Team play at the wheel

In endurance racing, several drivers have to share the work in the cockpit in respective stints. How does this team play at the wheel work successfully? Audi Sport drivers Frank Stippler and Dries Vanthoor, who together have won in an Audi R8 LMS GT3, explain how it is done.

08/21/2019 Reading Time: 5 min

Frank Stippler and Dries Vanthoor holding a steering wheel

THE TEAM LINE-UP

Audi Sport customer racing, headed by Chris Reinke, has a dedicated line-up of professional racing drivers and deploys them in its own strategic commitments and in support of customers worldwide, for instance in classic 24-hour races such as those at the Nürburgring and at Spa-Francorchamps. Two drivers who have been successful in these endurance racing events are the German Frank Stippler and the Belgian Dries Vanthoor.

 

“Consistency and speed, a cool head in all weather conditions and very good team skills.” For Chris Reinke, these are the key qualities and selection criteria for his regular driver squad. Audi Sport customer racing and the team principals who handle such commitments for Audi, together determine the driver combinations in endurance racing that may consist of two, three or even four drivers, depending on the duration and distance of the race. They include the successful teams WRT of Vincent Vosse and Phoenix Racing of Ernst Moser.

Audi R8 LMS on the racetrack

THE TEAM CAR

The second-generation Audi R8 LMS GT3 is the car for the big iconic endurance racing events at Audi. The production-based sports car corresponds to the international FIA GT3 motorsport regulations and has been a big winner for Audi Sport worldwide since 2015. In the 2019 season, the Audi R8 LMS GT3 has won the Dubai 24 Hours and the Nürburgring 24 Hours, among others, plus many more stand-alone races on various continents.

TECHNICAL DATA

  Audi R8 LMS
Vehicle type Sports car according to FIA GT3 regulations
Engine Normally aspirated V10 gasoline engine
Cubic capacity 5,200 cc
Power Up to 585 hp*
Torque Over 550 Nm
Type of drive Rear-wheel drive
Transmission Sequential, pneumatically operated six-speed performance transmission with paddle shifters
Dimensions 4,573 / 1,997 / 1,171
Length/Width/Height (mm)
Weight 1,235 kg**
Fuel cell capacity 120 l
0–100 km/h 3.2 seconds
Top speed 305 km/h
  * established by BoP of the series organizers
** homologation weight to be determined at a later date
Frank Stippler and Dries Vanthoor

BUILT TO SUIT TEAMS

There are three features allowing for the Audi R8 LMS GT3 to be adjusted to drivers of varying heights in endurance races:

Audi R8 LMS on the racetrack

TEAM PLAY

Compromise is the key word when several drivers have to share a racing car. The reason is that all professional drivers signed by Audi Sport customer racing are extremely fast, albeit they may be in highly different ways. There are some who prefer a car with understeer. This means that, at the limit of grip, the front wheels of such a car tend to follow a straight line whilst cornering. A tendency to oversteer is exactly the opposite driver preference, in other words when the rear of the car tends to drift towards the outside when cornering at excessive speed. In addition, there are racing drivers who still prefer to brake in the classic way with their right foot, or those preferring to use their left foot, which has become standard practice in motorsport ever since the clutch pedal was replaced by the clutch lever on the steering wheel.

Tyre change during a pit stop with an Audi R8 LMS

“The goal to be pursued in the setup should be a car that has mostly neutral cornering performance that all of the drivers are able to handle well,” says Frank Stippler. The seasoned 44-year-old racer is one of the most experienced Audi Sport drivers of all. As a two-time winner of the Nürburgring 24 Hours and as a Spa 24 Hours winner, he’s one of the most successful GT3 pros and therefore highly valued in endurance races. “In addition to a good setup compromise, it’s very important that a driver crew has good rapport and also has fun together,” adds Dries Vanthoor. The 21-year-old up-and-coming driver has already managed to win two classic endurance races with Audi Sport: the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2018 and – together with Frank Stippler – the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2019.

Pit stop for an Audi R8 LMS

TEAM TACTICS

In qualifying, who will compete for the best possible spot on the grid? Who will take the wheel at the start of the race? Who at night, in rain or in the final stint? All of these questions are decided at Audi Sport customer racing and its fielding teams during the weeks before an endurance race. “We know from years of experience who is best suited for which task,” says Ernst Moser. A very important thing for the good motivation of a driver crew, the Phoenix team principal adds, is this: “Everyone has to have adequate responsibility, everyone for their own specific task. For one driver, it’s qualifying, for another, it’s the start and for the next one, it’s something else.

Audi R8 LMS on the racetrack

The start driver always bears a particular burden. Dries Vanthoor has understood this ever since his first endurance race: “Be cool and stay cool, that’s crucial for success. As a team in the cockpit, and of course also in pit lane, we have to make sure not to jump the gun right from the beginning, so that, in the last three hours of such a race, we can be in contention at the front, then attack and battle for victory.”

Audi Sport Team WRT in pit lane

Even so, in today’s highly professional GT3 category, every endurance race is a sprint from start to finish – even the 24-hour events. “Just the 30 or 40 seconds that you may, for instance, lose due to a mistake during a pit stop can cost you victory,” WRT boss Vincent Vosse knows from experience. Consequently, the drivers, engineers and mechanics are under maximum pressure in each phase.

Pit stop for an Audi R8 LMS

TEAM SPIRIT

“Basically, all racing drivers are egotists and only battle for themselves,” says WRT boss Vincent Vosse. The Belgian knows exactly what he’s talking about. He was a racing driver himself before starting his own racing team. “We require our drivers to spend as much time together as possible before an endurance race, to concentrate on the joint goal and to exchange as much information as possible with each other during the competition.” This exchange primarily takes place via team radio. “During the last five laps, before turning my car over to my teammate, I inform them on the radio about everything that’s particular about the track and the car at that moment,” explains Dries Vanthoor. During the driver change, when you need to have full concentration on each movement and each step, there’s only time for a quick: “Good luck!”

24 Spa 2019 Audi group photo

Team spirit and team play are top priorities at Audi Sport customer racing. “To move camaraderie and friendship into the drivers’ focus is extremely important,” emphasises Phoenix team principal Ernst Moser. After 2012 and 2014, he clinched the third victory in the Nürburgring 24 Hours for Audi Sport in 2019. As a result, the brand was successful in the one-day endurance race in the ‘Green Hell’ for the fifth time since 2012. And Phoenix Racing has also won this race for the fifth time in total since 2000.

Audi R8 LMS steering column

“Essentially, it’s a question of character,” says Frank Stippler. For him, the personalities of the drivers are the most crucial aspect of successful team play at the wheel. “There’s not much room for airs and graces or for soloists,” he stresses. Especially consideration during the typically short sleeping breaks for the drivers in endurance races is important to Stippler. “Maybe it’s my age,” he adds and laughs. At least, so far, he’s always been able to find a sufficiently quiet place to take a nap, but he won’t reveal where that is. That, too, is part of the routines of an old hand in endurance racing. By contrast, for an up-and-coming driver like Dries Vanthoor, the key factor is a totally different one: “It’s whenever something unexpected happens in or on the car and I’m not sitting in it myself,” he says.

TEAM PLAY
AT THE WHEEL

Frank Stippler, Chris Reinke, Dries Vanthoor, Frédéric Vervisch and Pierre Kaffer on the podium
Race helmets
Audi R8 LMS on the racetrack

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