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Catching Up With.... Wolfgang Durheimer

The lead up to the start of the 6 hours of Silverstone saw a small group of journalists invited into the inner sanctum of Audi Sport for a catch up with Wolfgang Dürheimer, Member of the Board for Technical Development at Audi AG and the man responsible across the whole VAG group for motorsport strategy.

Often such corporate figures are rather guarded in their responses, happily Herr Durheimer, who has entries on his cv in recent times heading up both Porsche and Bentley, has a rather more open-minded attitude to his invited guests!

Gary Watkins – Autosport (GW)

The new FIA Formula E want manufacturers to come and showcase their electric technology.  Are you in a dialogue with them?

"I am representing the Volkswagen Group in the FIA Manufactures Commission. In the Commission, Jean Todt has been promoting Formula E fora long time already and he is keen to get the manufacturers to join the series.  But I have the feeling that most of the OEMs are in a little bit of a hold back position because we do have a lot of activities going on in current racing.

If you are going to do it properly you need to invest a lot of money and create a separate team and for this reason I think the ground speed of this series is not at the level that maybe Jean Todt would like to have.

But it's nothing that we cannot push together with the FIA.  We as the OEMs know exactly what the e-products are that are in development and I think it's common knowledge that progress on electro mobility hasn't reached peak speed up to now due to battery technology.  

When you look at the whole car, we have the knowledge and abilities to develop high performance electric motors and the controllers but the batteries are still the weak point.

And if you want to race hard and want to race a solid distance you can't make it at present, I think Formula E is supposed to stop after 25 minutes then the driver switches cars because they cannot 'refuel' them.

Iwas. Dry concerned about how this would work, buckling yourself down again and getting ready to race again but they will have a neutralised time I understand with everybody taking the same frame in order to her out of the pits again, so it is all a little bit strange I think."

"They have a solid rulebook, a bunch of entries already and a new format racing in cities, Moscow, maybe even in London and in Rio de Janeiro, bringing racing to the public but my statement on this is that you cannot force technology - it needs to develop and you can't get around the physics.

"I believe that electro mobility will progress.  In the future we will see electric cars in urban areas where you circle around the same refill or power station every day and you have short 20-25km commutes but there is still some way to go before it is a solution for a household with only one car.

Graham Goodwin - Dailysportscar (GG)

You have been very clear that Audi and Porsche will go head in LMP1 at Le Mans and in the WEC next year, what kind of commitment can you describe to that continuing?

"I can only give you a solid outlook for 2013 and 2014 - Of course we have longer term plans but I am not going to share those with you at the moment, I hope you understand.

"But there is no reason why we should stop this immediately because our Group is well known for contortion, and for in-house competition. 

"If you analyse us in detail you will not find that markets are restricted to different brands or that there are price layers that you (the various VAG brands) are not allowed to enter because your big friend or little brother are there already. It's a fight in the marketplace for the available customers, of course sometimes we fight with the same technology, because we share in- house parts and pieces which are able to be taken to different brands. We share technical intelligence but at the end of the day every brand decides where they want to sell and what the price should be.

"If we look into (GT racing) sportscars, Porsche is challenging Audi and vice versa, both are challenging Lamborghini and maybe in the future the Bentley Continental GT.  This is what we think creates success.  It shakes the best out of all of the engineers and it is a. Dry sophisticated management of talent and technology.

Stephen Errity - Auto Express (SE)

"Are there perhaps any plans for a sportscar model inspired by the technology we see here with the R18 e-tron Quattro?

"When I joined Audi in September last year I introduced the idea of capitalising upon 11 victories at Le Mans. At Porsche I was able to do the Carrera GT with a straightforward Le Mans set up of a race car that didn't hit the track but the 10 cylinder engine, the carbon fibre monocoque and the suspension system was all exactly how it was planned for Le Mans, maybe except an adjustment to bring along a suit and some separate shoes!

"Right now Audi has the R8 as a super sportscar but I think there would be room for the sophistication and the technology that we are racing today, that is available, we know how to do it and how to capitalise it for customers.

"I think this car would be a major halo in the market, it doesn't need to have 1000 produced, maybe 100 would be OK and I think it would be worthwhile to make this outstanding technology available for aficionados, for collectors and I am sure it would be interesting for you to drive, test and experience this technology, how it feels and what it is capable of. 

