I recently tested the 2018 Audi RS3 and TT RS in Connecticut. Before arriving at the event, I heard a celebrity guest might show up. It turned out to be German racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck. Among the many trophies he’s earned in his amazing career are two wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (plus several podiums and one class victory) and a DTM title.
Hans is also an Audi brand ambassador, so it made sense for him to be at Lime Rock for the introduction of the new TT RS and RS3. After all, he was at the wheel the last time Audi won an IMSA GTO race at Lime Rock, with the fire-breathing, 720-horsepower Quattro.
I raced against Hans numerous times. In the early 1990s, we were both in the Bridgestone Supercar Series. Hans was in a Porsche Turbo and I was in a Lotus Esprit X180R. More recently, we competed against each other in GT racing, driving Porsche Turbos. You could not find a more friendly and funny guy than Stucky, and I have always enjoyed our conversations.
The first time I was “introduced” to him was memorable, at least from my point of view. It also happened to be my first time racing on the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit. I didn’t know the track at all and was out there feeling my way around when I saw a white car some distance behind me. I rounded a corner and accelerated up to the next braking zone. I was just about to turn in when this white blur rocketed past my inside, drifting beautifully through the corner just inches from the concrete walls. I almost lost it, distracted by this flying Porsche. Later, I found out that the driver was Hans Stuck. I think it was his way of saying good morning. It was pretty damn impressive; the guy has superhuman car-control skills.
We bumped into each other around the Nürburgring paddock several times this year when I was racing there. He had a somewhat quizzical look on his face when he first saw me at Lime Rock, immediately asking me why on Earth I was there. After briefly explaining I was actually there to write about the new cars, I had to run off and drive an RS3.
A little later, I asked him if he might be up for a photograph of us thrashing around the track in the TT RS. I thought it would make a nice “memory of racing” shot to put in my story. He was totally up for it, and just before lunch, the Audi folks made it happen.
Hans had been jumping from car to car, giving journalists right-seat thrill rides, and was already sitting in pit lane, ready to roll for our laps. I quickly hopped into one of the cars he had been using and got belted in. The car was already running, and I immediately noticed the stability and traction control turned completely off. Thanks, Hans! Up to that point, I had not turned everything off.
The Audi folks asked us to run at a 50-percent pace past the photographer, who was stationed at the left-hand Turn 3, so I figured I’d have a chance to feel things out. Not exactly. As soon as I gave Hans the thumbs up, he floored it. We ripped out of pit lane, me pedaling that TT RS as hard as I could to stay with him. The TT RS is a ton of fun with all of its safety nannies deactivated. I found it quite easy to rotate the car at turn-in, and I was able to use a larger slip angle than I could with the car in Dynamic mode (ESC would cut in a bit). We did slow down a little in the corner where the Audi photographer was located, but the rest of the time on track was completely bonkers, full loony tunes. We got out of the cars back in pit lane laughing hysterically. Those few laps were the highlight of the event for me.
Indeed, this Audi event was turning into a bit of an old home week, as another great racing friend of mine, Brad Kettler, was also in attendance. Brad now works for Audi as director of operations and engineering for Audi Customer Racing.
Brad and I go back more than 20 years. He has a long racing history, and it’s no surprise at all to me to see a manufacturer like Audi utilizing his talents. Among a long list of achievements, he is considered to be one of the best race strategists and team managers in the business. I won the IMSA GT1 championship in 1997 in a Porsche Turbo, with Brad as my crew chief. That year I won several races, including the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with codrivers Allan McNish, Dorsey Schroeder, and Jochen Rohr.
Brad was at Lime Rock to answer questions about the Audi Customer Racing program and to show off (static display only, sadly) the all-new-for-2017 Audi RS3 LMS race car. The RS3 LMS is already racing in 18 countries in the Touring Car Racing class and also in a spec-racer class.
Brad explained that anyone can buy a race-ready Audi RS3 LMS for about $135,000. This new racer has a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine pushing out 350 horsepower through the front wheels—without ABS, traction control, or stability control. Weight distribution is about 60/40 front/rear, vehicle weight is 2,800 pounds dry. It has a dinner-table-sized front splitter and a very businesslike rear wing. Brad told me drivers can feel downforce from as slow as 60 mph, and I don’t doubt it.
Brad’s enthusiasm was infectious as he talked about Audi’s new racing baby. I particularly noted how excited he got about the fuel gauge. Half chuckling, he said, “Andy, I cannot tell you how many years I longed for a fuel gauge in my fuel cells, and finally somebody [Audi] did it.” I thought seriously about stealing a drive in the RS3 LMS, but Brad wouldn’t tell me where he’d hidden the battery.
There is a lot of A3 street car in this race car. I imagine Audi will get great feedback regarding parts lifecycles from people racing this car all over the world. I love to see manufacturers make racing a more direct and relevant link to their production cars. If racing is going to curb obviously falling interest levels, I think we will have to see many more “real” production-based race cars. Somebody pinch me, it feels like the late ’80s all over again.