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Audi Was This Close to Testing Le Mans Prototype When It Ditched the Project for F1

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Tyre change for Johnny Herbert in the #2 Audi Sport R8 during the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France on June 15, 2002. The sister #1 car went on to win this race, marking Audi's third-consecutive victory with the dominant R8 prototype at the start of the new millennium.

Tyre change for Johnny Herbert in the #2 Audi Sport R8 during the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France on June 15, 2002. The sister #1 car went on to win this race, marking Audi’s third-consecutive victory with the dominant R8 prototype at the start of the new millennium.
Photo: Clive Mason (Getty Images)

Audi versus Porsche on the hallowed ground of the Mulsanne, once more. It was shaping up to be one of many storylines figuring to make the forthcoming era of sports car racing so exciting. Both Volkswagen Group brands were working on their own LMDh prototypes, which would have competed not only with each other for overall victory, but also machinery from the likes of Ferrari, Cadillac, BMW, Peugeot, Toyota, Alpine and Lamborghini. Porsche stuck with its project, even through the ups and downs of its failed bid to take over half of the Red Bull Formula 1 team. Audi didn’t.

This week, however, we’re getting a clearer picture of the state of Ingolstadt’s work leading up to its official cancellation in August, courtesy of Motorsport.com. The car was reportedly “weeks away” from testing at the time it was canned, according to comments made by Nico Muller, one of the team’s development drivers, to the publication:

Now it has emerged that Audi was at such an advanced stage with the successor to the R18 that the car would have completed its first test had the call to abandon the project came a few weeks later.

“At the end the car was ready to go,” Muller revealed to Motorsport.com. “We worked a lot on the sim, everything was ready to go into proper on-track testing.

“It had been developed together with Porsche; it is no secret that they shared the same platform with Multimatic.

“Would I have loved to drive it? It was very close, but the call came a few weeks too early.”

Like Porsche, Audi was quick to turn around with a vehicle ready to test, perhaps thanks in part to the LMDh category’s reliance on spec parts and suppliers. Both Volkswagen brands were to use the same V8, same hybrid system and same Multimatic chassis in their respective competitors.

In case there’s any doubt, the decision to enter Formula 1 via the Sauber route was ultimately the nail in the coffin for the Le Mans bid, as Audi Sport’s Chris Reinke told it:

“Internally at Audi it has been decided to focus on Formula 1 and therefore for everybody who had maybe an emotional link or a commitment to LMDh, that possibility was shortened.”

It’s a little surprising that Audi took an either/or approach to deciding which top-level racing category to compete in. By choosing the LMDh route — rather than building a more expensive, more bespoke Le Mans Hypercar as Ferrari, Toyota, Peugeot and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus have done — the company was already saving money to get onto the same grid. Volkswagen also has plenty of cash to play with, evidenced by the fact that company ‘s board didn’t seem to care that both Porsche and Audi wanted to join the same two racing series at the same time. Ultimately, Porsche will still have the privilege to do both, and has remained confident it will figure out a way to break into F1 eventually, one way or another. But then again, Porsche is absolutely rolling in it right now.

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