It’s hard to argue with the success Audi have had in the last decade or so in motorsport, in particular in events like Le Mans. Some of their success is shared into Australia with some very senior figures at Audi looking on with great interest at this weekend’s Bathurst 12 hour race.
Audi runs a program called the race experience for customers in Europe, so those with the cash can not only own a performance Audi road car, but prepare themselves and sometimes eventually compete in Audi cars on the local or global race-calendar.
Australia is the only country outside of Europe to run the race experience program, with Steve Pizzati playing a huge role in the training program in this country. One Australian Audi customer took part in the race experience, and almost immediately went out and ordered the Audi R8 LMS race car to take on the race tracks himself.
I guess when you’ve got the money, there’s not a lot of better ways to enjoy it!
This weekend at the world-famous Mount Panorama circuit there will be a total of seven Audi R8 LMS cars on the grid. Five of them are local Aussie teams, with two being run by global Audi team Phoenix racing. Those two cars will be the Kangaroo (15) and Crocodile (16)
With three drivers in each car, the global entries are a wealth of experience mixed with something very different.
Of the six drivers, only three have ever visited Australia, with two of them having had race-experience at Bathurst before.
Then there’s Felix Baumgartner. Known worldwide as the crazy bloke with balls so big he jumped from the edge of space – he’s more than your average skydiver. And in his mid-fourties he’s taken up motorsport.
He’s no slouch behind the wheel, with a top ten finish in the R8 LMS at Spa last year.
Felix knows this is not a solo game, not only does he have two co-drivers, he also has a team of experts around him. He admitted today at a launch event in Sydney “I was and still am the weak link in the team”, and heaped praise on his team-mates, saying “I’m working with some bad ass race drivers”
Rather than baffle the immigration officials, he told Steve Pizzati that when he enters a country, he writes “Pilot” on the occupation section of the immigration card – “it Makes you look important” – and I guess raises fewer questions than “space man”, or “skydiver”.
Head of Customer Racing for Audi Sport Romolo Liebchen has travelled to Australia to be part of the team, saying that 2011’s win for Audi at Bathurst was very special to him as it was “his first as the man in charge of the customer sport program”
Racing in over 200 events each year, Aussie’s should be proud to know that Bathurst sits right up there with the team, and Romolo in particular with Mount Panorama featuring in the top 5, alongside Daytona, Nürburgring , Spa and Macau.
According to Romolo, going back five years or so, Bathurst had almost been forgotten in Europe, and he credits Audi’s return and success there with changing that, and hopes 2015 will be a return to the top step of the podium.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how these drivers get to know the track before they come here? Playstation.
Felix reckons his best time is a 2.03 – not sure what car that’s in, but we’re assuming an Audi R8 LMS – doubt we’ll see anything like that on the timing screens this weekend though:)