The four rings in touring car racing and at Le Mans
After withdrawing from rallying, Audi switched to circuit racing. In 1988 it entered the Audi 200 for the American TransAm series. After ten races, the championship title was firmly in Audi’s hands.
Audi entered its cars in the IMSA-GTO race series in 1989. The IMSA Audi 90 quattro developed an impressive power output: 720 bhp. With seven wins, including five in first and second place, Audi was championship runner-up at the end of the series. Stuck and Audi only failed to carry off the title because of the decision not to enter for the Sebring and Daytona long-distance races.
In 1990 Audi entered the V8 quattro for the DTM events on home ground. Not having been conceived initially as a sports model, it was mocked mercilessly as a “chauffeur’s car”. In an exciting series of races culminating in a dramatic final on the Hockenheimring, Hans-Joachim Stuck took the DTM title. Four Audi V8s were on the starting grid when the next season began, driven by Stuck, Biela, Jelinski and Haupt. Biela won both heats of the final event and secured the championship title for Audi, which became the first manufacturer in the history of the DTM to defend its title successfully.
In the 1993 season Audi went racing in France, one of its most important export markets. Frank Biela was entered for the French ‘Supertourisme’ Touring Car Championship, driving a 272 horsepower Audi 80 quattro, and took the championship title at the end of the season. In the D1 ADAC Touring Car Cup, held for the first time in 1994, Audi again raced before German enthusiasts, this time with the Audi 80 ‘competition’ as its entry.
The 1996 racing season saw Audi at the starting line in German and Italian championship events, but also in the British Touring Car Championship. With support from the local importers the Audi A4 Supertouring also took part in national touring car championship series in Belgium, Spain, Australia and South Africa. With overwhelming success – Audi took the national titles in seven countries.
The ITR organising body permitted the ABT-Sportsline team to use the Audi TT as the basic car for the DTM championship, a series revived in 2000. The season proved to be a year of apprenticeship for the team, which collected only a meagre 19 points in the championship rankings. For 2001 the rules were slightly modified, and ABT-Sportsline ended the season as runner-up. Laurent Aiello took the championship title in 2002, but in due course the Audi TT-R’s racing career came to an end: by the autumn of 2003 Audi had decided to rejoin the DTM with a works team.
With the newly built Audi A4 DTM Audi took the team prize and the manufacturer’s championship title. Mattias Ekström was runner-up in the drivers’ rankings in 2005. Tom Christensen made it to the winner’s podium in 2006, with third place overall. In the following season Mattias Ekström headed the drivers’ rankings with Martin Tomczyk in third place. The Audi Sport ABT-Sportsline team took first place in the team rankings by a considerable margin. The title was defended successfully in 2008, with a win for Timo Scheider and third place for Mattias Ekström. In the season’s team rankings, Audi came second, third, fifth and seventh. Then came the first hat-trick in the history of the DTM championship: in 2009, with Timo Scheider retaining his previous year’s title.
For its participation in the Le Mans 24-hour race, Audi developed an entirely new racing car in 1997/98. It was powered by a 3,600 cc twin-turbo V8 petrol engine that delivered 450 kW (610 bhp) at 6,300 rpm. The engine design was supervised by Ulrich Baretzky in Neckarsulm; the chassis was developed in Ingolstadt and the single-seat carbon-fibre body came from Italy. In the race held on June 13, 1999 Audi took part for the first time and finished third and fourth.
In the long-distance race held in Sebring, USA in 2000, the Audi R8s came in first and second. Then it was time for Le Mans again: on June 18, 2000, the 24-hour race ended with a one-two-three victory for Audi. For the following season the eight-cylinder turbocharged engines were converted to direct petrol injection (FSI). This version of the Audi R8 took the first four places in Sebring; at Le Mans two R8s were entered, and took first and second places in a race run in torrential rain.
Once more, in 2002, Audi’s sheer perfection outclassed all its rivals: the result was a one-two-three victory in Le Mans. After this hat-trick the Le Mans Trophy was presented permanently to the Audi team. There were no factory entries in 2003 and 2004, but Audi supported private teams that went to the start with the previous year’s R8. 2005 was the last year in which the R8 was entered: at Le Mans it took first, third and fourth places.
Audi’s racing car for the 2006 Le Mans 24-hour race, the R10 TDI, had – a diesel engine! This was the first time such cars had been entered. When they crossed the finishing line on June 18 in first and third places, a new chapter in motor racing history began. Audi took three factory-entered cars to Le Mans for the 2007 race, the seventy-fifth to be held on this traditional circuit – and won, a success repeated in 2008 with the twelve-cylinder R10 TDI. This car led the field home with a lead of 4.31 minutes after completing 381 laps of the circuit and brought Audi its eighth Le Mans victory. The 2009 event was one of the most exciting and fastest races in Le Mans history. The 10-cylinder R15 TDI achieved third place for Audi. Including the brand’s eight 24-hour race wins since the 2000 season, its cars had achieved a place on the podium no fewer than eleven times.