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Audi R18 TDI in Third Place on its Debut

The best finish the Audi could muster at Spa was third place. Photo by Audi MotorsportAudi Sport Team Joest experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions on the new Audi R18 TDI’s race debut at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium): After a perfect qualifying session and a great showing in the early phases of the race the three Audi R18 TDI cars occupied positions three, four and five.

At the beginning of the race the 34,600 spectators saw a strong performance of the new LMP1 sports car of AUDI AG. André Lotterer took the lead at the start and defended it almost up to his first pit stop. Timo Bernhard, who had started from pole, and Allan McNish (despite a spin on the first lap) were part of the action at the front of the field during the first hour as well and fought some thrilling duels with their rivals in heavy traffic.

However, a number of minor incidents, which in total had major effects, caused all three Audi R18 TDI cars to lose ground. André Lotterer, who had a clear lead in the early phase, had to be pushed backward at his first pit stop and lost valuable time in the process. His team-mate Benoît Tréluyer had to make an unscheduled stop after picking up an unsually large piece of rubber on his front left-hand tire. Shortly afterward the same phenomenon occurred again, causing the Frenchman to slide into the gravel trap and losing two laps. Marcel Fässler subsequently complained about a car that was too demanding to drive - he, too, was struggling with pick-up. In the end, the Audi R18 TDI designated as car number "2" finished fifth.

"Naturally, the result of the race at Spa is disappointing for us because the Audi R18 TDI was clearly beaten below its potential on its debut. We were on a par with Peugeot in terms of pure speed but there were simply too many small things that went wrong - and unfortunately with all three cars. That was certainly frustrating. We’ll take hom the positive finding of having a fast car that we’ll have to make better use of though. We’ve learned a lot today in racing conditions. Now we’ve got to put these findings into action before Le Mans," said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport.

Timo Bernhard, who had started from pole position, suffered misfortune as well. In the battle for the top the rear of his car was touched by another vehicle in the fast "Blanchimont" sector. The rear hood and the diffuser were damaged in the incident. Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller were subsequently struggling with handling differences in left- and right-hand turns. Like the other two Audi R18 TDI vehicles car number "1" had to make a brief refueling stop shortly before the finish. With a two-lap gap Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller came fourth.

The first podium result for the new Audi R18 TDI was clinched by Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, who ,like last year, took third place at the Le Mans "dress rehearsal" at Spa. But the cockpit crew of car number "3" was also beaten below its potential. While a spin by Allan McNish on the starting lap had no consequences as the Scotsman quickly made up ground to the front of the field from 16th place, Dindo Capello on his stint accidentally activated the speed limiter for the pit lane and thus lost 20 seconds. After correcting the inflation pressure of the front tires Tom Kristensen was on the advance in the final phase: The Le Mans record winner was already setting his sights on the second-placed Peugeot when one hour before race end the left rear tire was suddenly losing air, which forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop. With a one-lap gap Capello/Kristensen/McNish ultimately finished in third place.

"A podium is always a good result, also with a view toward the championship. But to be honest: It’s a bit frustrating dropping to third place after starting from one, two and three on the grid due to minor problems. The Audi R18 TDI was competitive at its first race from the outset. It was a very close battle between us and Peugeot during some of the phases. Unfortunately, in the end it didn’t turn out in our favour," said Allan McNish, co-driver of the #3 Audi R18 TDI.

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