Audi Sport Customer Racing is pushing hard for a two-car FIA WEC LMGT3 entry with its longstanding French customer Team Sainteloc, RACER has learned.
Last week’s Goodyear LMGT3 tyre test entry for Portimao, which was attended by eight prospective WEC LMGT3 manufacturers, included an R8 LMS GT3 EVO II fitted with newly developed closed-loop torque sensors required to meet LMGT3 regulations.
There, the car ran on 2024 Goodyear tyres for the first time with senior Audi technical staff on hand, factory driver Christopher Haase and as well as Sainteloc team director Frederic Thalamy, its owner Sebastien Chetail and additional engineering staff from their outfit.
RACER asked Thalamy if its presence in Portugal was part of its preparations for the 2023/24 Asian Le Mans Series season. There, Sainteloc hopes to win the GT class title and secure a Le Mans invite. This is because over the summer, prior to the Asian Le Mans entry list being revealed, Thalamy described that effort as the team’s one and only chance to get to Le Mans with the R8. “After next year it’s finished,” he told RACER.
However, Sainteloc’s plans have developed and now extend further than an Asian Le Mans Series campaign. The French team, with the full support of Audi, was keen to test on Goodyear tires with a car that meets the 2024 regulations because it is planning to run in the full FIA WEC season, not just at Le Mans.
Thus, it opted to run exclusively on Goodyear rubber in Portugal, unlike AF Corse which turned laps with both Goodyear LMGT3 tires and Michelin’s Asian Le Mans Series GT product to prepare for customer entries in both ACO championships.
“We are here to achieve something, to get into the FIA WEC,” Thalamy told RACER. “It is WEC or nothing. Everybody is pushing very hard to get entries, we are pushing for two, we would like two cars, but we would take one.”
The feedback RACER received from Thalamy and Haase at the test was overwhelmingly positive. Thalamy was keen to comment on how impressed he was with the level of service Goodyear provided, and Haase was hugely complimentary of the tyres. “I have been really surprised, the car worked straight away out of the box. I was so happy with the level of grip and feedback. It was joyous,” Haase said.
If successful, it would mark a return to the World Championship for the German brand for the first time since its LMP1 Hybrid R18 program came to a close in 2016. The hope is that Audi’s previous loyalty to the ACO during the LMP1 era, plus Sainteloc’s level of ambition to compete, will be enough to secure places on the grid.
However, LMGT3 in 2024 is going to be oversubscribed in both the FIA WEC and ELMS (and Sainteloc has no plans to compete in the ACO’s European series). With no Hypercar program or customer team currently competing in the FIA WEC, Audi’s current plan doesn’t fit either of the publicly stated selection criteria, which will give priority to OEMs in Hypercar and teams that have been loyal to the FIA WEC.
If the WEC’s full-season entry cap is 36 cars and the split between the two classes is 18-18, then Audi, like Mercedes-AMG, would appear to be on the outside looking in. This is because Aston Martin (Prodrive/Heart of Racing), BMW (WRT), Corvette (TF Sport) Ferrari (AF Corse), Ford (Proton), Lamborghini (Iron Lynx), Lexus (ASP), McLaren (United) and Porsche (Manthey) are all seeking two-car entries.
Nevertheless, Audi Sport is pushing hard to be a part of the FIA WEC next season, despite its plan to scale back its customer sport program significantly from 2024 onwards.
RACER understands that it will provide both factory driving and engineering talent for Sainteloc’s WEC bid, and is fully supportive of Sainteloc and Attempto Racing’s Asian Le Mans Series plans.