Breaking: First photos of the US GRAND-AM Rolex Series Audi R8 LMS


Editor’s note: We are excited to bring another update in the R8 LMS discussion, this time from our friend and Audi racing veteran Don Istook

This latest Audi story started the day before Thanksgiving in Neckarsulm, Germany. This started many many years ago, specifically when Audi of America allowed me to receive the first TTRS in the U.S. but, I’ll just shorten the drama and go back to Neckarsulm.  

I’m in Heidelberg to visit my daughter. Audi of America arranged for a private tour of the R8 plant at quattro GmbH, and then the R8 LMS workshop. With my Audi Racing background (original Quattro in SCCA, S4’s and TT’s in Grand-Am and World Challenge), this was pretty interesting, and exciting and a long time coming.   The Audi Experience in Neckarsulm is just that an incredible Audi Experience! This is one of the sites where you would receive your Audi on the European delivery plan.  Marvelous modern facility, wonderful Nuvalori restaurant, great gift shop and staffed with marvelous, helpful employees.    

That’s just part of it. The R8 manufacturing assembly is a state of the art plant where the R8 is primarily handmade. There is very little use of robots and automation!  We watched sheets of aluminum, extruded aluminum and 4 castings being formed and welded by hand to produce on of the best built cars in the world!  

On this world class assembly line the heart of the R8 LMS begins.  You see, the R8 chassis is so well built, that the R8 race car chassis is basically a stock, off of the assembly line chassis, with an FIA certified roll cage welded (well, welded to plates and bolted in) to the fabulous aluminum chassis.  They are all sent to the paint shop, which also paints the Lamborghini, and then returned to the assembly line. Once painted the race car chassis go off to another location where it takes about two weeks to transform the chassis into a race car, versus about 7-8 days for the street car.  

We saw R8’s being built for the various markets around the world: right hand drive, left hand drive, coupes, Spyders. As well as all sorts of colors: blue, black, red, silver! All gorgeous!  Talk about a kid in a candy factory! R8 overload! Next, my son Marc and I (who also flew over for Thanksgiving and is the owner of a 2010 A5) were driven in an S3 to the R8 LMS race shop about 10 kilometers away.  Our R8 tour guide, who has worked for Audi for 27 years, said “wow… No one ever gets to go there” So, we felt special indeed!  Upon arrival…you have to phone in your presence we were ushered in through locked doors and met Juergen Zuern, our host.  We went into another room where we were surrounded by R8 LMS race cars about 6 or 7 in the room.  Juergen apologized for the mess, as they had just gotten back from Macau (where they won), and were just sorting through the things you do after a race.  

Ok, on one of the lifts, sat a white, or almost white R8.  This was the car being readied for the Daytona test December 6-7.  They were wrapping the car in Red, White, and Blue with a big star on the hood. Being a Texan the front of the car looked a lot like the Texas flag thanks guys (remember the Alamo!!)  They showed me some of differences that they were making to the car for preparation to race the car in Grand-Am. APR is scheduled to get the first race car. Though there are differences versus some of the European series, the car is still basically the same wonderful V10 powered R8.   So, being an engine builder, I asked Juergen — How many hours do they get out of an engine? (Porsche mandates about 30 hrs. or so, then a rebuild) before a rebuild or replacement.  He looked at me kind of funny, and said “I don’t know, we never have had to rebuild one”.  

He then pointed to a car in the shop and said “that car has about 35K racing and testing kilometers on it and we don’t have plans to go into it”. Amazing!  These are production engines that have an exhaust change, possibly restrictors and they go right into the race cars!  He also said, if they have to change the restrictors, they then start the car and the ECU mapping adapts in just a few minutes to the change.   He pointed out to me a few changes for 2012, including new lightweight carbon fiber doors (saves about 20 kilos), a new exhaust system for more torque (good lord! Sigh! More power?) and also the new spherical suspension bushings to replace the rubber bushings.  

Fast forward almost two weeks.  I am at Daytona International Speedway where the R8 LMS will make it’s official U.S. debut with the Grand-Am test days Jan. 6 & 7.  I arrive on the 4th and give a hand to Brad Kettler with Kettler Motor Werks and his crew Charlie and Dan.  Brad is working as the liaison for Audi Sport here in the U.S.  If you really want some heavy Audi racing background see Brad. My first meeting with him was when we were racing the S4 in World Challenge (a little) and primarily in Grand-Am.  He was with Champion Motorsport with their S4’s then the RS 6 then the R8, etc.  Ask him about winning LeMans!! This man knows his Audi’s!!  

There the R8 LMS sat looking very American in it’s Red White and Blue livery!  So, I finally got the chance to really look at the car, and see what makes it tick!!  Gorgeous!  Carbon fiber bodywork, meticulous details, enormous brakes, well laid out electronics your typical Audi! And yes, I even gave the crew a hand on some last minute details.  Five German technicians came in on the 5th and started doing their last minute prep to the car shock setup, final alignment, etc.  

How will the car fare in Grand-Am in the GT class remains to be seen. APR certainly should have the expertise in the running of the car. There is not a tremendous difference in many things from that of the street car and that is one thing that makes it so reliable.  There are rumors for a few other cars to be built for Grand-Am, but APR should be the first.  One note is that Audi will be very strict on the electronics no tinkering  (sorry APR, REVO, etc.).  

In regards to other series, like World Challenge let me just say that in addition to my racing the TTRS in World Challenge as a GTS car, my team has interest in racing the R8 LMS in the GT class.  Should make for a great Audi racing season in 2012.  Finally, Audi is back again making a major presence be known, and it is filtering down to the private teams!  

More as the season progresses!!  
Don Istook