With its burgeoning Audi Customer Sport services in Grand-Am and the Pirelli World Challenge series, the German marque is set to concentrate on GT racing in America next season when the United SportsCar Racing debuts.
Audi Sport had entertained the idea of building its own Daytona Prototype powered by a V-10 engine from its R8 Rolex GT model, but with time running out to produce a new vehicle ahead of the Jan. 25 season opener at Daytona, the brand will focus solely on supporting its current line of GT3-spec machinery.
A win by Alex Job Racing in the Rolex GT class at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona and multiple wins by the GMG Motorsports team in PWC have helped to raise the Audi R8s domestic profile, but other than the mid-season move by Fall-Line Motorsports to campaign a R8 in Grand-Am, the model has yet to take off in the Rolex Series, making it hard to justify an expansion into DP.
“It was very hard to start the American [Customer Sport] business, but with the win at Daytona, it helped quite a bit, but gave us the clear sign from Audi of America that we have to improve our GT racing business in the U.S.” Audi Sport Customer Racing boss Romolo Liebchen told RACER.
“Nevertheless, we will go forward with the activities we are doing now. I cannot say which teams, but there are a few teams that want to join with us next year and I am very optimistic there will be a few new names will. If everything's really works out fine, I see the possibility for six R8s in the Grand-Am [GTD] category.”
RACER has confirmed through additional sources that the exploratory efforts that went on involving an Audi DP program have been shelved, and for the project to advance, finding a new production-based engine – something other than its V-10 – would likely need to happen.
“There have been a lot of rumors regarding the prototype car, which was discussed, and I see possibilities for this,” Liebchen continued. “The question is what engine you can use for prototype activities. From my point of view, it should be very similar to what we use in the GT car. This is one of the major points of the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype cars.
"The class was set up for cost reductions, but maybe it can be changed a little in a more technical direction. The lost costs always have the highest priority, so it's necessary to find a solution. If you go to GTE, maybe you can use the same engine in Daytona Prototype, for example. It's just an idea.”
Liebchen also mentioned at least two European R8 teams are considering the USCR for 2014, although the exact level of their interest, either part-time or full-time, is unknown.
"There are two teams that are interested in this, but I cannot say which teams or what they have discussed with us," he confirmed.
Audi's R8, in LMS, Ultra, and Grand-Am configuration, has become one of the most popular GT3 racecars in the world, but with stiffer competition coming from a variety of new models, Liebchen says a successor to the GT3 R8 is on the horizon and will limit its use until a new model arrives.
“We need a little more time to plan this,” he noted. “The lifecycle of the current GT car is coming to an end. The question is: does it make sense to do something in GTE? At this stage of the life cycle, it doesn't make sense. It's in opposition to our plan, and our plan is to increase our opportunity in the U.S. We have to stay with what we have right now, to watch the new regulations, and then I hope we get the permission to go with the next car.”
For now, Liebchen and Audi Customer Sport North America boss Brad Kettler will continue to work with Grand-Am officials to run the R8 closer to its GT3 origins. If they can arrive at a solution that would allow their Grand-Am and PWC customers to run the R8 in both series with minimal changes, it could help those involved to prosper.
“[Grand-Am] is having more detailed discussions right now,” Liebchen added. “That has never happened for us. I think this is quite a good sign. At the moment, we have nine or 10 cars in the U.S., and there's quite a big interest in how to convert the car from one series to another, to create a bigger program for the teams doing this as a business. The more racing you can do with the car, the easier it becomes to create a business case. It keeps the mechanics busy and employed and helps in every way.”