.
One of the all-time great rally drivers, Stiq Blomqvist is synonymous with the Audi brand and was one of the drivers who dominated world rallying behind the wheel of the Audi Quattro cars.
The Swedish driver joined the Audi team in 1982, initially signed to only a few events along with regular drivers Michele Mouton and Hannu Mikkola. He wasted no time in stamping his authority on the World Rally Championship (WRC) winning his home rally in Sweden and the Rally Sanremo and achieving a second in the 1000 Lakes Rally.
For 1983 he was signed with Audi as a regular driver and went on to take seven podiums to finish fourth for the season.
In 1984 he settled for nothing short of dominance, winning five rounds of the championship and placing second in another to take the world title. In 1985 he missed out on repeating the feat, but still finished second in the championship standings. His legend was assured and to this day, aged 70, he is still a force to be reckoned with behind the wheel.
The flying Scotsman, Allan McNish is a living Audi Sport legend – his three 24 Hours of Le Mans victories and success in countless other forms of motorsport including the German DTM series, cementing his place as one of the great drivers of the modern era.
From driving in Formula 1 as well as testing for several teams, it was in sports car racing that McNish really excelled.
His wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and at Le Mans elevated him to legend status. The 2008 win at La Sarthe with long time friends Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello was followed by another in 2013 (again with Kristensen) and Loïc Duval, with the three going on to win the World Endurance Championship for the same year.
That year also marked his retirement from competition, but the talented Scot remains very much involved with the Audi brand, working as a a motorsport ambassador and is intimately associated with Audi’s move into Formula E.
Arguably the greatest racing driver of the modern era, Tom Kristensen epitomises all that is great in the sport. The consummate professional, unflappable under pressure, TK as he is known, holds the record for most wins ever at Le Mans – his nine victories at the famed Circuit de La Sarthe, six of them in a row, earning him the title ‘Mr Le Mans’ and cementing his place as the most successful sports car driver ever.
Indeed in his 18 Le Mans starts, Kristensen was unable to finish only four but finished on the podium on every other occasion. That he set a lap record on his very first visit to the track should have been a sign to those paying attention that someone very special had arrived.
He also holds the record for the most 12 Hours of Sebring victories with six to his name and has recorded countless wins in DTM, British Touring Cars Formula 3000 as well as clinching the Race of Champions.
A born competitor, Kristensen retired from racing in 2014 but remains an Audi Sport ambassador, a racing driver the likes of which comes along once in a lifetime.
Although a veteran in so many ways, André Lotterer remains a rising star, with so much racing still ahead of him. With three Le Mans victories and still in contention this year in the WEC, he and his teammates carry on a great tradition.
Lotterer has shown his skill across numerous race categories, from tremendous success in Formula 3000, to winning the Japanese Super Formula in 2011 to testing and racing in Formula 1. His skill and uncompromising approach consistently see him atop the podium regardless of the racing class.
Certainly he is best known for his work with Audi Sport in the tough WEC series. His drive in the 2010 Le Mans race must number as one of his greatest, the Audi R15 TDI quattro setting a new distance record of 5,410.7km over the 24 hours.
In 2014, driving the No.2 Audi at Le Mans with teammates Marcel Fässler, Benoît Tréluyer, Lotterer was utterly relentless in his desire to win – literally pushing the competition to breaking point to ultimately claim Audi's 13th victory at the race.
Again last year, Lotterer entered the Le Mans history books – this time behind the wheel of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro – producing the fastest race lap around the La Sarthe circuit in a blistering 3:17.475.
Of course there are so many others who have produced and continue to produce herculean efforts on the tracks of the world. A visionary without a doubt, even August Horch could not have foreseen the success and the heights his new company and its creations would reach.
New technologies have marked the upward surge of Audi ever since, but from the first days, the company has continued to test and prove its vehicles in competition, the successes not only building a racing reputation but resulting in quantum leaps in automotive development.
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