Alan McNish on the Audi R8 and R10
Images copyright Pat Michl
Text copyright Pat Michl

Pat Michl:  I’m here with Alan McNish, Audi  driver  extraordinare, at the beautiful new Miller Motorsports Park.  Alan recently sent the Audi R8 into retirement in the best possible way, with a win to wrap up its career.  Alan, I’d like to go back in time to your start with the R8 program, to the R8R. It was a short-lived car, which evolved into the R8, which had a very long life. Can you tell me a little about the R8R?

Alan McNish:  Well, I don’t think the R8R actually evolved into the R8. To be honest, the R8 was a completely new design.  The R8R was a little bit of a hybrid, because it had the chassis from the previous car, from the LeMans 99 car, but it had the rear end, the gearbox, geometry, etc, from the R8 as we know it.  We raced that car for 3 or 4 races in the ALMS after Sebring, like we have done with the R10 and the R8. That year (2000), we raced Sebring with the R8,and because of the testing program in Europe,  we went  back to the R8R for Charlotte, Silverstone, and I think one other race, and it was my first acquaintance with Audi, jumping into that car for the Sebring test.  Overall, I was quite impressed with the drivability of it. There were areas we could improve, obviously, like aerodynamically and general grip levels, but in terms of the actual speed and raceability of the car, it was extremely good in the hybrid configuration.

PM:  When was the first time that you drove the R8 ?

AM:  The first time that I drove the R8 was just at the Sebring race week, if my memory is correct, because we had, actually, I can’t remember the first time I drove the R8!  But anyway, we had quite limited experience, or at least I did as I came into the fold in mid to late January, and by then they run a few tests with the R8. For me, it was more important to get used to Audi, and the way an Audi worked, whether it was an R8 or an R8R was irrelevant, so I did my acclimatization , if you like, with the R8R predominately.  Then, really at Sebring got into the program with the R8, and then followed it all the way through from there.

PM:  From a driver’s perspective, how much different did the R8 feel from the R8R ?

AM:  It was quite different, it was a little bit like the R8 we know in 2006 in comparison to the R10 TDI, it’s a different beast. The performance envelopes changed, it’s a brand new car, and the R8 was a brand new car at that point, relatively unsorted in terms of how the car liked to be worked. Also, we were early in our development of tires  with Michelin  for it, so you would go from a very comfortable and driveable car, to a much more thoroughbred racing car, an consequently, from that, you had to try to make that car ready for the race, and that’s exactly the situation we’re in in 2006 now, going from the R8 to the R10 TDI. 

PM:  What  do you think it was that made the R8 such a dominant car ?

AM:  I think there was not one specific point on that , there were different factors at different times of its career. Initially, I would have said it was the raw speed of the car, and  then we had the interchangeable rear ends, and the speed that that could be done was quite revolutionary in sportscar racing, no one had ever done that, or thought of that design  concept before. The idea had been to either build it so heavy it doesn’t break, or have all the mess of trying to change clusters. Audi looked at it and thought that’s a bit of a difficult way to do things and made it simplistic.  Thankfully, we didn’t have to actually use it that often. But whenever we had a problem in the rear end, it was actually better to change the whole section then  to change the one part that was actually the area of concern.  Then we had the reliability, reliability that is , I think, second to none. That car is unbelievable, to think that the car went all of its racing life without an engine failure in a race, that’s unbelievable, and probably never to be repeated.  And the final part was its adaptability, and I’ll have to say not in its first year or two, but certainly later on in its life it was adaptable to every type of circuit, every type of condition, whether it be heavy rain, cold, extremely hot, fast circuit, slow circuit, hairpins, bumps, it came out on top, and that’s something you can see even today that the opposition are struggling with.

PM:  How different was the R8 you drove in its last race in 2006 from the car you drove at Sebring in 2000 ?

AM:  Massively different. The chassis fundamentally is the same, the aerodynamics have had to evolve by regulation, also there was some development on the aero side at the beginning of  its life, but mostly it’s been regulation changes . Restrictor size was significantly reduced, so therefore we have less power.  We’ve got the FSI injection engine, which was a major step, because I drove my last race in the 2000 series at Adelaide, in December, and then I came back in 2004, and the FSI was the biggest change at that point, and you could feel it straightaway, better drivability, better fuel economy, response on the throttle, everything was just nicer, better and faster. The weight has been increased, so therefore she's heavier than her design weight, and there's been a big evolution in the tires as well. So we've gone from having a thoroughbred racecar that we needed to tame to a very tame racecar that we wanted to be a bit more of a thoroughbred again. That's just sort of the way that the regulations  tamed her down.

PM:  When you transitioned into the diesel R10, was there anything that you had to do fundamentally different ?

