What Was Up With that Maple Leaf Audi R8 at Daytona?

It was Audi Canada’s way of announcing it’s officially in the motorsport business.

If you watched the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend, you might have seen an Audi R8 LMS GT3 with a huge maple leaf on the side and wondered what the deal was.

There was one Canadian driver in the No. 88 WRT Speedstar entry’s four-driver line-up in the GTD class, 17-year-old Roman De Angelis of Lakeshore, Ont. But the massive display of patriotism was mainly for a different reason: the entry was backed heavily by Audi Canada.

Not Audi Sport. Not Audi USA. Audi Canada.

A Canadian arm of a major automaker putting that kind of support behind an American sports car racing program is essentially unheard of.

So, why did they do it? The brand wanted to announce, in a big way, that it’s opened a customer racing sales program.

That means that if you live in Canada and you want to buy a track-ready R8 or RS 3, you can now keep that deal domestic instead of going through the U.S. or Germany.

That means that if you live in Canada and you want to buy a track-ready R8 or RS 3, you can now keep that deal domestic instead of going through the U.S. or Germany.

Since the motorsport program was launched last July, seven cars have been sold. That’s about one per month, which is excellent volume for a market of our size. Most of them have been RS 3 LMS TCRs, a track-ready version of the road-going RS 3 that’s got 350 hp and front-wheel drive with minimal driver aids as required under touring car regulations such as those followed by the Canadian Touring Car Championship.

One customer bought a 495 hp R8 LMS GT4, which is closely related to the GT3 version raced in the GTD class at Daytona, and has already competed with it in the CTCC’s GT Sport class.

The RS 3 LMS TCR costs $199,800 including transportation before taxes, and the R8 LMS GT4 costs $369,800. Amelia Li, Audi Canada’s Motorsport Manager, says that while those outright costs are higher than those of other brands that sell products in the same classes and there’s not yet a local parts supply system in place, Audi offers some value-adds that she sees as appealing.

“This is including door-to-door transportation,” Li says. “They just wait, and we deliver like Amazon.”

“I support everything, the contract, signing, payments. And our ordering system is a very smart system, developed by our colleagues in Germany. You have a book, you know your part number. You go there and put your name and password in, and you already have your credit card information in the system and just place the order.”

This is a positive development for those who want to race Audis. But if you think it means there’s a single-make Audi racing series on its way to Canada, don’t hold your breath. There are a handful of those worldwide, but on the whole Audi prefers to test its mettle against more open competition.

“For me, it’s a much bigger value to go out with a GT3 car to win against all these prestigious brands rather than to win my own cup,” says Chris Reinke, Head of Customer Racing for Audi Sport. “Our core business, for sure, is to prove our product against our competition.”

As a result of this philosophy and Audi’s desire to advance it, a whole lot of Canadians were given a phenomenal opportunity at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

One of them was De Angelis, who with his resume of a win at Daytona in IMSA Prototype Challenge in 2018 and a gold championship in 2017 in the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada was hand-picked for the program.

Going in, the longest he had ever raced in one go was roughly two hours. At Daytona, he did two triple stints of roughly two and a half hours each, both at night, with the new challenge of having faster traffic from other classes overtaking him constantly.

He didn’t have a molded seat insert, so by the end his body was battered and bruised from sliding around and absorbing the G-forces caused by Daytona’s high banks. In the final rain-soaked hours when his teammates took over and all he could do was watch and wait, the previously foreign stress of endurance racing nearly consumed him.

But he and his teammates Kelvin van der Linde and Frederic Vervisch, both Audi factory drivers, and experienced racer Ian James defied the odds of one of the most weather-stricken Rolex 24 races ever to finish 3rd in a 23-car class.

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