Motor Racing: Audi geared for assault on Le Mans

THREE ENGLISHMEN confronted the challenge of delivering Audi a debut victory in the Le Mans 24 hour race here yesterday. Perry McCarthy, Andy Wallace and James Weaver began testing in earnest the R8C, Audi UK's monster in a sleek silver-grey shell, at Paul Ricard, the former French Grand Prix circuit.

A programme of intensive work is scheduled in preparation for the sports car classic on 12 June. Audi are taking no half-measures in this assault on Le Mans. They are entering two open-top R8R cars and two closed-top R8Cs in the hope of maximising their prospects.

The R8R, run by the hugely experienced Joest team, will have the advantage of wider tyres and fewer changes, while the R8C will be quicker.

The British squad intend to capitalise on that 220mph weapon, which they unveiled in the more sedate environment of a wine producer's chateau near here.

"We think this car will set the standard this year," said the bullish Weaver, a veteran of 11 Le Mans outings. "Generally, you'd say an open-top car should win the race but I believe this car gives us an excellent chance.

"Le Mans gets quicker every year. It's no longer just an endurance race, it's a sprint. You have to go flat out all the time. I'd say reliability wins it one year in eight."

Weaver, 44, is still seeking his first win at Le Mans. His best finish is a second, in 1985. Wallace won the event in 1988 and feels it is time he did so again.

"The car has arrived later than we would have liked but a lot of it has been adapted from the R8R and the important thing is to come up with the right car. We've got a lot of testing between now and the race and hopefully we'll have the reliability as well as the performance," Wallace said.

McCarthy, who failed to finish the race in two attempts, believes the make-up of the crew could be a crucial factor in their favour.

"We know each other very well. We get on well and we work together well," he said. "That is important in a race like this. It really is teamwork, it's tough work, and Brits tend to be good in situations like this. We pull together."

The other nine members of the Audi squad come from Italy, France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. They include four other Le Mans winners: Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johansson, Laurent Aiello and Stephane Ortelli.

"It's a very strong, experienced and talented line-up," McCarthy said. "Audi are putting a massive effort into this. They want success at Le Mans and are doing everything possible to achieve it."