Flying high on technology,
marketing prowess and
stratospheric budgets, Audi
defined Le Mans for almost
two imperious decades.
WORDS Marshall Pruett
MAIN IMAGE Audi AG
AUDI’S ENDURING LEGACY
udi’s point of entry into the world of
endurance racing proved perfect timing.
When its Le Mans effort landed in 1999,
manufacturer interest was at an all-time
high, yet the global impact of the 24 Hours
had diminished. The world’s most famous
endurance race needed meaning, needed
a talisman, and found it, and so much
more, in the German marque.
Audi’s splayed 24 Hours debut, with an
expensively mismatched pair of prototypes
– an open-top creation from Italy and a
closed-top car from England – was strange
and spectacular. But its return the following
June to capture the first of 13 overall
victories changed the legendary race in
permanent ways. The dawn of endurance
racing in the 2000s had a new hero.
A time-honored challenge dating back
to 1923, winning at La Sarthe has held
incredible meaning for auto manufacturers,
and more so during certain eras. By the
time Audi took on the challenge of
Le Mans, the 24 Hours was a faded legend
in need of a reboot; on its departure, it’s
easy to recognize how one German brand
was able to stem the flow of disinterest
and restore the Grand Prix d’Endurance to
its rightful stature. The revered race, made
great once again by the unwavering
commitment and deft marketing plans
of a single manufacturer.
Where so many brands prior to Audi