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EV racing not yet viable for Audi
Audi Sport parallels EV and petrol race tech but sees little customer demand for EVs
7 Feb 2020
By NEIL DOWLING
AUDI Sport remains committed to the principle of a full-electric model for its customer racing program, and while development is ongoing, global head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke says production is still some way off.
Speaking at this month’s Bathurst 12 Hour event, Mr Reinke told GoAuto that each year an electric racecar is developed in preparation for his performance division to make the change from internal combustion engines.
“At the moment our production and R&D is in parallel with our existing GT cars and with E-Tron,” he said.
“We will have the chance in the future to have a separate production facility to develop the electric cars.
“So as a performance brand, we are ready to take the transition to electric vehicles in racing – the hybrid in RS6 and RS7 are here, E-Tron is coming and our race program will be developed in line with our future.
“We are planning tomorrow’s cars – that’s our mission.”
But Mr Reinke said Audi Sport is primarily designed to meet the needs of its customers.
“Is the future electric? We can be set up for whatever and wherever the demand is, that’s our focus,” he said.
“I think that at the moment we make the best performance cars for customers. We also need to be ready for anything – any change in customer demand.”
Mr Reinke said that Audi Sport Customer Racing makes a concept of an electric racecar – every year.
“This gets the designers familiar with the concept of an electric racecar and allows them to explore different areas,” he said.
However, there is no immediate solution to the work.
“To be honest, at the moment, we haven’t really found a concept that we could utilise as a base for a profitable business case for customer racing product,” he said.
“The cars have to have demand in the market. Without a racing formula in existence, there is no rational factor because there is no reason to go ahead with such a project.
“There is also no overwhelming emotion involved in the development of an electric racecar.
“As you grow up, you dream of the internal combustion engine as the power source and then one day that all changes and you have a chance to go to electric. I don’t see electric racecars as having this level of emotion.
“That changes everything. You have lost the key factor to accelerate demand and so to date there is no reason that will make it viable and profitable.
“Even if it was a niche market here and there, it wouldn’t cater for the volume that we need as a business.”
Mr Reinke gave the comparison of demand for the sequential transmission in Audi Sport’s RS3 LMP car.
“We supply this as a racecar for customers in the LMP segment,” he said.
“We have had customer interest in equipping these cars with a sequential gearbox. But the running costs are increased by 100 per cent if we use a sequential gearbox compared with a DSG.
“There is no logical reason why we would then change to a sequential gearbox.
“However, the race workshops are set up for working on a sequential gearbox and not for a DSG.
“This is one example where electric vehicle share a disadvantage. The race shops are not set up to work on the electric vehicles and so there is additional cost and difficulty in getting the right equipment or technician and so on.
“It needs a revolution to make it happen and I am sure that will happen. But not yet.”
Mr Reinke said Audi also has an electric car involved in rallycross that is serviced by technicians who have a mobile workshop.
The car is available at what he describes as a “reasonable” cost but he argues that it is a case where EV technology has been used when existing combustion engine technology as just as good.
“Is it promoting technology or is it just an alternative to existing technology?” he said.
“And what price is all this available? Is it prohibitive for many participants? These are things we have to consider when we look ahead at electric racecars.”
The R8 GT3 operates on three-year cycles and each brings an evolution of the road car adapted by Audi Sport Customer Racing to the race circuits.
“We are one year into the latest cycle,” he said.
“So in 2022 we have to homologate another generation of R8 cars in combination with new road cars.
“The road cars have longer product cycles than the racecars and so we only plan our work to suit the development of the road car.”
Asked if the R8 could be replaced as a model with something else, such as a high-performance E-Tron, Mr Reinke said it was not in the current plans.
“So far the future is good because we know that Audi doesn’t want to change the structure of the development of the R8 in regard to its role in racing,” he said.
“For racing, we may need EVs and hybrid systems in the future and we need it at a reasonable cost. We think that may be the way forward.
“We try to position future technology relevant to road cars. The main topics at the moment are autonomous driving and EVs, but these are not competitive technologies for us and are hard to promote in racing.”
One area that Mr Reinke sees no future is the hypercar segment, enticed by the Le Mans classification and brought to pre-production by cars such as the Aston Martin Valkyrie, McLaren P1 and Senna, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918.
“There is no future, I believe, for a hypercar,” he said.
“You either have an authentic road car or a hypercar. Now there have been recent LMP regulation changes that mean there is no longer a need for a hypercar.
“To me, there has been a history with the car at Le Mans but these regulations will influence the future of racing, not just Le Mans.”
The Le Mans regulations will, from the 2020-21 season, allow hypercars to compete against a new breed of prototype incorporating only styling cues from road-going machinery. New prototype cars will significantly reduce the investment previously needed in developing a car from scratch.
Audi Sport Customer Racing has four cars in production – R8 LMP GT2, GT3, GT4 and RS3 LMP.
Australia almost exclusively buys GT3 cars which is in stark contrast with the other major racetrack series markets.
“In GT4, it works in Europe and the US, but not in Australia,” he said of the least powerful of the GT series models.
“We have more than 100 cars running in GT4 customer hands around the world and the series is doing very well in Europe and the US.
“The reason it hasn’t take off that well in Australia is that GT3 was adopted very early in Australia. Because of this, GT4 and even GT2 were developed in other markets.
“The GT4 cars run at about half the price of a GT3 car. That works in most markets.
“But in Australia, because of the almost exclusive use of GT3 cars, competitors are more likely to buy a used GT3 car rather than start with a GT4 class.
“There are many more opportunities to run a GT3 car in Australia, but not so with the GT4.
“That’s helped in Australia by Audi Sport Racing Australia’s Melbourne-based centre that is one of the best in the world.
“In the US, the balance of the GT cars has been very different. The track cars were developed from the GT4 which were trailered to the track and were a more useable racecar class.
“In Europe, GT4 was chosen because it was less costly. The only volume in Australia is GT3, so I can’t see that changing much.”
Audi Sport started its race program 10 years ago and then five years ago it started customer racing in GT3 before expanding to other car types.
“We now plan to expand to other categories around the world and maybe look at specific developments in regional centres,” Mr Reinke said.
“We can build in modular form a GT2-style car, though looking different, but with a similar drivetrain and use a common engine such as a 2.0-litre Audi engine, for example.
“These concepts we are exploring all the time and we have to make a business case.
“At the moment we are expanding (flagship) GT2 category. We had our first race in the US two weeks ago and that was very successful, so we are looking at expanding that. Then we will look at the next category.”
Mr Reinke said there was a lot of commonality between the GT3 and the R8 road car that was up to 50 per cent depending on the category of the racecar.
“Customer racing has led to the further development of the R8 and the second generation of the R8 became the basis for the next racecar,” he said.
The GT cars are made in the same factory as the road car in Audi Sport GmbH’s ‘aluminium’ production facility at Neckarsulm in Germany.
They are then taken in partially completed form to the Audi Sport Customer Racing facility at Heilbronn-Biberach for final work to create the three R8 GT classification models, the R8 LMS GT2, GT3 and GT4, and the RS3 LMS.
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