After Audi had won the Le Mans 24 Hours three times in succession between 2000 and 2002, the brand with the four rings left the field to its customers for the time being.
The dominance of the Audi R8 could not even be broken by the change in the regulations for the 2004 season. New rules called for a slimmer rear wing, which reduced downforce. Audi countered with a new aerodynamics variant and compensated for part of the loss – the Audi R8 was even faster than in 2002. Allan McNish and Johnny Herbert from Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx achieved better lap times in the pre-test than Tom Kristensen had on setting his best time in the previous year’s qualifying session. In qualifying, Herbert was faster than the pole sitter had been the year before as well.
In the race, a thrilling battle ensued between Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx and Audi Sport Japan Team Goh with Seiji Ara/Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen. When the British squad had to change a suspension component the Japanese-Italian-Danish trio took the lead and defended all attacks by the Veloqx squad through to the finish. After 24 hours, the winners reeled off 5,169.9 kilometers. Never before had an Audi R8 covered such a long distance at Le Mans.
Team boss Kazumichi Goh was happy about this first success of his team. It marked Tom Kristensen’s fifth consecutive victory and sixth triumph in total at La Sarthe. Team Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx, as the runners-up, and ADT Champion Racing in third place completed the one-two-three success of the Audi customer teams. Seiji Ara was particularly proud: “The pressure I was under was even very high before the race because in Tom and Dindo I had two successful team-mates.” The 30-year-old Asian was only the second Japanese to have ever won the iconic endurance race in France.
(Based upon Audi Motorsport press information)
Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 13 & SUNDAY JUNE 13, 2004. Audi's fourth Le Mans win was scored by a privateer. The factory team would come back in 2006 with the diesel R10 TDI prototype.