If success in a career is based on results, then Dindo Capello is part of a very select group. The popular Italian driver has been on the podium in every class of racing he's participated in. However, it's his winning record in sports cars, particularly prototypes, that stands out. Le Mans with Bentley and Audi, Sebring, major circuits all over the world. With Audi's R15 diesel prototype on a limited schedule for the season, Capello's talents were used to develop and campaign Ingolstadt's new entry for the GT3 class, the Audi R8 LMS.
EC: One of the strangest years of your racing career must have been 2009. Sebring, Le Mans, and at the last moment, a management decision to enter Petit Le Mans. What have you been doing to keep busy?
DC: 2009 was very similar to 2003 when I only did testing, Sebring and Le Mans with Bentley. Fortunately this year, Audi Italy had a program. That was a good way to keep me busy.
EC: How did it happen for you to drive the R8 LMS in the Sara GT Championship-was it a surprise or did you know you may get drafted into the GT3 program?
DC: When Audi Sport decided to cancel its participation in ALMS and LMS, I was approached by Audi Italy to race in this championship.
EC: When did you first drive the R8 LMS and where? As you are good friends with Frank Biela, did you speak with him about various setups since he did so much of the testing?
DC: The first time I tested the car was in Vallelunga in February. It happened just by chance because we were testing the R15, but due the poor weather conditions we stopped the test and I was offered a run in the R8 LMS to get an idea for the feeling. For sure I talked with Frank, but due to the limited change that you're allowed there is not so much that can be altered.
EC: How many years has it been since you raced a production-type racecar? Since you have been so successful in prototypes, is it difficult not to be challenging for the overall win?
DC: I occasionally drove a GT car a few years ago. For sure, the feeling is completely different compared to a high-downforce prototype car with more power. And not competing for the overall victory is of course something strange, but on the other hand it is nice to understand how the GT drivers feel with the prototype car, considering the other GT cars around you that you compete against.
EC: What kind of adjustments did you make in order to be competitive with the R8 LMS compared to the prototypes, or are you like your countryman, Alex Zanardi, who just wants to race?
DC: [smiling widely] Due to the different kind of downforce and power in the car you have to adjust your driving style. The main risk, coming from a high-downforce car, is to overdrive the GT3. And as Alex, for sure you would like more power, more downforce, better braking efficiency... in the end you would like to be back in a prototype.
EC: With regard to power, the R8 LMS actually has more than the R8 prototype did during its last season. Are there any areas of similarity between the two cars with regards to predictability, meaning you know what it will do in racing situations?
DC: No, there are no similarities at all. The weight makes a big difference between the two cars, plus the downforce. The car is quite predictable but it is difficult to compare it to the R8 prototype.
EC: Take us through a lap of a circuit with the R8 LMS on which you've also competed in one of the prototypes (R8, R10) on how different it is.
DC: Monza is the only track where I have competed with the R10 (in 2008) and the R8 LMS (this year). It is really difficult to compare the two cars. The top speed is more than 40 km/h [24.9 mph] less than the prototype on the straight, and despite this difference the braking point is 50 meters earlier than in the prototype. The agility through the slow chicane is completely different, even though the R10 was for sure the most agile sports car on the market. Through Variante Ascari, it is flat, or easy flat, on new tires with the prototype at 220 km/h [136.7 mph] compared to being off throttle for a long time in the R8 LMS at a speed of 175 km/h [108.7 mph] through the Parabolica, which is a very long medium-speed at entry and high-speed at the exit. The stability of the prototype is superior to the R8 LMS, which is more like a road car.
EC: There are always comparisons between drivers in Europe and those in the USA. You have plenty of experience to go with your frequent flier miles. What observations do you have on GT racing at home versus over here?
DC: The quality of the GT driver is much higher here in the USA compared to in Italy, where the Championship is made to allow non-professional drivers to compete with professional drivers. In the FIA GT Championship, the level is at least the same as in ALMS.
EC: Depending on schedules, do you think you would like to do a long-distance race in the R8 LMS? I was surprised that you weren't drafted to drive at the recent Nürburgring 24 Hours. Audi could have won that race.
DC: Actually, I asked Audi not to count on me for this long race only because I don't know the race track as well as the other drivers. Allan [McNish] did the same for the same reason. On such a special and unique race track, the knowledge of the track is fundamental to be competitive and to be consistently fast.
