Top in customer test
The Audi R8 LMS GT2 uses the so far most powerful, near-production evolution of the aspirated 5.2-litre V10 engine of the R8 model range. The proven Audi power-plant has been designed as a naturally aspirated unit for the first time in the racing version, delivers 470 kW (640 horsepower) and, as a result, offers nearly 30 per cent more power output than it does in its so far most powerful version in the Audi R8 LMS GT3. Unlike the GT3 and GT4 models, its structure is not based on the Coupé chassis but on the Spyder version of the Audi R8 production model. Audi Sport customer racing’s new GT2 concept has been systematically tailored to meet the needs of gentleman drivers.
James Sofronas was the first customer of Audi Sport customer racing to experience the capabilities of the Audi R8 LMS GT2, which has been offered since July 2019, and what the new GT2 racing category stands for. The 51-year-old American has been active in motor racing since 1994 and been associated with Audi Sport for quite a while. The owner of the GMG Racing team contested his first races with the Audi R8 LMS in the United States in 2012. In 2013, Sofronas even fought for the title in the Pirelli World Challenge with the GT3 version of the model. As a privateer, he ultimately had to admit defeat against a General Motors factory-backed programme by just a narrow margin, and as the runner-up celebrated an unforgettable season. Five years later, James Sofronas made history: in 2018, he was the first customer worldwide to lead the Audi R8 LMS GT4 to a title win in its maiden season. As a driver in the Pirelli World Challenge, he not only won a single but as many as three classifications, plus GMG Racing clinched victory in the teams’ classification.
THE PREMIERE TEST
It doesn’t take James Sofronas long to make up his mind because the opportunity of getting to know the Audi R8 LMS GT2 is unique: “When I saw the car for the first time I was stunned by the way it looks. Due to its aerodynamic components such as the wing and front splitter, its ground-hugging stance and impressive air scoop above the roof, it appears like it’s ready to attack. Of course I was delighted to be the first to drive a race in it.” When the American climbs into the cockpit for the first time his thrill even greater after just a few laps: “The Audi R8 LMS GT2 weighs just a little more than 1,300 kilograms, has enormous power and achieves a high top speed. That’s perfect for gentleman drivers who are not as experienced as typical GT3 drivers.”
With the GT2 model, Audi Sport sets its sights on more than just classic racing competitions. “The car isn’t just an outstanding racing car, but also perfect for track days,” James Sofronas stresses. “As a student I started driving road cars on race tracks. But once you’ve gone to the limit in a racing car with real tyres, a good suspension and powerful brakes for the first time you don’t want to switch back to a production car. And that’s exactly what the Audi R8 LMS GT2 perfectly shows, too.”
THE TEST VERDICT
The team principal and racing driver from California is highly impressed with the car’s performance. “The Audi R8 LMS GT2 is very lively, the gas pedal responds to the smallest change, the steering provides good feedback and handling at the limit is very predictable,” James Sofronas comments. “The car is hardly slower but much easier to drive than a GT3 model. A lot of new customers will no doubt really appreciate this.”
As with many other racing drivers before, the Audi V10 engine in particular inspires enthusiasm with Sofronas. The 5.2-litre power-plant drives the rear wheels with 470 kW (640 hp) in its so far most powerful evolution. “I love the sound of the V10,” says the exclusive test customer. “You also want to really hear a racing car. Going to the rpm limit and experiencing the engine in the process is huge fun. I love naturally aspirated engines. Their available rpm range is larger than that of turbos and the power delivery is very linear. As a result, the performance of the Audi R8 LMS GT2 is absolutely predictable in any gear.”
But that’s not the only reason why the new GT2 model from Audi Sport customer racing is the first choice for gentlemen. “This car is not only easy to drive but also easy to field,” confirms the seasoned racer Sofronas. “You can go to the race track with one or two mechanics, drive there all day, and only have to check the tyre pressures and fluids. You don’t even have to change anything. Many of the components of the Audi R8 LMS GT2 are close to those used in production cars, but on the track it’s nearly as fast as a GT3 racing car. You really get the best of two worlds. I had a lot of fun with a car that’s fantastic to drive.”
THE NEW GT2 WORLD
Stéphane Ratel Organisation (SRO), which has been organising and promoting GT racing for more than a quarter of a century, has set its sights on a specific target group with the new GT2 class. It exclusively addresses the large group of gentleman drivers. Pros are not allowed to race there. Starting in 2020, SRO will organise racing series for the Audi R8 LMS on three continents, America, Europe and Asia. The GT2 Sports Club Europe will kick off in 2020 with a test day in June, the first of five events will follow at Misano on 4/5 July. In addition to these SRO racing series, other championships are planning to open their classes for this new category. And last but not least, Audi is targeting another group: at track days and race resorts, where the owners can permanently park their racing cars and only need to climb in after arriving there, the GT2 cars will no doubt be fascinating many racing enthusiasts as well.
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