#360business: How Audi sell a winning dream with R8 LMS GT3

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The car during a build.

Audi know a thing or two about winning races. They have been hugely succesful in the German touring car championship DTM, are Le Mans legends and the awesome Audi R8 LMS GT3 has taken the world by storm, lapping up GT endurance victories around the globe.

And since 2009 Audi have been using their expertise to give private teams and individuals a chance to share in their success by buying the R8 LMS GT3, which is the track version of the stunning Audi R8 V10 Plus road car.

It’s not the sort of adventure you would set out on unless you have considerable wealth as the car itself will set you back more than ¤300,000 but if money is no object Audi Customer Racing will provide you with all you need to set up, run and enjoy success on the track in a truly astonishing car.

I visited the Audi R8 LMS GT3 production line in Biberach in Germany which is responsible for the manufacturing of customer race cars for international races, and the machines for Audi factory entries. This is also where customers can send their cars to be repaired after crashes.

A relatively small team of around 30 people deals with everything from pre-assembly of the brake discs, pedal mechanism, suspension, steering, doors, perparation of body kit, engine, geabox and electrical components to the finished article ready to hit the track. The mechanics even give the cars they are putting together female names, so they treat them the kind of attention they would give a lady!

Chris Reinke, who took over as head of Audi Customer Racing at the beginning of March after working as part of the works motorsport operation taking care of LMP and DTM racing, explained how his division of Audi works and what they offer to a growing client list.

How many customers do you currently have?
We are currently assembling the 200th car, 137 of those sold were the first generation of the R8 LMS and the rest are the new car.

Are these being raced in Europe mainly or around the world?
All around the world. We supply the R8 to the Asia Cup which is run mainly in China and we are strong in Australia where we have more than ten cars running. We also have quite a few customers in America but the main competition field for new cars is in Europe.

If someone comes to you and buys a car, what is the support you give these people?
It depends what you want. You can have the complete all round support package, or if you just want to buy a car and run it yourself, then you can bring you own mechanics in and assemble your race car together with our experts who will train them on the job or you can just pick up the car, if that is what you want. We can offer you support with our people at the race track, spare parts, and even drivers and when structural repairs are required the car can come back here to be fixed. Whatever your business model is we can supply the missing bits.

How many of your customers are gentleman racers?
Most owners of the cars are competition team orientated but there are a few gentleman owners who tend to buy the used cars. The older the cars get the more gentleman owners we see, because of the price of the car.

Reinke with one of the cars.

Reinke with one of the cars.

If I was a businessman who wanted to use the R8 LMS GT3 to increase the awareness of my company could I come to and say all I wanted to do was buy the car but wanted you to provide everything else, could you do that?
We would provide a package but if, for example, you wanted your car to race in the 24 Hours Nurburgring or a race in Japan, we would recommend one of our partners in that part of the world who would be willing to extend their team by one car and they will run it for you and recommend a driver. We have a huge network to offer assistance in this way. We also have professional drivers who are contracted to Audi.

Could give me some idea of the cost involved here, from an entry level upwards?
Again, it depends on your business model. To buy the car itself costs ¤359,000. We also offer a parts package which would cover most of you primary needs and that is how you leave our yard, so to speak. Then it is really down to your set up and the cost will be directly related to that.

Have you see a slow down in people coming to you for what is an expensive project because of the state of the economy?
For sure, we are influenced by the worldwide economy. But for us the guide parameter is more to do with the race series that are available in the world where you can enter our product. At the moment there is a healthy number of races which is increasing at the moment. If the economy was better this would probably increase again and the spin off would obviously mean more business for us.

It is also important that we are the product leaders. Last year we made a big investment into the development of this car, successfully entered a couple of races which acted as showcases and so we had a very well developed product ready to go into the market and win races while our main competitors were still developing so we had a jump start.

How important is the Middle East to your business?
For the road car it is very important and that in turn should go hand in hand with racing and there are some races there which we are involved in like the 24 hours of Dubai. We are not directly involved in any series, like we are in China with the Audi R8 LMS Cup, but we do have customers who use our product. We are always looking at opportunities but it has to be right for Audi.

How different is the race car from the R8 V10 Plus we see on the roads?
The chassis is very similar but the differences are that we have a roll-cage and some parts to make the chassis stiffer. All the other body parts around this are all special for the race car. The V10 engine is very similar – in fact the one used in the race car is 99 per cent the same as the one used in the production car. There are different bearings for the crank case because of the durability required in racing. Overall, around 50 per cent of the original parts in the road car are shared with the R8 racing car.

There was no Audi works team in the Dubai 24 hours this year. Will you be changing that?
We are Audi Sport Customer Racing so we supply cars to give clients the possibility of winning and this will always be our main objective. If we had a works entry in the Dubai 24 hour race we might be taking that possibility to win away from our customers. That can’t happen.

We hear you are going to be involved in the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi. Is that correct?
We are racing 200 cars around the world so I would hope we would be involved in every major event but with customers not a works team. I will not put our customers second.

As I have already said, if we entered a works team the intention would be to win and to do that we would have to beat our customers.

From a business point of view can you tell me what Customer Racing is worth to Audi?
I cannot give you any financial figure but my job is to run this as a profitable operation and everything else comes on top.

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