Audi Planning Multi-Tiered 2011 ALMS/Rolex Strategy, Evaluating Penske, Highcroft and Wayne Taylor for the Job
by, 09-13-2010 at 01:57 PM (15377 Views)
SPEED Friday released a news story surrounding Audi's exploration of options for the 2011 racing season. Penned by Marshall Pruett, the piece was highly detailed and outlined many aspects of Audi's 2011 planning... moreso than most rumor pieces and highly consistent with what we've heard thus far from multiple sources inside Audi and elsewhere.
The synopsis of the story is this. Audi is currently evaluating a return to the ALMS in both prototype racing and the GTC category with the R8 LMS and is also speaking with the Rolex series about the R8 as well. Since former partner Champion Racing is now out of the racing (and Audi dealership) business, Audi is searching for a new partner who can field this multi-tier program and is currently in talks with Penske Racing, Highcroft Racing and Rolex-based Wayne Taylor Racing.
This new operation would assumedly operate as Audi Sport North America and manage the two programs in addition to sales and service of the R8 LMS for privateer teams. It's safe to assume too that, like Champion before it, this new operation would likely campaign at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well alongside Joest.
So What Do We Think
We're certain the story is spot on as it is very, very consistent with what we've heard elsewhere including from sources inside Audi. Interestingly, these three teams bring some very interesting and differing strengths to the table. Here's our take team-by-team and series by series.
Penske already has NASCAR and IndyCar teams in place right now, is the most experienced and established. While it has the biggest facilities, it also shares those facilities with those added efforts. Penske served as chief rival to Audi for years when it ran the Porsche RS Spyder effort in the ALMS but that gave Penske much experience with working with a factory (Porsche) and also a strong team experience with Audi Sport drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas who won Le Mans this year in their #8 Audi R15 TDI alongside Mike Rockenfeller.
Roger Penske has always said he'd only consider a run at Le Mans if he had a chance to win outright and with Audi this hurdle would be cleared.
In the past Audi has chosen to mould and train their former partner Champion Racing into their own image. Penske is more established and likely would be more of a maverick for Audi but given his credentials Ingolstadt may not have a problem with that. Like Champion, Penske is also owner of several Audi dealerships.
Danbury, CT based Highcroft Racing doesn't have the mile long list of racing achievement as does Roger Penske but it has been the most successful of the teams to field Acuras during that manufacturer's years of competition. Highcroft presents itself in very slick fashion in its presence at races and that likely will play well with Audi. Its smaller size could also mean less cost than Penske and a willingness to work more in line with Audi team strategies.
Not sure what it means, we found Marco Werner's 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans run with Highcroft an interesting one. Werner is still under Audi factory contract and had to be cleared by Ingolstadt for this campaign - a first in France for Highcroft. Could Werner's presence with Highcroft in La Sarthe have been a test for Highcroft or an evaluation by Werner? It would make sense.
We're just theorizing but Highcroft's location in the north east could also be an asset. New York is one of Audi's strongest markets and it maintains one of two Audi Forums in Manhattan while it's headquarters are just down I-95 in the Washington DC region. Having a nearby motorsport asset could mean more cost effective marketing use of the Audi Sport team and since Audi of America is the likely bank roller of this effort this could be more of a factor.
Wayne Taylor Racing
Wayne Taylor is an interesting third entry in this competition as he's not any part of recent ALMS exploits. That doesn't mean he doesn't have experience though. In addition to competing in Le Mans (1987) and winning Petit Le Mans (1998) as a driver, Taylor was also involved in Cadillac's LMP efforts from 2000-2002 and this included the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Taylor also brings sponsors. A strong sponsor program is what makes his Rolex program a success. Taylor's facilities are smaller, but we're guessing any team given the reigns won't make any delay in building or finding a new shop.
And with Taylor there's another interesting tie of which we're aware. Mr. Taylor's son Jordan contested several races in the APR Motorsport Audi S4 as part of the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge that feeds Rolex. APR has a strong relationship with Taylor, a large facility of its own just south of Atlanta in Opelika Alabama and we hear APR was inquiring about the R8 LMS program.
For readers of this website APR needs no introduction but for those outside of the Audi enthusiast world APR is a leading Audi aftermarket tuner. Think Abt Sportsline without the Audi dealership. Abt moved from its tuner stance to become Audi's DTM factory team and we know APR has been seriously developing its racing team efforts by fielding the aforementioned S4 and also a Volkswagen Accessories sponsored GTI team that won as recently as this past weekend.
American Le Mans P1
Getting back into prototype racing in America will be good for Audi. Next year the next-generation car known as R18 is expected to appear and take advantage of updated ACO rules that could see it become a hybrid, use KERS or more. Not much is known but, if approved by the board, the R18 would likely appear at the 12 Hours of Sebring and other Intercontinental Cup races.
Would Audi race the R18 during the entire ALMS calendar? We're not sure. R15 plus may be more cost effective and since Audi of America may be underwriting the ALMS effort R15s in non cup races may be a reality.
An up side here is the Baltimore street race planned for August 2011. About 45 minutes drive from AoA headquarters outside DC, this would make a great home court event for Audi.
American Le Mans GTC
If the R8 LMS is to see racing on an ALMS weekend then it will likely be entered in the GTC class. Effectively the same rules as GT3, this would likely be more cost effective than trying to engineer the car up to the extremely competitive GT2 class. Likely if Audi went to GT2 then they'd want to develop it to win and with factory backed efforts there from Corvette and BMW and factory developed Ferraris and Porsches, this all translates into high cost. GTC seems the more likely scenario, which would also keep costs down for independent teams.
Audi is believed to be seeking a customer-based model as it has done in Europe with the R8 LMS. Whichever of the three entities they choose to work with, that team will likely be tasked with the sale and servicing of the R8 LMS for any independent teams who may step up.
We've heard Rolex is also working on adding the R8 LMS to its lineup. Where the R8 would fit in the series GT field remains to be seen but if Audi can get an affordable rules package together then this would mean R8s on track during lucrative Rolex racing weekends as well and further expand brand awareness.
If you wish to read more about the SPEED story covering Audi's 2011 plans, please click the link below. Thank you David for the tip.