The term ‘icon’ is bandied around quite a bit, but the Audi R8 is one car that genuinely deserves the title.
20 November, 2023
It started with a concept car called the Le Mans quattro that Audi presented at the IAA in Frankfurt in 2003. A sleek mid-engined sportscar, it created quite a stir on debut and had onlookers wondering if this stunner might go the same way as the Audi TT several years earlier and end up a series production reality. It did.
In 2006 the Audi R8 became a reality, with Mr Le Mans, Tom Kristensen (who was still on his way to winning nine Le Mans titles at the time), presenting the car first in Paris and later at other markets around the world, including Australia, where it was unveiled to the press in 2007 at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.
The original car was remarkably true to the Le Mans quattro concept in terms of its design, right down to the side blades which became a signature of the R8. The 4.2-litre V8 with the six-speed manual transmission (and that wonderful metal gearshift and gate) were an instant success. As a road car it was hailed as an ‘everyday supercar’ because of the ease with which it could be driven on the road – unlike many other supercars of the day which were not happy in day-to-day traffic environments.
The Audi R8 though was completely unphased in the cut and thrust of city traffic and yet find a decent bit of winding road or better still, a race track and it showed its true colours.
Indeed the road car which was of course named after the brand’s Le Mans winning race car in 2000, itself lent its name to a succession of GT3 cars which set about rewriting the motorsport history books in race series’ all over the world.
The R8 GT3 quickly mark its mark on the category wherever it was raced, but subsequent versions in GT4 and later GT2 (based on the R8 Spyder) also wrote their names into the record books again and again.
In addition to the race cars, Audi experimented with a number of ‘one-off’ R8 models along the way, with both a TDI powertrain in the R8 V12 TDI unveiled in 2008 and an all-electric model in the R8 e-tron.
The TDI model featured a massive 6.0-litre V12 TDI powerplant mated to a six-speed manual transmission and produced 367kW of power and 1000Nm of torque to see off the standing 0.100km/h in 4.2 seconds. This car was later renamed the R8 TDI Le Mans, but it never reached the dizzying highs of success of its petrol namesake.
The R8 e-tron maintained the race theme of the model when it set a track record at the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife for a production vehicle with an electric drivetrain. Driven by two electric motors, each generating 280kW of power and 820Nm of torque, the R8 e-tron in the very capable hands of Markus Winkelhock shot around the Green Hell in 8:09.099mins to set the record, with the model actually going on sale to the public later that year.
Just 100 examples of the electric R8 were produced, making it a collector’s item, but the world was not quite ready for large scale electrification even a decade or so ago.
Back to the ‘mainstream’ R8 and the first generation R8 car ultimately gave way to a second generation model. The second generation Audi R8 was debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015 and the appetite for the brand’s supercar progressed unabated.
Likewise the second generation of the Audi Sport race version (which shared nearly 50 percent of of its components with the road car) continued the tremendous motorsport success all over the world – again winning every major GT3 race series and endurance race it entered.
For the road cars, although the performance has been refined and the styling sharpened somewhat, the basic look of the R8 has remained unchanged, with the most recent R8 V10 performance quattro touching down in Australia in 2020 with its 5.2-litre V10 slingshotting it to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 330km/h.
A rear-wheel drive variant also entered series production for the purists, after being offered as a limited edition model of only 999 units in 2018. In fact, it was a rear-wheel drive model –the R8 V10 GT RWD – that ultimately became the R8’s goodbye model when it was released last year.
Over the years there have been several special edition variants, including one named after the Nürburgring – the Green Hell – a track where the race cars have enjoyed such tremendous success. And of course the R8 has always made a very appealing convertible in Spyder guise.
Now it’s time to farewell this extraordinary car which has become synonymous with Audi and wait to see just what comes next. Whatever it might be, it will certainly have big shoes to fill.
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