“Extremely bitter”, “worst case scenario” and “the worst possible result” were just some of the reactions from the Audi camp after the World Endurance champions’ title defence began disastrously at the 6 Hours of Silverstone.
Both of the German team’s R18 e-tron quattros crashed during the WEC opener in similar circumstances as they were caught out by the wet conditions. It is the first time Audi have retired all its race cars in a WEC event and you have to back to Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in 2011 for the last occasion when no Audi failed to finish in an endurance race.
Audi’s failure gifted Toyota the first victory of the year with the TS 040-Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre taking the win after stewards halted the race early as torrential rain fell with just over half an hour to go. British driver Davidson said he was "ecstatic" with the result.
Second was the sister Toyota car of Stephane Sarrazin, Alexander Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima while Porsche enjoyed their return to top level endurance racing with third place for Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and ex-Formula 1 driver, Mark Webber, in the 919 Hybrid.
The #1 R18 of Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi was the first Audi to fall when the latter slid off the track at Woodcote after the team failed to change him onto wet tyres as the rain began to fall. The impact was heavy but the Brazilian was able to return to the pits although the mechanics were unable to get him back on track and the car was retired because of a broken monocoque.
On lap 34, Andre Lotterer went off the road at Stowe in the #2 Audi he shared with Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler. He was able to return to the pits after being hauled out of the gravel trap but the whole operation cost Audi much time and he returned to the race down in sixth place.
When he handed the R18 over to Treluyer, Lotterer had pulled back two place but it was all for nought as Treluyer slid at the high speed Copse corner, veering across the track where he hit the right barrier before slewing back over and into the barriers on the left.
It looked as though that was the end but once the French driver had examined the car, he thought the situation was retrievable and began pulling off body work from the front of the R18 much to the marshals’ displeasure. However, once he tried to get the car moving it was clear that the both front wheels were bent and Treluyer was going nowhere.
Audi’s head of motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, admitted the team had made the wrong tyre call when the rain came which cost them dearly.
“When it started to rain we trusted our weather radar and waited too long before changing the tyres. That was our mistake and, in retrospect, an unnecessary risk. It really hit us at full force: both cars slipped off track,” he said, adding that the team faced “a real marathon run” to get the cars ready for the next WEC round at Spa in two weeks, a view shared by team director Ralf Juttner.
“Having to prepare two cars again from scratch is going to be really rough,” he said.