It goes without saying that Audi owns Le Mans; both figuratively and sort of literally. The eleven overall victories certainly cement the figurative bit and the constant ‘Quattro’ this and ‘Quattro’ that plastered everywhere seem pretty literal if you were to ask me.
So it came to little surprise to me when Porsche unveiled their new 2014 LMP1 racer a mere week before the 2013 Le Mans race. The motorsport world had been fast approaching what was seeming to be (and was) yet another overall victory for Audi on the La Sarthe circuit, and Porsche wanted everyone watching to remember that in one year they would be returning to the track to defend their honor (and their sixteen overall victories).
However, while watching a portion of the 1998 Le Mans race on YouTube, I had a revelation of just how ironic this impending on-track battle between the two marques actually is. Yes, you read that correctly, ironic is the perfect word to use to describe the 2014 24 Heures du Mans.
So, we start the beginning of this ironic, frighteningly Star Wars-like (more on that later) story with the Audi RS2 Avant. In the early 1990s, Audi engineers decided that they wanted to mix their expertise in building sensible cars with a bit of eye-popping performance.
It had been a few years since Audi had homologated the iconic S1 quattro with the road-going version, so it was a smart decision to ring up their German brethren in Stuttgart to give them a bit of guidance on their new wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Audi began with the drivetrain, as they unsurprisingly equipped the RS2 with their Quattro all-wheel drive system and connected that to a 2.2-liter straight-five powerplant. From there, Porsche added in their two cents by supplying the Audi with their KKK turbochargers and performing a bit of black magic on the five-cylinder engine.
But the Stuttgart marque’s input didn’t stop with the resulting 315 horsepower and 302 lb-ft, wing mirrors and turn signals were both from a 911, and the brake set was sourced from the 968. And who could forget the fact that the RS2 even wore the same shoes as the 911. It’s all a lot like a younger brother who’s only clothes are hand-me-downs.
There. That covers the road-car aspect, now let’s delve in a bit into the motorsport irony.
While watching the 1998 Le Mans pre-race show, I heard a very familiar name. Joest Racing. And if that sounds familiar to you it’s probably because the name Joest now finds itself at the end of the phrase Audi Sport Team. Yes, the same blokes who have won Le Mans over and over and over and over…
On this occasion, however, Joest Racing was the team who had entered the Porsche WSC-95 that had won Le Mans in 1996 and 1997. Joest Racing was formed by, and you’ll like this, former Porsche works driver Reinhold Joest in 1978. After years of Porsche racing success with cars such as the 956, 962, and said WSC-95, Joest signed over to Audi in 1998 to take on any on-track racing disputes.
So, what is it makes this 2014 Le Mans race so ironic? Well, this is where the whole using Star Wars to describe the race comes in.
In Episode Five of the beloved sci-fi film, Darth Vader informs young Luke Skywalker that he is indeed his father as he prepares to (fruitlessly) teach his son a lesson. Now, what does this have to do with Audi and Porsche at Le Mans? Well it’s all one big metaphor in the sense that Porsche, who basically gave life to Audi’s Le Mans pedigree, now find themselves in a situation where their motoring offspring is about to assume the records Porsche clearly cherishes based on their recent influx of ‘success in motorsport’ videos. In other words, Audi’s immense amount of Le Mans success might not have been something that Porsche was expecting to happen.
All this to say that what we are about to witness can very possibly be one of the most exciting 24 Hours of Le Mans that we have seen for a few years. And this background information will hopefully make it all the more intriguing for not only your average motorsport fan, but also for your average car nut. The 2014 Le Mans race. For some reason I can’t kick the feeling that it will be a bit like watching a German civil war on wheels.