As we fast approach the beginning of a new era in the World Endurance Championship, as Porsche returns to fight hard against Toyota and Audi Sport, Ingolstadt’s ranks have undergone a slight reshuffle after the departure of Allan McNish at the tail end of last season. The Scot left on a high, having won at Le Mans for the third time, as well as being part of the team that secured the drivers’ title.
But sportscar fans should not need worry with the depth of talent that is amongst Ingolstadt’s ranks when it comes to defending both drivers’ and team titles this season. The one team that remains in the amended line-up will be the trio of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, who together, secured top honours in 2012 taking the title from Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and McNish by just a handful of points.
McNish leaves a sport at the top of his game, as a new player takes up the challenge of the WEC with a team he has been a part of since the latter part of 2012. Brazilian driver Lucas di Grassi, who took part in Formula One for just one season in 2010 with Virgin Racing, is the driver that is to help Loïc Duval and Kristensen defend their title.
Di Grassi got his first full-throttle experience behind the wheel of the R18 at the 6 Hours of Sao Paolo back in 2012, stepping into the vacancy that was left behind by Capello and instantly impressed from the onset. He is a capable driver, and showed his speed, consistency and racing instinct, being the most logical choice for Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich to put him in the “hot seat.”
But of course, when you have such characters as Capello and McNish, you cannot simply “replace” someone of their calibre, skill and personality, but there comes that time when the future has to be considered. Di Grassi being promoted to the “A” team for Audi Sport sees another member of the “four rings” family move from another of the brand’s successful motorsport programmes to help assist the cause.
Enter Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque, who for the last three seasons raced in the DTM with Audi Sport, and moves to a part-time campaign this season. The former Red Bull junior, who won the Race of Champions back in 2010 beating WRC legend Sebastien Loeb, will team up with Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis in the third R18 e-tron Quattro that will be raced at both the 6 Hours of Spa and the 24 Heures du Mans.
Marc Gené steps into the role as reserve driver for both races, as Jarvis is to compete in the Super GT championship over in Japan with SARD. Albuquerque has shown that he is a valued member of the Audi family, according to Head of LMP, Chris Reinke: “We’re delighted to have Filipe Albuquerque as a driver in the LMP1 sports car. He’s shown his ability to handle the switch from the DTM car to an LMP1 prototype in track tests. Together with Marco and Oliver, he’s forming a promising trio that’ll truly strengthen our line-up in the races it’ll be running in.”
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the man that has led Audi Sport to great success over the past twenty years, said that Filipe’s change to the WEC is happening at the “right point in time.”
“He’s ready for the next career step. Our current sports car squad will cause a sensation in a season that poses a great challenge due to the new Technical Regulations and new rivals.”
Testing is set to get underway at the end of March, where a lot of activity will take place before the first practice session at Silverstone in April will really show who has hit the ground running, as the new technical regulations will see who has drawn first blood in the war of sportscars.