"I will never forget the driver's reactions when they tested the first Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid, the smile on their faces when they got out of the car and they commented - This is what we wanted to have for a long time.

"Now, if you time your energy properly you can pass without being at the absolute limit.

John Dagys – (JD)

We've seen a lot of change in North America in coming years with the merger of Grand-Am and ALMS and the intention for US DTM.  Where do you see Audi's future in North America from a factory standpoint and perhaps from a customer standpoint?

" I see a lot of involvement of Audi Sport in the North American market. Strategically it's a very important region for us and if we look at our sales distribution worldwide we are leading against Mercedes and BMW in Europe. We are also ahead in China, but we are far behind in North America.

"We have to catch up, to be better known as a very sporty, dynamic brand and a fairly aggressive and pushy player.

"I think we can underline our involvement, our success story, with a solid Motorsport programme in the US.

"I regret that the ALMS is not there any more as it was in the past with the Prototypes because we had big times in the US market, a fantastic 14 years with Sebring this year.

"We had great races, also Porsche and Audi racing each other with the P2 car and the P1 car. I was asked several times "How do you evaluate this if one brand wins and the other loses?"

In fact we were all winners, because we entertained the crowd, we made the show , sometimes withAudi in the lead, sometimes Porsche, and that is why I am absolutely in line and supportive for the DatM to go to the US because in the DTM we have again the three premium German brands, it is high tech racing, it's a good show, fast cars and a selective group of players.  If we bring this type of racing to the US it will benefit technology and our fingerprint being exclusive premium players.


That seems to imply that the factory strategy going forward is US DTM and that perhaps any customer programme would be based on the R8

"At present we are talking about ideas.  It has not been decided and we will have important decisions from now until the holiday season starts because we need to get our act together and where and how we will race.

"I am personally in favour of the Grand-Am prototypes because for Audi I think it is necessary that we are able to make overalls (race wins).  Of course class wins are nice but at the end of the day you win the race and for this reason the Daytona Prototypes are the highest class you can race right now.

"Another opportunity would be Indycars that I also think is still very popular. The Indy 500 is an outstanding race.  That's about all I can say right now.


These ideas that are being considered - is this for 2014 or 2015?

"I think if we decide what we are doing by the Summer break we can reach 2014."


US DTM won't be until 2015 or 2016, could we see a multiple programme from Audi in all three areas?

"I think two of the three would be a maximum.

"The DTM set-up would be perfect. We know the technology, we know the parts suppliers, we are pretty deep into the techniques and it would be a fairly easy duplication.

"We need national heroes, we would leave the cars in the US, we might have different engines, this is the open subject right now and is giving us some headaches right now because as you know the agreement has been signed not only for North America but also with Super GT in Japan that the format will be exported.

"It is most likely though that we will not have the same engines.  It is still a big discussion whether we will see the V8s or two litre, four cylinder, direct injection - turbos.

"What I can also understand and see, and I am a fan of the global race engine, is that if we achieve a format where you can transform your basic engine technology into serial race applications it would save a lot of money for the manufacturers and you can play a little bit more cards, not having it for one series and needing a big new development for another series.  So I think the train is moving in the right direction but, in terms of rules, it hasn't arrived at the station yet."


On the DPs - if you did it would you want to do it as an engine supplier or as a chassis producer as well?

"No I think, of course if you do the chassis you control,the whole thing but, as I understand, Grand-Am is just opening up the subject for manufacturers do do their own chassis and so for competitiveness they like you, with top priority, to pick one of the three chassis that they supply.


So are you thinking of making a body kit for a chassis, is that something that you would be interested in together with an engine?

"Definitely.  If we would do a Daytona Prototype it would look like an Audi."

And what kind of factory support would you give to that kind of programme, given that DP is more privateer based right now with some support from the manufacturers?

"This is how we would recommend to do it."


Is there potential now for customer LMP1s in the WEC after suggestions that pressure was being brought to bear by the ACO/ WEC to open up a privateer P1 market with the new rules?

"I don't know, I am completely pressureless on this question!

Is there a plan for a customer LMP1 programme?


