Audi has won 10 of the past twelve Le Mans 24 Hour races – and, so associated are they with winning the big race, I’ll give a small pat on the back to anybody who can name the two interlopers without resorting to Wikipedia.
That’s an extraordinary run of success, but one that is less of a surprise to double race winner (once in a Porsche, once in an Audi) Allan McNish than most. With unrivalled insight into how the team works, he reckons its success is only natural.
“Audi is engineering led, and that makes a difference,” says McNish. “Audi Sport lives in the R&D section of Audi, not marketing, which is not the case for many other manufacturers involved in motorsport.
“To give an illustration of what that really means, when I joined Audi I got the shock of my life when I walked in the garage in the middle of the night and found all the board members stood there, studying the telemetry. Motorsport is that ingrained in the company. The bosses at other manufacturers I’ve raced for would turn up, watch for an hour, have dinner and a glass of champagne and leave before the end. At Audi they live it.
“The vast majority of the board at Audi is made up of doctors of engineering, and they see motorsport as a way of developing new ideas fast – that’s why the hybrid system on our car this year is so relevant. It’s the culture of the company – on the road car side, long before the styling side took off, Audi was led by engineering principles. The styling may have caught up, but engineering is still core.
“Here’s an example: in 2006, when we went diesel for the first time, we had diff failure in warm up and pulled in to pit. About half hour later the guys repairing the car and I got dragged in to the back of the truck and there were two very, very influential board members in the truck with their silk shirt sleeves rolled up and with their arms in the oil. They weren’t demanding to know why the part had broken – they were coming up with solutions to stop it happening again. That shocked me, because one of them controls the whole VW group and the other is now the boss of VW.”
I wonder what the people who think Audi stands for style over engineering substance make of that?