The beginning: quattro
Disregarding the era before World War Two, including the legendary Grand Prix cars from the Auto Union in the 1930s, Audi’s motorsport history began with quattro. In 1978, the Audi Sport department was set up to prepare for motorsport commitments. Three years later Audi celebrated a sensational debut at the Monte Carlo Rally: after ten kilometres of the first stage, Hannu Mikkola overtook a Lancia Stratos that had started a minute before him. In Autumn 1981, a woman won a world championship round for the first time in history with Michèle Mouton at the Rallye San Remo. Dominant victories and two driver and brand titles with the ‘Ur-quattro’ in the World Rally Championship between 1982 and 1984 were an important factor for the market success of quattro drive.
Goodbye rallying, hello circuit racing
In 1986, the first six quattro years came to an end. Mouton, Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl had won 23 world championship rallies and taken home four titles to Ingolstadt. This era was a model example for the realisation of real technical advantages through motorsport: quattro, the victory of an idea. After Audi had turned rallying upside down by conquering Pikes Peak (USA) three times in a row in record time with the Sport quattro, the brand then made quattro drive suitable for the race track: first with the Audi 200 quattro and the Audi 90 quattro IMSA-GTO in the USA, then in 1990 and 1991 taking two championship titles for the Audi V8 quattro in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) – and then also with the A4 in the Super Touring Cars competition for production-based cars. In 1996, the Audi A4 quattro won the title in seven countries. Between 2012 and 2016, four-wheel drive returned to the race track as e-tron quattro.
Audi R8 the most successful Le Mans sports car of the modern era
After the superior quattro drive was banned from touring car racing, Audi switched to sports prototypes, underlining its 18-year-long slogan ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ in this motorsport category as well. At its debut in the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, it jumped straight to the podium with a third-place finish. In the following years, the Audi R8 was in a class of its own at the toughest endurance race in the world. A historic hat-trick was celebrated from 2000 to 2002, also thanks to the TFSI technology first used in 2001. The combination of turbocharging and direct injection was revolutionary at the time and is now standard in Audi production models. In 2004 and 2005, customer teams in Le Mans took two more overall victories for Audi. The R8 secured its place in motorsport history with a total of 63 wins in 80 sports car races.
Title win on DTM return
After Laurent Aurelio’s title win in 2002 with the privately entered Abt-Audi TT-R, Audi returned to the DTM with a factory-backed commitment in 2004 and won the title with Mattias Ekström – the Swede then won again in 2007. In 2008 and 2009, his brand colleague Timo Scheider took the crown.
Audi is thus to this day the only car manufacturer in DTM history to win a title hat-trick. Martin Tomczyk completed the Audi A4 DTM’s success story in the 2011 season. Two years later, Mike Rockenfeller clinched Audi’s ninth DTM title in total with the Audi RS 5 DTM.
Pioneering performance with TDI technology
Audi demonstrated a pioneering performance and at the same time proved once again ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ with TDI technology: the newly conceived Audi R10 TDI triumphed in 2006 as the first diesel-powered racing car at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Overall, the TDI technology has won eight times in the toughest endurance race in the world. Audi also won the American Le Mans Series three times in a row with the diesel racing car and in 2008 the European Le Mans Series as well. With the R15 TDI, Audi celebrated a 1-2-3 victory in the fastest Le Mans race ever, setting a new distance record. In 2014 followed the 13th victory from only 16 races entered. ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ also applies to energy efficiency. In the TDI era, Audi reduced diesel consumption by 46 percent within a decade.
First Le Mans hybrid winner
With the first victory from a hybrid racing car at the Le Mans 24 Hours, Audi achieved another pioneering performance in 2012. The Audi R18 e-tron quattro remained unbeaten in Le Mans three times in a row (2012 to 2014). The principle in which the front axle is driven by an electric motor can now also be found in production vehicles, for example in the Audi Q7 e-tron quattro. Many other innovations, such as the Audi laser light, add to the catalogue of technical developments.
GT racing: the third pillar
With the R8 LMS, Audi developed for the first time a racing car for customer racing. The GT3 sports car, which consists of more than 50 percent of standard parts, proved itself immediately. By the end of 2016, Audi had delivered more than 200 racing cars to customers. In March 2015, Audi presented the second generation of the successful GT3 sports car, which won the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring only two months later. To date, 35 overall drivers’ titles around the world, nine total victories in 24-hour classics, such as at the Nürburgring and at Spa-Francorchamps, as well as four triumphs in 12-hour races have been taken by the R8 LMS.
Vorsprung durch Technik’ continued into the future
For the 2017 season, Audi Sport has repositioned itself. The company not only demonstrates ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ through the DTM but also in two other disciplines, which belong to the brand’s portfolio for the first time. Since the 2016/17 season, Audi has become more involved in Formula E, the world's first racing series for pure-electric-powered racing cars. “Electro-mobility is one of the key issues in our industry,” says Peter Mertens, Member of the Board of AUDI AG, Technical Development. “We want to become a leading premium provider in this field. In 2025, every fourth Audi will be an electric car.” Audi’s commitment to the 2017/18 season will be expanded into a factory-backed motorsport programme.
In addition, Audi has been supporting Mattias Ekström’s Rallycross team since this year. The 2004 and 2007 DTM champion celebrated the driver and team title in the World Rallycross Championship in 2016, and thus continued Audi’s success story. “In 1983, Hannu Mikkola was the first to race with quattro-drive, then the Audi R18 e-tron quattro was successful over many years, and now I have been able to contribute a chapter with my Audi S1 EKS RX quattro,” says Ekström.