Gallery: trackside at the six hours of Spa
Top Gear gets up close and personal as Audi’s newest prototypes take the flag…
Posted: 08 May 2012
There's rain, and then there's rain. It's moments before the second round of the World Endurance Championship in the delightful locale of Spa-Francorchamps, and it is raining. And we couldn't help but feel some cosmic force was at work here; not through the sheer velocity of the precipitation, but because of a conversation we had last week.
You see, we had a good old natter with Audi works driver Allan McNish just one week before he would debut his brand new company car: the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. And during the course of our ramblings, he made one interesting point.
"Personally, I'm interested in what its like in the wet. I haven't driven it in the wet yet."
So on the morning of the race, it rained. As we may have already mentioned, really, really rained. And thus began the six hours of Spa, a prelude to the upcoming Le Mans 24hrs. Think of it as a training session for the grid just one month before - arguably - the halo race in the WEC. A blood and thunder racing workout to iron out any difficulties ahead of the gruelling fight night at La Sarthe.
Of course, for this race, at Spa, Audi would be shadow boxing, because Toyota - it's new chief competition since Peugeot made that shock exit - couldn't race its prototype following an off just last month. So it was essentially an inter-team battle: Audi's new, tech-laden e-tron quattro versus the standard rear-wheel-drive TDI. And in qualifying, Allan posted a storming qualifying time in his new car of 2m 01.579s - half a second quicker than the non-hybrid ‘Ultra'. So a pole position would see in the new hybrid drive Audi, making quattro a headline again.
The four-wheel-drive e-trons proved quick off the mark in the pouring rain - with better traction, naturally - but a string of problems to pole-sitter McNish, Kristensen and Capello's R18, including a change to the front nose, a safety car delay, a minor off and a stop-and-go penalty meant it lost valuable time in the pits. Soon enough the diesel-powered car of Loic Duval, Marc Gene and Romain Dumas eventually overtook the hybrids and took the chequered flag.
Duval later confirmed his car's pace. "It felt good, and we never had any problems", he said, somewhat chillingly. The e-tron made a not-insignificant debut mind, as the number #1 car driven by Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer (the trio that won Le Mans last year as the sole remaining Audi) finished second.
Both Treluyer and Fassler were slightly disappointed. "We have to analyse why the e-tron wasn't as fast as the Ultra," said Treluyer. "I had massive understeer." Fassler meanwhile, lamented his mistake. "After my last pit stop I had a huge off. I tried to close the gap but it was difficult in traffic."
Still, a 1-2-3-4 for Audi at Spa isn't a bad result by any standard, and it throws down a big gauntlet to new boys Toyota. Afterwards McNish told us Audi actually needs Toyota, not just for the sport, but for some competition. Reckon they've got it in them to challenge Audi's dominance?
Click here for the full results list on the official FIA website, and click through for more pics from the day. Oh, and as we mentioned last year at Le Mans, the Corvette's V8 remains one of the most spine-tingling, raucous and soul-affirming noises TG has ever heard. Yes, the Ferraris and Porsches and LMP2 prototypes screeched across the line, and yes, one of the C6-ZR1s didn't make it to the bitter end, but there's something about a deep, bassy V8, crackling and popping like the devil's chariot, that brings the biggest, most uncomplicated smile to our face.
Bring on Le Mans.