Race of the millennium
One from the vault – how the crocodile Audi R8 lit up the streets of Adelaide.
The famous Audi R8 with the crocodile livery is often on show at the Audi Museum Mobile in Ingolstadt, but its ties to Australia go way deeper than the very Australian race paint.
5 February, 2024
The R8 also made its mark far from the famed Circuit de la Sarthe on the streets of Adelaide
It’s the car, or at least the model that started the brand’s historic run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The original Audi R8 (the R8 R) first captured the imagination at Le Mans in 1999 before an updated version of the car went all the way and captured the title the following year, launching Audi on its historic 13 victories in 15 years.
But far from the famed Circuit de la Sarthe, in South Australia of all places – the Audi R8, complete with ‘Aussie-inspired livery wracked up another historic win that year that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
Held on December 31, 2000 it was billed as the ‘The Race of 1000 Years’ and was held on the 3.8 kilometre Adelaide street circuit that had for 10 years hosted the Australian Grand Prix.
The brainchild of American businessman Don Panoz, the Adelaide spectacular was part of his plan to take Le Mans to the people of the world. Panoz saw no reason to limit the spectacular Le Mans racers to a single event each year in Sarthe, France and after negotiations with the organising body, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest decided to take the show on the road internationally.
He started the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and then added the European Le Mans Series and finally the Asia Pacific Le Mans Series which is how Adelaide came to be featured.
In Adelaide, with the cars trimmed in low downforce, low fuel and caution-to-the-wind qualifying trim, the cars would nudge 300km/h down the long Brabham Straight with Audi Sport maestros Allan McNish and Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello sharing the duties in one car and Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro in the other.
For Australia, Audi pulled together something special. With one car appeared in the then distinctive silvery race livery, the #77 car paid homage to the first ALMS race to be held Down Under.
“This unusual crocodile costume is a greeting to our Australian hosts,” explained the then Head of Audi Sport, Dr Wolfgang Ulrich. “The car is a real work of art.”
Powered by a 3.6-litre twin-turbo V8, the R8 boasted 400kW of power and an enormous 700Nm of torque – remember this was 2000. Weighing in at just 900kg gave the R8s a power-to-weight ratio on par with a Formula 1 car and with their twin-turbo V8s screaming they announced their arrival to the motorsport faithful who turned out in force, long before they blazed into view.
Powered by a 3.6-litre twin-turbo V8, the R8 boasted 400kW of power and an enormous 700Nm of torque
Now, with the clock ticking towards the arrival of 2001, just one task remained to round off a year of precision and perfection
For the Audi Sport team, the year 2000 had been a particularly memorable year, scoring a perfect 1–2 finish no less than seven times throughout the season and going one better in the jewell of the crown, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, scoring that historic 1–2–3 finish.
For the man behind Audi Sport Team Joest, race veteran Reinhold Joest, it was a season to remember and savour, a year that came about as close to perfection as anyone has any right to expecting in the world of top level motorsport.
Now, with the clock ticking towards the arrival of 2001, just one task remained to round off a year of precision and perfection.
From the start, the two R8s were in a class of their own, with first Biela enjoying a taste of the lead before McNish slipped past into the number one spot – where the car would remain until the chequered flag.
Biela and co-driver Pirro would not enjoy the same good fortune, the Italian crashing their car heavily during the race. Incredibly, after a mighty effort by the Joest pit crew, the car returned to the race to finish 16th – over 50 laps behind teammates McNish and Capello in the #77 crocodile car.
For McNish it meant the championship, for Audi it meant yet another triumph and for 80,000 Australian motorsport fans assembled that night, it provided a rare spectacle.
It also created yet another milestone for the Audi R8 LMP900 – the car that started a dynasty.
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