Audi returns to Le Mans
For years the German marque straddled Le Mans like a colossus. Then it left. Jake Groves leads the comeback.
Audi bailed out of the World Endurance Championship back in 2016, after a decade and a half of near-complete dominanace. Its swansong was the Audi Sport Team Joest R18, but the story began with the R8 – the R8R contested the 1999 race. Heck, even the R8 production car’s concept forebear was called the Le Mans Concept.
So, when you’re invited to Le Mans, glamping, and with the opportunity to rub shoulders with some famous people (courtesy in my case of Aston Martin Racing, not Audi), taking our R8 to one of the most famous races on the planet is a no-brainer. I’ll be the closest thing to a 2019 Le Mans entry Audi Sport will have – hell, they should be paying me for this.
Lumpy, congested British motorways and fast, clean French autoroutes generally don’t make for a particularly thrilling drive. But when you have 10 cylinders, a foldable roof and a near-continuous convoy of motorsport fans in similarly tasty cars all the way from Calais to Le Mans, you don’t stop smiling. At one point I even spend time in convoy with CAR’s James Taylor, who’s driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RS; some long tunnels allow for laugh-out-loud (and very childish) acceleration tests between the R8’s bassy midrange and the Porsche’s limiter-bouncing howls.
I arrive at the campsite with no backache (the bucket seats are uncompromising but supportive) and ready for a weekend in any weather, the R8’s supposedly paltry frunk swallowing everything from T-shirts and shorts to chunky boots and a thick raincoat.
The weekend itself proves unforgettable. I come away exhausted and temporaily deaf but it will be hard to beat watching the sunrise at Tertre Rouge, taking a helicopter ride over the track mid-race and testing my own endurance by staying up most of the night.
Then, on the misty Monday morning after, I do the whole trip back again with a similarly wide smile on my face. That is, of course, after a quick blast up and down the Mulsanne straight, sneaking a few pictures on the second chicane.
Any niggles? It’s a small one, but plenty of recent new Audis have an updated version of Virtual Cockpit that looks cleaner and comes with some cool graphics – something the A1 hatch gets but this facelifted supercar doesn’t, even though the two were launched at the same time. Oh, and there are a couple of creaks coming from the instrument cluster – again, not a dealbreaker, but evidence of the R8’s handmade origins.
The story so far
All style, no substance? Le Mans and back will test the R8, asking that it lug all-weather camping gear, cruise long distances and still thrill when required
+ The attention you get; engine, pliancy in Comfort; engine; topless thrills; grip; did we mention the engine?
- The attention you get; thirst
Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested)
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp,
Max speed 204mph
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 22.2mpg (tested), 302g/ km CO2
Energy cost 30.1p per mile
Miles this month 3575
Total miles 7819
Come on Audi, GTE next year? The R8 couldn’t look happier on Le Mans tarmac
In the tunnels, the R8’s bassy midrange battles a Porsche 911 GT3 RS’s limiter bouncing howls