Allan McNish gives the new Audi R18 TDI an important race début when the Scotsman competes in the second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup at Spa in Belgium of Saturday (7 May).
McNish lines-up with regular co-drivers Tom Kristensen (Denmark) and Dindo Capello (Italy) in the new diesel-engined R18 Coupé for the 1,000km race around the stunning 4.35-mile Spa-Francorchamps track.
Spa takes on the added importance of it being the first and only race for the R18 TDI before the Le Mans 24 Hours (11-12 June) meaning Audi Sport will use the near six-hour race in the Ardennes region as a full, three-car “dress rehearsal” for the prestigious French race.
“It’s essentially two races in one because I’ll have one eye on the Spa race and claiming as many points towards the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup as possible while also looking at the bigger picture of the Le Mans 24 Hours,” stated Allan who finished third in the corresponding Belgian race 12 months ago.
“Although we tested at Le Mans recently, we’ll learn a lot more about the new Audi R18 TDI and also how it fares against the competition at Spa. The 20-minute qualifying session on Friday afternoon will be the first time when we’ll see the true performance of all of the new cars because it will be the first time when everybody is on the same playing field together at the same time.
“Dindo, Tom and myself were very close at Spa last year in the R15 TDI which we ran in a Le Mans track set-up. We have a good chance going into the event but it will be a testing one and I am looking forward to seeing how things shake out.”
McNish, Kristensen and Capello recovered superbly to claim fourth place at the chequered flag in the opening ILMC race at Sebring, the trio having led the field several times before one of the “factory” Peugeot sportscars miscalculated an overtaking manoeuvre and hit their Audi R15 TDI with Capello at the wheel.
“Spa gives us a chance to bounce back in the ILMC from the disappointment of not taking top honours at Sebring in March,” continued McNish. “We managed to salvage fourth position and get some points on the board and hopefully Spa will give us another opportunity of a good points haul.”
A magnificent field of 60-cars is entered for the Spa race. Meanwhile ILMC organisers have announced that a six-hour race at Zhuhai in China will close the seven-race series on 12 November – McNish and Kristensen having claimed second place in the corresponding race last year.
“Spa is a circuit that every driver looks forward to and this year more than most for us at Audi Sport because of the R18 TDI’s race debut,” continued McNish. “We were up against our competition at the Le Mans test day and we know it’s very fierce. As a driver when you finish a lap around Spa, you know you have worked very hard for it.”
ILMC Classifications (after Sebring):
Manufacturers – LM P1: 1. Peugeot, 27 pts ; 2. Audi, 17 ; Aston Martin, 0. Teams – LM P1: 1.Team Oreca Matmut, 15 pts ; 2. Peugeot Sport, 12 ; 3. Audi Sport, 9 ; 4. Rebellion Racing, 6.
Thursday 5 May: 1220-1320 Practice 1; 1655-1755 Practice 2.
Friday 6 May: 1150-1250 Practice 3; 1620-1640 Qualifying.
Saturday 7 May: 0955-1015 Warm-up; 1405-2005 Race.
* Local times