1999 Audi R8C #9 Pilots: S. Johansson, S. Ortelli, A. Abt Team: Audi Sport UK Ltd Race: DNF (LMGTP class) at Le Mans in 1999 Minichamps - 43.099.0909 (diecast)
By the 90s, Audi was a well known motorsports powerhouse. With multiple victories in rallying and touring cars championships, the Ingolstadt brand amassed a solid reputation. Fueled by so many podiums, they turned their sights higher: prototype racing at Le Mans. For the 1999 season ACO made extensive modifications to their prototype classes, and even created a new one, the LMGTP. The time was right, so in 1998 Audi began designing and building a prototype completely from scratch. However, they wanted a win BAD, so they dived full throttle into the project. With that, in 1998 they began to develop a LMP car. And a few months later, they began a second program, for a LMGTP car. If money is not an issue, why not maximize your chances, right? Spend big or go home.
ACO introduced the LMGTP class mainly to substitute the GT1 class. In essence, GT1 cars were prototypes masquerading as GT cars. Since these cars were too powerful for “regular” production-based GT cars, ACO eliminated the class. Yet, GT1 cars, with their gorgeous looks, were a crowd favorite. The new LMGTP class came to address that – a closed cockpit full-blown prototype. So for the 24 Heures du Mans of 1999 there were two prototype classes. The big difference between them was that LMP cars would be roadsters while the LMGTP cars would be closed-cockpit coupés. In 1998 Ingolstadt began working on their LMP car, the R8R. With a chassis designed by Dallara, the R8R debuted in March, at Sebring. Conversely, the R8C was a coupé. And with that there was a huge difference in terms of aerodynamics. The closed-cockpit design along with LMGTP class particularities made them very different cars.
For the R8C’s chassis, Audi contracted Racing Technology Norfolk. RTN produced a carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb monocoque with steel roll over structure. Power came from a 90º V8 displacing 3595 cm³, with 4 valves per cylinder. Turbo-charged by two Garrett turbines, the engine delivered a respectable 640 hp to the rear wheels. The gearbox was a sequential 6-speed unit built by Ricardo, with double wishbone suspension. And to stop all that the R8C counted on Brembo carbon fiber disk brakes. In terms of specs, the R8C was very similar to the R8R, sharing the exact same engine. However, the R8C arrived later than the R8R. The first R8C prototype was ready only on April 1st, with Audi just making two cars. With that, the R8C’s first race was exactly Le Mans, on June 12th. That meant that the R8C had barely two months for tests.
When the two R8C arrived at La Sarthe, they were gems in the rough. Though as fast as the R8R, they had a lot of handling issues. With that, car #10 started out on 20th while #9 started on 23rd place. Meanwhile, the two R8R qualified in 9th and 11th. The race per se was a disaster, with car #9 abandoning on lap 55 and car #10 on lap 198. Both with terminal issues with their gearbox. That being so, Audi scratched the R8C and focused on the R8R, and in the following year they created the mighty R8. I think that with proper development, the R8C story would have been different. Nonetheless, the car is absolutely g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s. And just as important, it was a precursor to the great R8. With all that, a R8C was a must have in the W-143 Garage.