Audi is no stranger to the top step of the podium in endurance racing, having claimed the stop spot at the Nürburgring 24 Hours in both 2012 and 2014 with the R8 Ultra. For 2015, Audi rolled out an entirely new car, the R8 LMS, based on the soon-to-be-released second-generation R8 road car. It was expected for the car to put in a strong finish, but no one expected the win for the new car right out of the gate, in what would be the closest finish for the race in its modern track configuration.
Audi started out strong with four R8s in the top 10 positions on the grid. The highest qualifying car sat in the fifth spot, the number 29 of the Audi Sport WRT Team. The number 29 WRT sister car sat on the seventh spot on the grid. Pole was held by the BMW Z4 of Marc VDS followed in the second spot by the Black Flacon Racing Mercedes-AMG SLS. Three and four on the grid were also BMW Z4s.
The first third of the race was made up mostly of fighting between the BMW and Mercedes cars while the Audis seemed to be using a more measured strategy. Rain fell on and off throughout the night, claiming victim after victim. Because of the length of the track, 15.8 miles, it's not uncommon for one section to be dry, while another is wet. At night, visibility is nearly non-existent, and with the changing elevation, spinning on a wet patch is nearly an inevitable part of everyone's race. It was this exact situation that took out one of the strongest Audi contenders, the Phoenix Racing R8 that was already suffering from a long pit stop for an exhaust repair earlier in the race.
A crash also claimed the other R8 of Phoenix Racing, which happened to be last year's winning team and the favorite of all the R8s. The Team Falken Porsche looked to be the strongest of the 911s, but the exterior of the car was quickly becoming more duct tape than carbon fiber.
The last few hours saw the BMW of Marc VDS and the WRT R8 fighting it out using pit strategy as much as on-track battling. By the last hour, the Audi had the lead well in hand, but one incident on track would change everything. Luckily, for both fans and teams alike, the rain had blown over by the afternoon. After the final pit stops, the Audi had nearly a minute advantage and stayed ahead all the way to the 24-hour mark.
Quotes from the head of Audi Sport and the winning drivers:
Romolo Liebchen (Head of Audi Sport customer racing): "The narrow gaps shown by the results can only give a vague idea of how thrilling GT3 racing is at the moment. We've experienced a weekend full of emotions, with months of hard work behind us, and all this has culminated in a hard-fought victory. Thank you to everyone at Audi and Audi Sport customer racing, to all the teams and the drivers. This has been a solid performance. The career of the new Audi R8 LMS couldn't have begun any better. Sincere congratulations to the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and to our four drivers: Christopher Mies, Nico Muller, Edward Sandstrom, and Laurens Vanthoor, who've won this race for the first time."
Christopher Mies: "It was a tough race and a close battle with BMW and Porsche. The new Audi R8 LMS was running well. There wasn't even the slightest problem. But during the night, we lost three to four minutes due to a yellow period and, as a result, our advantage was gone. Afterwards, we really had to battle hard. BMW put us under a lot of pressure. The car was running superbly and the pit stops were brilliant. That was enough for us to win in the end with a 40-second advantage."
Nico Muller: "It's incredible. My three teammates, Chris (Mies), Edward (Sandstrom), and Laurens (Vanthoor), did an awesome job. The team made no mistakes throughout the race, and our car was running superbly. This was the first 24-hour race for the new Audi R8 LMS—and we made it across the whole distance without any problems, especially at such high speed. We were constantly under pressure and always had to give everything. This victory is a sweet reward for everyone."
Edward Sandstrom: "It was a tough race with many good teams and difficult weather conditions. My friends from the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, just like Audi Sport customer racing, did a perfect job. The team performance simply fit. The new car meant a lot of work for all of us, which paid off. Driving a whole 24-hour race without the slightest problem deserves a lot of respect."
Laurens Vanthoor: "These were the kinds of conditions that are so typical for the Green Hell—patches of rain and a dark sky early on Saturday night. It was difficult. We were set on making it through the night unharmed and managed to do this. Afterwards, the race turned into a sprint. For me, the first victory in the new R8 LMS will be an unforgettable experience. The car has instantly been reliable. This shows how well the whole Audi squad has been working. Thank you for this."