Monday, 6 July 2015

What's happening at Audi?

It is no secret that I like Audi. I like their road cars (indeed I own one), I enjoy watching them go racing and I count as friends several of their drivers and engineers, not to mention Martyn and Theresa Pass, who have worked tirelessly and loyally as the PR representatives for Audi UK for many years.

Once again this year, the Audi UK Press Fleet allowed the Radio Le Mans team the use of some of their cars in which to travel to and from Le Mans - my mode of transport was a 2.0 litre turbo-diesel A4, which swallowed up not only pitlane commentator Bruce Jones, our chauffeur (‘the Baron’) Paul Tarsey and myself but also our luggage, which included a large case full of computer equipment and two boxes of books and other reference material. As the owner of the shortest legs in the crew, I sat in the back, but there was still adequate space, and although I didn’t keep track of refuelling (shame on me), as far as I remember we only needed to make one refuelling stop the whole week.

Earlier this year, I was also able to try out the new TT – the solution to rather a different problem – and had a great deal of fun. The model I drove was a 2.0 petrol-engined coupé with a six-speed manual gearbox. This delivered 230PS (227bhp), and 0-100kph in six seconds, according to the manual. The new body shape is appealing, and the driving experience – especially with the all-electronic LCD screen dash – extremely good. I’ve read some reviews that don’t like having the satellite navigation positioned in front of the driver rather than in the centre console, but for me it worked fine (I don’t need my passenger contributing to navigational decisions).

The most impressive technology was the matrix LED headlights, which were bright enough to bring dozing squirrels scurrying out of the trees; but intelligent enough to dim selectively when passing cars, cyclists or other road users were around. All in all, a very fine, if somewhat expensive, car. And it would be the cost that would probably prevent me buying one. That and the fact that I don’t actually want an Audi TT. For some reason, Audi’s small sports cars don’t quite stir the soul in the same way as certain other makes do. The thought occurs that for around the same price as a TT, I could get a Lotus Elise – with all its sporting heritage, and, having owned a Lotus Elan +2S many years ago, a brand for which I have a great sentimental attachment.

Lotus was founded by Colin Chapman way back in 1952, and I was surprised to learn recently that the first Audi to go on sale to the general public in the UK, was in 1965, just fifty years ago. It is not the cause of great celebration though; the current Audi brand having grown from the “Union” of Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer in 1936. If you want to go further back, though, the original Audi company (founded by August Horch) was started in 1910, eighteen years before Chapman was even born, so maybe my sense of sporting heritage is misplaced.

In 1965, though, the pioneering, four-stroke Audi F103 went on sale in the UK, and 32 examples were sold in that first year. (In case you’re wondering, the F102 was a two-stroke DKW.) This year, Audi sold its two-millionth car and has 51 different models for prospective buyers to choose from. For all its heritage, Lotus can’t match that.

In my view, what Audi does well (apart from the R8, which is simply astonishing), are big powerful saloons and estate cars. I have thoroughly enjoyed time that I have been lucky enough to spend in the S4, RS4, RS5 and S6. The combination of the ability to absorb luggage passengers and cover plenty of miles at impressive average speeds with technology at the fingertips and comfort in abundance is unparalleled.

The other thing that Audi does well, of course, is to win Le Mans – a feat that eluded them this year, but it was some of the detail from that which was the original intention of this article.

In terms of average lap times, there was very little to choose between Audi and Porsche. Porsche though brought two cars to the flag with only the merest whisper of a problem – some bodywork damage and a drive-through penalty.

All three Audis had – by their own high standards – significant problems. First was Loïc Duval’s encounter with slow-travelling GT cars when he was accelerating out of a slow zone; or more to the point the encounter with the barriers that came immediately after he took evasive action. That put the number 8 car a lap down. Then there were rear bodywork failures which led to Marcel Fässler spending nearly seven minutes in the pits having repairs made to the no. 7 car. Finally, the third-string R18 e-tron quattro, which for a while looked like the car most likely to take the fight to the Zuffenhausen-built cars, had problems with the hybrid system, which eventually led to the need to replace a front corner of the car, and costing more than a quarter of an hour.

Had Audi been able to deliver better reliability, they still might not have won the race of course, but they certainly would have enlivened the last six hours, as they would have been able to prevent Porsche from taking things quite so easily and potentially putting extra strain on their rival’s cars.

There will be many a post mortem meeting back at Ingolstadt – indeed there has already been a major investigation into a problem with the electronic engine seals on the no. 7 car that scrutineers uncovered following the warm-up session on the morning of the race. Due to a (manual) handling error on the seals, they were not able to be read: not by the official FIA/WEC reader, nor by Audi’s own equipment. Audi Sport Team Joest, having been found guilty of swapping the positions of the seals, admitted the fault on their side in a hearing held more than a week after Le Mans in Paris. The outcome is that the team has been fined €50,000 and deemed to have used four out of the five engines that they are allowed to use in the season. Lotterer, Fässler and Tréluyer will thus have to complete the remaining five races of the season with only one new engine – although the two engines used so far at Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans are available, if there is enough life left in them. Fortunately, Audi is famous for welcoming challenges!

Anyway, here’s the driver data from the three cars:
Car No. Driver Average Lap Time Laps
7 André Lotterer 3m 20.412s 132
Benoît Tréluyer 3m 20.421s 146
Marcel Fässler 3m 20.786s 115
8 Loïc Duval 3m 21.767s 124
Lucas di Grassi 3m 20.363s 161
Oliver Jarvis 3m 21.175s 107
9 Marco Bonanomi 3m 22.317s 126
Felipe Albuquerque 3m 21.306s 154
René Rast 3m 22.070s 107

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