Eva Maria Veith - Audi Sport

"We have always said we will not race against our customers in the same class and as long as we have our engagement in this Series and in this class I doubt we will have customers next to us racing against us."


"What about an engine supply , given in 2014 there doesn't seem to be many engine programmes for the new regs.  Would Audi be interested?


"No, definitely not for 2014.  To position myself, I very much appreciate the open format of Le Mans, always open for new technologies, new ideas for aggressive approaches and some of the most ground breaking technologies came forward from Le Mans.

"If you just look what happened with Audi in the last few years, developing a 12 cylinder diesel race engine.  If you would have told this 10 years ago to some racers they would have told you you were completely mad.

"Meanwhile in Europe the share of diesel cars in serial production is 78%.  That means we race common technology.  It's not the share in the US and not in Chine either - in some big Chinese cities they forbid driving diesel cars - but for Europe it's a tremendous breakthrough.

"If you drive the big V8 diesels they have amazing performance, great fuel mileage and they are clean diesels.  That's not easy because you need to look after very detailed after treatment but in terms of performance and reach these are tremendous power plants."


I'd like to ask about the exhaust gas recovery system (effectively a compound turbo) that was developed, and we believe as tested, with a view to being part of the 2013 package but that was refused.  Was that a big setback for the programme?

"Yes, we regret this very much because we invested a fair amount of money into this technology.  It worked, at least when we tested it, we found some Tenths of a second and a combustion engine loses a lot in the exhaust area because the thermodynamics are the biggest inefficiency that we carry around.  So if we can access the energy in the exhaust section we could again contribute to efficiency.

"Unfortunately you can read the rulebook in a way that this technology should not be applied.  So to be also precise it is not forbidden.  In the discussion with the rulemakers we were encouraged not to use it and we accepted this, let's say, style of reading it.


That would have been in addition to the KERS system?

"Yes, it was all resolved in terms of packaging and we need to give it a little time and maybe we take a second approach or maybe we will show the media what would have been possible because it could be an interesting story.

But you can use it next year when you are allowed multiple energy retrieval?

"It doesn't look like it."

Any specific reason why not?

"It was the interpretation of the rules."


Back to road cars, BMW are expanding their range, with the X4, of crossover between coupe and SUV - Is this a market that Audi are looking to move into in a big way?

"Definitely yes, I think on the SUV side, in our Q abbreviation we have the Q3, 5 and 7 so there is some room I between.  I think it would be wise to offer some products there, the SUV segment is the only segment still growing worldwide, unbelievable but it is the case, and it seems that these type of cars, also the crossovers fit quite well the demand of a lot of customers around the world including, very importantly, emerging markets, Russia, China, India.  The US to and I think in German and countries around Europe it's a popular type of car too.

"With good aerodynamics, low rolling resistance and reduced internal friction and new engines we are able to deliver products which are far below 10 litres (per 100 km) including with plug-in hybrid technology where cars can get sensational averages.

"I would particularly like to say that there is no question that we in Audi believe that the immediate future (for road cars) will be dominated by plug-in hybrids.

"After all of the earlier discussion about electric motors and battery power, the plug-in hybrid is, for the premium class, the best you can have at present and for this reason we are pushing this technology quite hard.

"We are introducing the A3 e-tron at the end of this year and we think this is a solution that combines all the advantages of standard transportation, fair speed and acceleration, including absolutely zero emission over sensible distances without carrying on the disadvantages of the individual technology.

"To go 50 km completely electric solves a lot of problems.  If you look at the UK a car like this does not pay the London Congestion Charge and with 50 km you can get far into the city where you can recharge on any power socket and if you go long distance, say from London to Birmingham and you are leaving London on electric motor.  When you are on the motorway you can push a charge button and that will recharge your batteries so they are full when you approach Birmingham then you roll in an electric.

"I think this is really a fantastic concept, internally you have a big trunk, 5 seats, all the entertainment of a standard car, that's what we are pushing for.


Time and time again we see comments saying something along the lines of "Surely it's time for (insert name of whichever VAG brand) to be in Formula One.  Where is the current thinking?

This question was politely deflected to a polite Audi PR man

"We politely decline to reply to this question at this time."


"Every time you write a sentence about this I am in big trouble. (smiling) I want to have trouble-free Mondays!"