Audi Sport Team Joest thrilled the fans on its first showing in China with a fantastic season finale of the sports prototypes at Zhuhai. However, a controversial final phase deprived the Allan McNish / Tom Kristensen Audi of the victory the brand actually deserved.
During the entire 1,000km race Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish and Dindo Capello/Romain Dumas at the wheel of the two Audi R15 TDI cars fought an intense duel with the two Peugeot 908 cars. One hour before the end, Kristensen was clearly leading the race when the only safety car period caused the Dane’s advantage to shrink from over 30 to 13.5 seconds.
Afterwards the spectators witnessed a sprint race in which every tenth of a second counted but Kristensen was surprised when immediately before the last refuelling stop of his direct rival in the Peugeot, Stéphane Sarrazin, he was slowed by Sarrazin’s team-mate Sébastien Bourdais, who was over three laps behind. This allowed Sarrazin to rejoin after his last refuelling stop with a one-second advantage over Kristensen and to ultimately win the race with a 4.8-second advantage.
Kristensen, who had qualified third on the 23-car grid, handed over the Audi to McNish 95mins in to the 1,000km race in third place – 27secs behind the leading Peugeot. McNish set a scintillating pace and swept the Audi into the lead for the first time with 3hr 37mins on the clock with 10secs covering the top-three.
The Scotsman’s stunning triple driving “stint” lasting 2hrs 31mins in the hot and humid conditions – in stark contrast to the wet and dismal conditions encountered for much of the previous two days – came to an end when the diminutive McNish pitting to Kristensen with over four and half hours on the clock with a 32secs lead.
The controversial “teamwork” deprived the Chinese fans of a true final shoot-out. Nonetheless, they witnessed the performance capability and reliability of the two Audi R15 TDI cars that were equal and at times superior to the competition in the race. The strategy of changing the tires at each pit stop after the second hour of the race proved to be right. The Audi drivers were able to take advantage of the fresher tires again and again and made up the time lost in the pits after each change.
In the crucial phase of the race Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen managed to distance themselves from their immediate rivals before the deployment of the safety car one hour before the end of the race thwarted their plans and forced them to settle for second place by a narrow margin. Dindo Capello and Romain Dumas occupied third place.
The finale of the Intercontinental Cup was the last race of the Audi R15 TDI in its current technical configuration. From 2011 onward, new Technical Regulations which prescribe a downsizing of the engines will apply to Le Mans prototypes. The successor model, the R18, will be presented in December.
The Audi R15 TDI competed in a total of nine races in 2009 and 2010. Three of them were victorious. The innovative diesel sports car secured its place in the history books primarily due to its one-two-three victory at the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours, the fastest Le Mans race of all time.
The Audi R15 TDI was developed, among others, in cooperation with Bosch, a major and long-standing innovation partner of Audi’s. Both companies pursue similar aims through their motorsport commitments: the development of optimal solutions for motorsport based on volume-production technology. Gasoline direct injection and diesel injection technology are good examples of these endeavours. In 1989 Bosch and Audi launched the world’s first diesel engine with direct injection and turbocharging technology on the market in the Audi 100 TDI. This technological strategy laid the foundation for the success story of today’s diesel engines – in production cars as well as in motorsport.
Zhuhai was also the first race in a Le Mans Series to see the fielding of the Audi R8 LMS. Marchy Lee, Alex Yoong and Mathew Marsh from the KK Performance team managed to clinch twelfth place overall and victory in the GTC class.
After the Audi R15 TDI and the Audi R8 LMS the Chinese spectators will soon be able to witness the Audi A4 DTM in action as well: on November 28, the finale of the DTM will be held on the city street circuit in the financial centre of Shanghai.