AM:  Fundamentally, you  do it like you do with any car, whether its a new racing car or a new series, you have to learn what works in that particular situation. With the R10 TDI, with the diesel, being a V-12 with all that torque, and with the car being so early in its life, we had to sort of change our lines a little bit, we had to change the way we applied the throttle, went over bumps, used the extra grip level that we had, used the different weight distribution and things like that. To be honest, that was the same thing I did when I got into the R8 for the first time. You just  look at the stopwatch and try to make it go faster, and tailor things accordingly. Obviously, the biggest difference is the diesel, and with the diesel you have to respect the torque and power that it has more than you did with the FSI injection, especially with the stricter regulations we had at the end of the R8's life.

PM:  What do you think the R8 would have been like on a track like Miller Motorsports  Park ?

AM:  I think it would have been very good on a track like this, as it was on every other circuit.  Qualifying trim, as we've seen in the last few races, we're not necessarily able to fight for pole position.  That's partly because of the 35 kilo, or 75 pound penalty that we have relative to the Dysons, but also the 250 kilos, or 400 lbs relative to the Porsches.  That's a heck of a weight, and I think on this type of configuration of track, where there's lots of changes of direction, stops, starts, weight's a negative, no question.  But, as we saw in Lime Rock, come the race, we can hustle the car  within a tenth or two tenths of our qualifying pace, and others can't, and that raceability  is something that's important in sportscars, and in the American LeMans series especially.

PM:  You got your first shot a Miller Motorsports Park yesterday; what did you think of the track ?

AM:  First of all, I think that Larry Miller has got to be congratulated for all that he has done here, because it's like an oasis in the middle of a desert.  There's nothing here, then suddenly you come upon a very, very good facility. It's quite thoughtful and ingenious in some respects, the thing I really like is the playground over here for the kids, you know, basketball courts and things like that, it's a real family place.  There's the grandstands, you can see 90 to 95 percent of the track, it's very open, I think he's thought about it  from two sides, from probably what he would  have liked when he was 8 years old going to a racetrack, but also from a commercial point of view, to make it work.  And so from that side of it, I'd say it's a good place.  The track itself, it's difficult, it's got 23, 24 corners, depending on how you count the little kink in the back, and  the elevation changes and the cambers, the crests and things make it quite difficult.  It's difficult to learn as well, not just because of the number of corners, but the variety of types of corners, which makes difficult to set the car up.  So I do feel that they've got a circuit here that can maybe suit pretty much everything, bikes, cars, club car racing as well as professional sportscar racing that we've got here, cars that can do 200 MPH and bikes that can do 200 MPH.  But I can tell you that on a motorbike, it'd be a hell of a hard track !  I think in a car it'll be tricky as well.  There's a lot of ups and downs, hard braking  and leaning in , and long corners, rear tire wear, but that's the same for everybody, and therefore you've got to think technically as well as in a way that you've just got to attack the circuit from a driver's point of view. 

PM:  Going from a short track like Lime Rock to a place like this, one thing I've heard repeatedly is that this is a hard track to learn, that you tend to get lost out there.  Have you experienced that also ?

AM:  A little bit. it doesn't take 5 minutes, you can see by the way  that the lap times drop off , then suddenly people stagnate at a 2:30 or something, and then bang, they gain 3 seconds.  How can you gain  3 seconds, what were you doing  the previous lap, but it's just that  it all sort of connects, that a series of corners all connects together, and with 23 corners, if you  gain a tenth a corner, that's 2.3 seconds, quite a lot, so if you just think of it in that term, then yes, there is a lot to take in and absorb, and you can't do that in 5 or 6 laps like you could maybe with Lime Rock.  But the two ends of the scale, Lime Rock is a high commitment circuit, a bit narrow, very bumpy, track surface changes, and you need  to approach that in an extremely aggressive manner, without thoughts of anything else, it's just an all-out attack, and here I think you've got a balance of attack and finesse. 

PM:  One final question Alan, and I'll let you go.  The R8 had an amazingly long career, which may never be repeated. Do you see that kind of potential in the R10 ?

AM:  The performance speaks for itself. We did a 45.9 in its' first ever race in qualifying, so we've got the first part, when we talked about the R8, which is sheer speed.  We've worked hard on the reliability and finishing first and third at LeMans suggests that we're on the right track there.  We also, through the course of the season up to now managed to understand the car, Michelin have worked hard with the tires and we've got a direction that we need to go in for the rest of the season, so all the hallmarks, the DNA of the R8, is in the R10 TDI.  The one thing that'll probably cut her short more than the car itself is the regulation changes by the ACO in 2010.  I certainly hope that's the case, but on the other side of it, we welcome the competition coming in with Peugot, and the Porsche competition this season, and what I  understand will be the future with Honda coming into LMP sportscars in 2007, and that side is the thing that will push the car to it's limits, and also push us to our limits, which is the reason we're in motorsports.

PM:   Alan, I'd like to wish you the best of luck this weekend, and in the future, and I thank you very much for your time.

AM:   It was my pleasure, thank you.

ęCopyright 2007, Michael J. Fuller