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Away From the Tracks - Part Two

Audi

Audi have long been a pleasure to deal with in racing terms, not least thanks to the efforts and influences of their very excellent race PR team.

It was nonetheless a delightful surprise to receive an invitation to Audi UK’s Racers and Writers dinner at the very lovely Goodwood House, hosted by Lord March, Audi’s motorsport glitterati past and present and the rather more crumpled elite of the motoring and motorsport media gathered for a delightful evening of food and conversation. 

It kicked off in real style after arrival courtesy of a chauffeured A8, a car I had the opportunity to sample from the driver’s seat later in the year (I now want one very badly!),  Lord March then asked a question I’ve, oddly enough, never been asked before: “Would you like to come and see the Canalettos?”

Now here’s a tip – If anyone asks you this question, say yes!  I’m famously about as cultured as a cheap yoghurt but even my eyes can see that the canvases hanging on the wall at Goodwood are very special indeed.  Our snappers regularly joke (at least I think they are joking!) that a picture is worth about 5000 words.  If that’s the case then these works of beauty must be worth several times that total – Utterly perfect, hugely engaging and yet beyond photographic, a difficult to define improvement on reality, and there’s a parallel there with the very best in automotive engineering, stretching the boundaries of performance, efficiency and materials.  In pursuit of perfection.

Back to the evening’s entertainment though and it seemed that everywhere you turned there was a legend, starting at the front door where the 2011 Le Mans winning #2 Audi R18 TDI was parked, still race dirty, outside.

Inside there were some of the stars of Audi’s current team, Messrs McNish and Kristensen, Wolfgang Ullrich and his trio of truly world class race engineers, very correctly all now stars in their own right, Messrs Haynes, Wilson Clarke and Miss Leena Gade.  How fantastic it is to see engineers publicly recognised for their contribution and their successes.  TK and Wee Al have inspired plenty of youngsters to take to the track, but I’m prepared to bet that their men, and lady, with the headphones will inspire many, many more to successes in motorsport and far beyond, everyone at Audi Sport should be mightily proud of that!

Watch this space on DSC for a rather more in depth look at the contribution made by the talented trio!

There were stars from the past too, Messrs Weaver and Wallace amongst them, and another of the DSC Ed’s lifelong heroes, the original Stig – No not Perry McCarthy but the REAL original Stig, Mr Blomqvist! And alongside him in the conversation (seen here with the DSC Features Ed Paul Truswell and Audi UK’s David Ingram) was fellow Group B rallying god Harald Demuth.

Some years ago I had a beer or two with a film producer acquaintance, he had just produced the second of a pair of critically acclaimed films following Rollcentre Racing’s efforts at Le Mans and was looking for a new challenge and new inspiration.  We talked about the areas of the sport most likely to find an audience beyond the easy meat (but expensive rights issues) of Formula One.  Group C came up but then so did Group B rallying, the alphabetically adjacent formulae both still have the power to electrify and animate race fans through the aesthetics, soundtrack and sheer delight of the sport they produced.  Some years later and what should pop up on BBC 4 but the documentary ‘Madness on Wheels’  - It’s excellent – If Santa bought you a few quid then it’s well worth a purchase!

I never had the pleasure of seeing a Group B car in full flight on a forest stage (though I did see plenty in action in Rallycross) but the power of television bred heroes too and Blomqvist’s raw speed aboard the spine tinglingly marvellous Audi Quattros were certainly one of the keystones.  Now here was the great man, glass of wine in hand talking freely about how bloody awful World Rally is nowadays – Not that the skills levels have dimmed in the cream of the current crop, but somewhere the sport has lost its way.  It’s certainly difficult to see many people featuring a VW Polo WRC on their list of all time favourite competition cars in the future, but an Audi Sport Quattro S1 (and for that matter an MG Metro 6R4) will be on my list until the day I die (Happily Audi UK's pristine Sport Quattro was parked outside too!).  Quattro, FSI, TDI, Ultra lightweight, always looking to improve on perfection, always looking to find the fair advantage.

For most of my time at DSC I’ve countered the calls from some of my colleagues that Audi’s stunning race performances since the start of the century were predictable, with the response that we would look back and see the last decade as a classic era, a time when top talent on track and off took the game further than it has ever been before. 

I stand by that judgment, and now take it further still, it means that if you are going to win you have to push harder and further than ever before.  We’re privileged indeed in these straitened times that there are still those who can find technical and business justification to do so – and we’re standing on the threshold of an era with real potential to give Group C (and Group B!) a run for their money!     

With thanks to David Ingram, Martyn, Teresa and Sarah Pass and Louise Vukomanovich from Audi UK