Le Mans 24 Hour winner Guy Smith believes Audi UK have made “a massive leap forward” in testing as they look to conquer the legendary French race.
The Yorkshireman, who won the race for Bentley last year, has joined the Team Veloqx-run Audi UK squad in an attempt to retain his title – and testing over the last week at Road Atlanta has convinced him he made the right decision.
Smith managed three days of testing as Audi UK prepare their two-car team for the Sebring 12 Hours next month and the Beverley-born driver was pleased with the results.
“I had a good feeling in the car immediately,” he said.
“The Audi R8 is a very different car to drive than the Bentley that I have been used to in recent years and it requires a different driving style.
“It’s a relatively easy car to drive which now features subtle aerodynamic changes compared to the R8 I drove in 2001. The team has made a massive leap forward.”
Ex-Formula One driver Johnny Herbert will be one of Smith’s team-mates for Sebring – along with Jamie Davies – and the three-time grand prix winner was also impressed with his first taste of the Audi UK machine.
Herbert, from Essex, is familiar with the Audi R8 having driven successfully in the American Le Mans Series in recent years, but even he was surprised by the car’s consistency in testing.
He said: “Both cars did a race simulation lasting almost three hours during yesterday which was run in cool, overcast and showery weather conditions.
“I broke into the 1min 11secs lap times which was pleasing, but the more rewarding aspect was the consistency of pace throughout the race run by all three drivers, in changeable conditions.
“Both cars are evenly matched – we started the race simulation nose to tail and finished together.”
The team completed over 1,500 miles in total and another of their British contingent, Allan McNish was content to acclimatise to sports cars after his stint in Formula One.
After three years with Toyota and Renault in Formula One, McNish is back in sports cars, where he established his reputation thanks to a Le Mans win with Porsche and an American Le Mans Series title with Audi.
The Scotsman is glad to be back, saying: “I initially concentrated on getting used to driving a sports car again compared to the characteristics of a F1 car - like right foot braking, changing up and down the gears and the extra weight.
“The biggest difference from the Audi R8 I drove four years ago is the engine which felt tremendous – very smooth and drivable.”