Are Audi Making an Error With the R15?

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Are Audi Making an Error With the R15?

Audi, the German car giant, have dominated worldwide Le Mans series racing in recent years, including by being the winning manufacturer of the last five overall Le Mans 24-hour winners.

Even the Bentley that breaks that run was hugely influenced by Audi technology.

Starting with this season Audi are moving onto the third incarnation in the racing dynasty, the R15.

However, if they are serious about keeping their run of 24-hour victories alive are they making a monumental error in how they're planning their 2009 season.

The new car is planned to make it debut at the Sebring 12-hours on March 21st. The South Florida race is the curtain raiser to the new American Le Mans Series, and in recent years have become many teams first step on Le Mans preparation.

Last year saw Peugeot bring their 908 HDI over to the track, gaining further endurance experience with their relatively new car, Sebring is (after all) the second longest ACO regulated race, behind Le Mans.

So, it might not be a surprise that Audi plan to turn their first wheel in anger in Sebring. What might be a surprise is that's all their doing.

Audi, and so the R15, have no more planned competitive outings until Le Mans in June. There is no Audi presence at all for the majority of ALMS season, and the only Audi entrants in the European Le Mans Series are a pair of the out-going R10 models run by a customer team.

So, what if they find a problem running the new car round Sebring? If there was ever a time when you need every chance at development it's now. A new car has new things to go wrong, and with new rules being enacted to close the chasm between diesel and petrol cars Audi may have lost some of the advantage its powerplant has given it in recent years.

They're missing three months of racing, with all the information that can give you, while their rivals, Peugeot, Aston Martin, Pescarolo, even Acura are turning laps and crunching numbers to make their cars and their chances of victory better.

Of course I fully expect Audi to be working away from the track on their new car. They undoubtedly have wind tunnels, dynos and everything else they need to improve their car.

It is possible that the customer Audi team, run by Colin Kolles will effectively test new components. Kolles' team apparently has factory backing in the form of mechanics and technical support so the workforce is there to test new stuff on the old car.

It is equally possible that Audi know they're making a mistake, but have been forced into it by the economy. They announced late last year they were pulling their factory teams from the European and American series, so the Audi accountants are obviously worried about the bottom line, and producing a new race car isn't a cheap business.

So perhaps it was a case of either we get the new R15 OR we get a works Audi team for the year.

What Audi do between between Sebring and Le Mans could be the most important choices in sportscar racing for a number of years. But with the ACO trying to level the performance of diesel and petrol cars 2009 represents the best chance of a non-Audi win at Le Mans in years.  

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