Audi star Allan McNish is one of only two drivers who have driven the German marque's latest Le Mans challenger, the R18. At the official launch of the closed-top machine to get an insight into the car designed to take on Peugeot.
Q. Does it feel like a significant step forward over the R15?
Allan McNish: It's to different regulations, particularly with the engine side of it. Efficiency is the key word. When you sit in it straight away, the first time in a closed cockpit for 10 years, it takes a bit of getting used to it. But they've put a lot of effort into making the driver comfortable.
The first feeling of the car is that it does everything you want it to do. It's not aggressive or snappy. We made some adjustments and it reacted to what we did in the correct way. There were no surprises.
It's a car you can get in and start to push and feel, but to talk about relative performances, you can't really do that. The first feeling is that it's a positive base to work from.
Q. Is the smaller capacity car easier to drive?
AM: It's never easy on the limit. It changes the driving a little bit, but not too much. Any car on the limit is never easy.
Q. Do you think the new philosophy will allow Audi to challenge Peugeot on pure lap speed?
AM: We knew in 2008 we wouldn't have the pure pace because the development was going on the next car. With the R15 we missed the setup that we needed to get. We lost our way a little bit at one point, but critically we were only doing three races that year and so there's no time for recovery.
If you put 2008 and 2009 together we probably had done less than a season of normal racing. Where we lacked and where Peugeot gained was that they had total experience of the car.
If you look at the races, apart from Le Mans, we were there or thereabouts. But there's no question about it, you don't want to be relying on reliability and pit stops because it puts a lot of pressure on the team.
Q. Where do you think the Peugeot was quicker?
AM: Straightline speed. That's where the closed car has an efficiency benefit. They had a good engine, too – it's not about one part of the car – but it gave them an advantage and a gain in traffic. They were quicker over one lap.