EC: Have you had any testing time aboard the R15 since Le Mans, and was there any special preparation for you to be ready for Petit Le Mans?
DC: After Audi decided to race in Petit, we had three test days in Vallelunga to prepare for this race.
EC: For the 2010 season, will it be the usual drama of waiting for Audi to announce its plans at the Essen Show? Do you think you will be driving both prototype and GT next year?
DC: From one side, I hope not to have time to drive the R8 LMS because we will be busy with the R15. But in the case of a small program like this year, I really would like to continue because next year the R8 LMS will be a step forward compared to the existing car in GT3.
EC: Like all racecars, there is always improvement. What areas of the R8 LMS do you feel could be better?
DC: There are so many areas where this car must be improved. The gearbox and brakes are the two main areas.
EC: Last question: Are you still having fun?
DC: Of course I am having fun, and I have to say that being involved in a new challenge with a new car gave me some extra focus. Because the car is struggling in terms of performance in Italy, I have found that I need to be driving at 110 percent all the time, and that has increased my enjoyment.
Random Happenings in the World of Motorsport
Formula One: When the going gets weird in motorsport, it usually means something involving F1, and in keeping with current tradition, it's the antics off the track rather than on. Anyone with even a casual interest no doubt has heard of "The Crashgate Affair." Basically, a driver was ordered to cause an accident, which brought out the safety car, in order to help his teammate. The FIA, which on a good day is still a nuisance, decided to investigate. The results were predictable: The team boss and chief engineer were found guilty and given lifetime bans. Predictably enough, the team was basically given a pass. The players were Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds and Renault. One need only to go back to the McLaren saga, and the FIA imposing a fine of a hundred million, to wonder what the hell is really going on. Maybe a few town hall meetings are in order. I doubt the ban will remain.
The most annoying aspect of the F1 and FIA circus is the way that the media has covered it. Worst of all are some of the old guys who should know better. Many have become as absorbed with themselves as with what they're covering-a ridiculous amount of self-importance. This is racing, motorsport, et al. Rules and decisions as handed down by the FIA should and need to be scrutinized in the present, not in the past. Many F1 hacks have crawled out of their caves to attack Briatore and company now that punishment has been handed out. Hands down, the winning bit comes from a British scribe who refers to Crashgate as the biggest scandal in motorsport history; it has few equals in any other sport other than boxing and horse racing. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to come to your own conclusion.
But where are these same clowns who should be looking into F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's endorsement of Ferrari's Jean Todt to replace Max Mosley? Anyone who knows Bernie should be highly critical of his personal choice for President of the FIA. Every other aspect of worldwide motorsport (except in the USA) has suffered since Bernie and Max have been in charge. The decision to elevate F1 above everything else has come at a cost. There was a time when sports cars and prototypes led the way in development. True, F1 has contributed a great deal in terms of engineering brilliance, but they are hardly the only ones involved. They just want you to think so.
BMW: The decision for Munich to reinvest the funds it spent on F1 with a return to production platforms has already shown great promise. The GT2 effort has chalked up success in the ALMS and the corporate decision to add WTCC heavyweights Andy Priaulx and Jörg Müller for the occasional race aboard the GT2 simply ups the game. BMW's involvement in the U.S. has been one of the few bright spots in what has been a difficult season.
Grand Am & ALMS: Something's gotta give, as the saying goes. As CART and the IRL have shown, nothing lasts forever. Both GA and the ALMS have seen their grid numbers fall considerably. GA started out the season with far stronger fields, especially in the prototype category, but has seen its top car count drop alarmingly. With the ALMS decision to allow slower GT3 cars in, such as the Porsche GT3 Cup cars, GA teams will have another playground option. Insiders expect both series to chug along but eventually the bottom line will force the issue.
Audi R8 LMS GT3 Class
Aluminum space frame with bolt-in steel roll cage, aluminum and carbon-fiber composite bodywork
5,200cc V10, 90-degree cylinder angle, dohc, 32-valve, naturally aspirated, direct-injection with Bosch MED 9.1.2 Motronic
Six-speed sequential manual with paddles and traction control
Front and rear double wishbones with Bilstein coilover adjustable shocks and Eibach springs
Audi ABS race system with ceramic rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 176.0/78.1/47.1
Weight: 2,756 lb
Fuel Capacity: 31.7 gal
Peak Power: 500 hp
Peak Torque: 369 lb-ft