Le Mans 2012: Stop moaning about Audi

Sunday Afternoon Club is reminded today of the (possibly apocryphal, certainly legendary) comment of Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai when asked to comment, in the 1970s on the success or otherwise of the French Revolution, some two hundred years earlier: “It’s too soon to tell…”

Well, we can’t help but notice an awful lot of whinging on all channels digital about Audi’s win in the Vingt Quatre Heures… ‘It’s all getting a bit dull’ they/you say. Boules we say; what Audi did on Saturday and Sunday was genuinely, properly awesome and should be celebrated.

Let’s get some perspective first, because it is perspective that is lacking right now. Audi, on 11, is still some way behind Porsche, on 16, in terms of outright wins at Le Mans.

The difference being that it’s taken Audi just 13 years to chalk them up, the winning streak starting just one year after the team’s debut in 1999 and broken only twice, by the not-unrelated Bentley in 2003 and by Peugeot in 2009. Porsche’s winning streak started in 1970 and lasted until 1998; 16 wins in 29 years versus Audi’s 11 wins in 13 years. The Sunday Afternoon Club memory is long enough to recall similar whinging about Porsche at the time of the 956/962’s dominance. But that’s long since stopped.

Incidentally, the Porsche run included seven consecutive wins, two more than Audi has managed to date, and only one more, don’t forget, that Ferrari managed between 1960 and 1965, and how dewy-eyed we are about that era. Bentley, Ford and, yes, Alfa Romeo meanwhile have managed to string together runs-of-four in the ‘20s, the ‘60s and the ’30s respectively.

And while we are on the stats, let’s not forget that five different — four visually different — Audis have won; the V8-petrol R8s, the V12 diesel R10 and V10 diesel R15s, the R18 and now the technically mind-boggling R18 e-tron quattro. That Porsche’s tally was won by seven different designs probably says more about the regulations than anything.

So yes, give it a couple of weeks before passing judgement and have a think (or maybe even pass comment below) on this: many of the cars that have dominated Le Mans are up there in our shared list of all-time great racers. Porsche’s seven winners include the 917 and the dreamy 911 GT1. Ferrari’s winners include the 250 Testarossa, Bentley’s, the Speed Six. And we’ve not even talked about Jaguar’s D-Types and C-Types and, of course, Ford’s GT40.

It is the cars we remember from Le Mans most.

And rightly so too. It is the most extraordinary test of a vehicle’s ingenuity and integrity, one that the e-tron quattro passed with impressive nonchalance this weekend. Especially when you consider the only marginally less impressive Toyota pushed the e-tron hard for eight hours and then an inter-team battle meant the e-trons were never allowed to cruise. This is a deeply clever four-wheel drive, diesel-electric racing hybrid. Yes, think about that a four-wheel drive, diesel-electric racing hybrid. That is the stuff of science fiction. We can’t think of a racing car with quite so much technology on board.

Well, outside of F1 anyhow. And that makes us wonder. Audi has said it’s not doing F1 and yet we can’t help but think the sheer thoroughness of Audi’s engineering, design and proving systems could cruise F1. No? We think a change of mind in Inglostadt could prove very embarrassing for Mercedes and BMW, who have hardly set the series on fire as manufacturers. And F1’s new regs — small capacity turbo-hybrid V6s — sound very Audi to us.

‘Audi R1 Ultra’ anyone? Sure, we’re dreaming here, but you gotta admit it’s a fast name. And a fast name is always a good start. ‘E-tron quattro’ joined a list of legends this weekend we reckon. So enough of the whining.

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