WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER MCNISH AIMS FOR MORE POINTS IN BELGIUM
Scotsman débuts Audi’s new turbo diesel hybrid: the R18 e-tron quattro in Spa Six Hour race
Oliver Jarvis makes début for Audi “factory” sportscar team at wheel of R18 ultra
Allan McNish aims to extend his FIA World Endurance Championship lead by steering Audi’s revolutionary diesel hybrid to success in Belgium on Saturday (5 May) while fellow Brit Oliver Jarvis makes his début for the “factory” Audi sportscar team.
Dumfries-born McNish, along with co-drivers Tom Kristensen (Denmark) and Dindo Capello (Italy), drives one of two “factory” Audi R18 e-tron quattro sports-prototypes making its race début at the Spa Six Hours.
Meanwhile Jarvis, from Burwell near Cambridge, shares an Audi R18 ultra with Marco Bonanomi (Italy).
McNish, who is contesting the entire eight-race WEC, got his title aspirations off to a flying start by winning the opening race in Florida.
But the two-time Le Mans 24 Hour race winner is under no illusion that Spa, the one and only “dress rehearsal” race before this year’s 24 hour race in June, will be a learning curve driving a brand new car, bristling with new technologies.
“Everybody is excited heading to Spa,” confirmed McNish. “It marks the first time this year we will be racing all four of our 2012 cars competing, two R18 e-tron quattro and two R18 ultra sports-prototypes on the grid at both Spa and Le Mans, so the Belgian race gives us one, vital opportunity to ‘test’ in a race scenario prior to Le Mans which is very, very important.
“The Spa race will enable us drivers and team to get a better understanding of the e-tron quattro – how it works in race trim, its effectiveness and where we can also start to develop it. It’s still very fresh, very new, and as much as I think the potential of the car is high, I firmly believe we will learn so much at Spa that cannot be acquired in testing due to the many variable situations that are encountered in a race.”
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the first Audi race car no longer accelerated exclusively by a combustion engine. A warning lamp and sticker stipulated by the regulations are the only external differences between the R18 e-tron quattro and the R18 ultra which both feature a 3.7-litre turbocharged diesel engine.
Allan added: “When braking in to a corner, the energy created is stored in a flywheel system, then under acceleration out of the corner, as soon as the car is above the regulation 74.5 mph [120 kph], the stored energy is sent via electric motors to the front wheels giving an extra 200 hp [150 kw] of power.
“However, the regulations stipulate a maximum amount of energy that can be stored and a limit on track sectors where you can use that extra boost. This effectively means that after a few seconds of the e-tron quattro boost, the system is discharged and we are back to ‘standard’ rear-wheel-drive only power.”
The magnificent, fast and sweeping 4.35-mile Spa-Francorchamps track is one that McNish has raced at in various formulae since 1988. Always competitive in races at Spa, often made even more interesting by the fickle weather in the Ardennes region of Belgium, Allan has never won at this track.
“Changeable weather must always be taken into account and I have always enjoyed racing at Spa. It’s beautiful, very fast and flowing. It lends itself to racing and overtaking manoeuvres – a circuit made for my driving style.
“In terms of Spa memories, I have so many. Whether it’s going there to watch [motorcycle] races with my mom and dad when I was a little kid, or claiming ‘pole’ by a second in Formula 3000 [Aug 1995]. That kind of [time] gap was unheard of and was probably one of my best ever laps around Spa.
“I’ve finished third in my last two sportscar races there and Spa has certainly been good to me in terms of speed but I have still to achieve my first ever win there.
“Heading to Spa leading the [FIA World Endurance] Championship is a very nice feeling after scoring my fourth Sebring 12 Hour win in March which sets me up in a positive frame of mind.
“But it’s early in the championship, we have a lot of rounds to go and so I am taking each round individually and certainly not looking too far ahead. Right now, I am concentrating on Spa as a race on its own but also as a ‘warm-up’ for Le Mans.”
Jarvis, who has competed for Audi in DTM (German Touring Car Masters) for the past four years, has only raced at Spa on one previous occasion while the Belgian race marks only his fourth race in a P1 sportscar after two, three-hour races at Okayama (Japan) at the end of 2009 and then the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours – all in a “customer” Kolles Audi R10 TDI.
Oliver commented: “I have only raced once at Spa – a British Formula Three Championship race in 2006. But it's one of those great tracks that you can't wait to go back to – I really cannot wait to experience the sweeping down and up Eau Rouge section in an Audi R18 ultra for the first time, that will be something truly special.
“With Spa being my first race as a ‘factory’ sportscar driver, I will be focused on learning as much as possible in preparation for Le Mans from the team. It is also a great chance for Marco [Bonanomi] and myself to get used to working together.
“Although this is very much a preparation race for Le Mans, we will still be trying to achieve the best possible result. It would of course be great to achieve a top-three podium but it’s also important that ‘our’ car shows its potential compared to the other Audi sportscars.”
In addition to the McNish and Jarvis Audi sportscars, the four-car Audi Sport line-up is completed by 2011 Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler (CH)/André Lotterer (D)/Benoît Tréluyer (F) plus Marc Gene (SP)/Romain Dumas (F)/Loïc Duval (F) driving R18 e-tron quattro and R18 ultra sportscars respectively.
Practice begins on Thursday with qualifying for the anticipated 42-car entry on Friday (2.40pm UK time). The race begins at 1.30pm (UK time) on Saturday.