The paternal leanings of an Austrian
engineer made the difference
between a slow climb to the top of
Mount Le Mans and rocket-propelled
stardom. Installed as Audi Sport’s
leader in 1993, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich
brought a full complement of regional
stereotypes to his role: Fastidious, calm,
uninterested in the spotlight, the good
doctor managed the brand’s racing
endeavors with a low-key efficiency.
That steely gaze, reminiscent of
legendary Dallas Cowboys head coach
Tom Landry. Soft words spoken with
clinical precision. Respect was never
demanded by Ullrich; it was freely given
by the hundreds under his care.
Adoration came from the rest of the
world for the 13 Le Mans victories
earned through Ullrich’s direction, but
inside the program, the reverie and
warmth was stoked by his human touch.
From fighting for the program at the
executive level to letting tears flow after
pressure-packed wins, Ullrich’s ability to
pivot from stately team principal to an
equal among hundreds was central to
the brand’s legacy of success.
“I tip my hat to Dr. Ullrich and what
he’s contributed,” says Audi’s Allan
McNish. “There were times, for example
2008 when the global [financial] crisis
hit, when maybe it was illogical to
continue, but he was in a position to
influence the board. It doesn’t come
down to corporations [making decisions];
it’s personalities, and he felt it was the
right thing to do. I put [the Le Mans
record] down to one person, Dr. Ullrich.”
(ABOVE) Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich has been the
ever-present helmsman during Audi’s
redefining of top-level endurance racing.
AUDI’S DOC OF AGES
THE ULLRICH FACTOR
In many cases, Audi used recent F1
refugees, young stars who missed out on
Grand Prix careers, or those with extensive
junior open-wheel experience to raise the
ferocity level in the cockpit. With a few
veterans sprinkled in to anchor the program,
Le Mans’ star-making ability was restored.
McNish, Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello,
Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela dominated
the first decade of a new century, and when
the time came for them to step aside, a new
generation led by Andre Lotterer, Benoit
Treluyer, Marcel Fassler, Lucas di Grassi,
Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis ramped it up.
Speedsters in every way, Audi looked to
its aggressive driver corps to extract the
maximum from each new wave of
technology it unleashed. It began by
infusing unbridled performance into the
R8’s twin-turbo V8 engine and continued
with a wholesale change in fueling. TFSI
(Turbocharged Fuel Stratified Injection)
entered the lexicon as the R8 evolved and
won Le Mans with extreme lap times and
fuel economy. It wasn’t long before Audi’s
turbo road cars proudly wore TFSI badges.
Once the TFSI messaging sufficiently
blanketed the earth, Audi stepped out on
faith with the R10 TDI (Turbocharged
Direct Injection) diesel program that has
categorically redefined LMP1. The
combination of supreme power, punishing
torque and unfathomable fuel economy
turned the 24 Hours on its axis.
Worldwide perceptions on diesel were
spun 180 degrees as Audi’s turbodiesels
came to embody performance and
refinement on the race track and in the
showroom. Through a single racing program,
visceral images of smelly, smoky diesels
(RIGHT) The 2006
debut of the R10 TDI
turbodiesel earned Audi
a sixth win in seven
years. (TOP) The
third and final hybrid
win, and the 13th
overall, came in 2014.
By then, the weight of
the R18’s turbodiesel
engine (ABOVE) was
becoming a liability.
were replaced with whispering silhouettes
barreling down the Mulsanne Straight.
An entire form of transportation,
redeemed at Le Mans. Now, every
manufacturer has been handed a
framework to marry innovation and
promotions to reap massive rewards
from its involvement in the 24 Hours.
“Imagine this,” says Audi Sport’s Le Mans-
winning engineer Brad Kettler. “In 2001 with
the TFSI R8, we were given 84 liters of fuel
and could go 13 laps. TFSI was a 12 percent
saving over the non-TFSI engine and we
promoted the heck out of it. At Le Mans last
year, with the TDIs, we were given 53. 8 liters
of fuel. You know how many laps we did? 13.
The same distance, markedly faster lap times
with the R18, and with about 35 percent
less fuel than the R8. That’s how far our
technology has come with Audi’s Le Mans
program. Who else can say that? And who
More than a racing team, this
high-minded concept changed how we
think about Le Mans. 18 years on, with
the cancellation of its triumphant
program, the 24 Hours’ timeline is left
with a vivisection in biblical constructs –
Before Audi and After Audi.