|Audi R8 LMS Ultra|
Ahead of the 2009 season, Audi Sport diversified its operation by establishing a customer motor sport program. Up until that point the competition arm of the German manufacturer had exclusively built prototype racers and touring cars for works or works-supported teams. The first product of the program was a GT3 version of the R8 road car.
Dubbed the R8 LMS, Audi's first GT3 racer shared many of the same underpinnings with the production machine but necessary changes had to be carried through to comply with the regulations and to meet safety requirements. The most fundamental of these was abandoning the road car's all-wheel drive in favour of rear-wheel drive as specified by the regulations.
Anticipating the addition of a V10-powered version to the R8 road car line-up in 2009, the GT3 machine was already equipped with the ten cylinder engine also found in the Lamborghini Gallardo. Displacing just over 5.2 litre, the all-aluminium unit produced over 500 bhp. This was fed to the rear wheels through the standard six-speed gearbox, modified to be operated by paddles behind the steering wheel.
What was carried over almost unaltered was the aluminium spaceframe chassis. Suspension was by double wishbones with coil springs and hydraulic dampers. Optional on the road car, the GT3 racer was equipped with ventilated ceramic discs. Sophisticated driver aides like a race-specific ABS and a minutely adjustable traction control system were also fitted.
While closely resembling the road going R8, the R8 LMS is clothed in a bespoke bodywork. As on the road car, the panels were constructed from a mix of aluminium and carbon fibre. What set the competition body apart are the larger intakes, front splitter and much deeper sills. The finishing touch is a large rear wing, which had a virtual identical profile as the one used on the Le Mans winning R10 TDI.
The first two prototypes were ready towards the end of 2008 and were extensively tested by Christian Abt and Frank Biela. One was destroyed in the hands of Abt after a brake failure. The R8 LMS along with the customer racing program was announced at the Essen Motor Show in December. For the first season a limited run of 12 examples would be available and they were quickly sold out.
In the performance-balanced GT3 class the R8 LMS faced stiff competition from a wide range of machinery that included Aston Martins, Vipers, Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The class was used for various championships, so the R8 LMS was quickly a familiar sight on grids around Europe and immediately proved a winner.
For the 2010 and 2011 seasons two additional batches of GT3 R8s were built and after three years of competition the R8 LMS had won 115 races and 12 championships around the world. Among those victories were outright wins in the 2011 editions of the Spa 24 Hours and Bathurst 12 Hours. Still missing from that list, despite strong factory support, was the prestigious Nürburgring 24 Hours.
In response to new machinery from the likes of McLaren and Aston Martin, Audi Sport prepared an evolution of the R8 LMS for the 2012 season. Known as the 'Ultra', in reference to Audi's marketing program by the same name, the revised machine features aerodynamic tweaks that include a larger wing and also a more powerful engine. The aerodynamics package was also available for the 2011 model R8 LMS.
The great form displayed in 2011 continued in the new season with an original specification R8 LMS taking a repeat victory in the Bathurst 12 Hours and the Ultra scoring a debut win at the FIA GT1 World Championship season opener. In Ultra trim, the R8 LMS finally added an outright win in the Nürburgring 24 Hours to its tally, and also secured a second victory in the Spa 24 Hours.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on July 30, 2012
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