The greatest race
Audi back at Le Mans as part of the celebrations.
The world’s oldest and most revered race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, celebrates its centenary in 2023 and no other brand has enjoyed more success in the modern era of the race than Audi.
9 June, 2023
Not only did Audi cement its first victory in the race in 2000 it locked out the entire podium
It’s widely considered the toughest endurance road race in the world and this year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrates its centenary. That’s 100 years in existence but this weekend’s race will in fact be the 91st running of the classic, with races lost to general strikes in France in the 1936 followed by the advent of the second world war and a further eight years without competition.
For Audi, the brand’s debut in the gruelling classic didn’t come until 1999 with a podium finish for the original Audi R8 race car on debut. Just one year later though, a dynasty began and the most dominant performance by a manufacturer in the modern era of the race.
Not only did Audi cement its first victory in the race in 2000 – again with the R8 – but in fact locked out the entire podium. An ominous signal to the competition of what was to come.
In 2000, the top spot on the podium was occupied by Audi Sport drivers Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Danish driver, Tom Kristensen who shared the driving duties in car #8. For Kristensen it was his second win at Le Mans and although recognised as a great driver, he was not yet known as Mr Le Mans, the title he would cement over the coming years winning another seven times at the Circuit de la Sarthe to become the most successful driver in the history of the race.
For Audi Sport, from that point on the race wins came thick and fast and over the next 14 years, Audi would go on to completely dominate this greatest of all races, winning in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Not content to just win, the brand also used the famed race to showcase its mastery of different automotive technologies, achieving a number of firsts that changed the very face of motorsport. In 2006 Audi flew in the face of convention when it took on the race with the diesel-powered R10 TDI and won on debut. The brand followed up with wins again in 2007 and 2008 proving the superiority of its diesel engine and 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.
But always looking for further innovation, in 2012 Audi became the first manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with hybrid power, with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro winning on debut before going on to also win in 2013 and 2014.
Not content to just win, the brand also used the famed race to showcase its mastery of different automotive technologies
Fittingly, in 2023, Tom Kristensen, aka Mr Le Mans, is the official ambassador of the 24 Hours of Le Mans centenary
It would be fair to say that there was a collective sigh of relief from the opposition when in 2016, Audi announced that it would wrap up its hugely successful sportscar racing program and turn its motorsport attention elsewhere. But by then, the records were written and the brand had done what it set out to do.
Fittingly, in 2023, Tom Kristensen, aka Mr Le Mans, is the official ambassador of the 24 Hours of Le Mans centenary. In addition to Kristensen’s official role, as part of the centenary celebrations, Audi will showcase a number of the brand’s winning cars from over the years, including the R18 e-tron quattro from 2016 along with the one-off Audi S1 e-tron quattro Hoonitron which was made especially for the late, great Ken Block by Audi Sport and starred in the film Electrikhana.
Obviously Audi Sport has now turned its motorsport attention to its Dakar Rally campaign and https://magazine.audi.com.au/article/team-building, but the Le Mans race remains inexorably linked to the brand and this centenary running will excite many memories as well creating new ones.
For Australian motorsport enthusiasts, coverage of practice and qualifying will be aired on Stan Sport over the course of this weekend with the race proper getting underway on Sunday (11.6.23) 11pm EST, live on demand on Stan Sport.
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