2000 Audi R8 #8 Pilots: F. Biela, T. Kristensen, E. Pirro Team: Audi Sport Team Joest Race: 1st overall (LMP900 class) at Le Mans in 2000 Minichamps - 430000908 (diecast)
When GT1 racing began in 1994, most of the big brands sent cars to Le Mans. With that, in 1998, the last year of GT1, prototype racing was immensely popular. However, until then Audi had not joined that bandwagon, but the top brass felt that it was time for an Audi prototype. Specially because in 1999 would begin the American Le Mans series, a great opportunity for brand exposure in North America. Therefore, in 1998 Audi started a prototype development program. For 1999 they had two cars ready, the R8R and the R8C. At La Sarthe in 1999, Audi fielded two of each, and while both R8C retired with gearbox issues, the R8R came in third and fourth. With the experience gained at Le Mans, Ingolstadt decided to ditch the closed-cockpit and develop the spyder. Yet interestingly, Audi decided to produce a completely new car – the R8.
The R8 had only one element carried over from the R8R, the twin-turbo engine, and everything else was new. The R8 had the same 3596 cm³ 90º V8 of 1999, with 32 valves and DOHC. It was a mid-mounted all-aluminum affair, producing 610 hp through a Ricardo 6-speed sequential gearbox. Conversely, the chassis was totally new. It was an aluminum and carbon fiber honeycomb monocoque, with the engine as a stressed member. Covering all that up was a very aerodynamic carbon fiber body, with the car weighing 900 kg. The R8 was ready in early 2000, and its first race was the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, ALMS’ very first race of the series. Audi had a two-car team, and the R8 finished in first and second. The car proved itself, and was ready for the 24 Heures du Mans in June.
For Le Mans Audi maintained their partnership with Joest Racing, with a three-car team. Competition was far from stiff for Audi that year. With Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Toyota gone, only Panoz and maybe Courage could be a problem. The race was uneventful for the Audi Joest team, despite having to change the gearbox on one of the cars. Car #8 also had a slow puncture, which made it lose precious minutes and the lead at a time to the Panoz #12. Nevertheless, that was not enough to rob the glory from Audi, and in the end the R8 came in 1-2-3. That was the beginning of the “Audi Years” at Le Mans, with the R8 winning four more times. Furthermore, the R8 #8 granted Tom “Mr. Le Mans” Kristensen’s second of his nine wins at La Sarthe.
Without a doubt, the R8 is one of the most iconic Le Mans’ cars. Five wins in total and the car that started the Audi Years makes it so. With that, this R8 #8 is probably the most important of them all, being the first. Absurdly it took me over three years to get one, though I already have a few other R8 in the Garage. Maybe such an important model should have been from Spark, but those are not exactly plentiful to find. Besides, when up for grabs, they command a hefty price. The Minichamps version is nifty, but without a doubt the version from Spark is definitively nicer. Even so, this one is so nice that I honestly don’t think I need to upgrade. Therefor, maybe this is not the best version, but I am totally happy with this R8 #8 – the first of the Audi Years’ cars.