NEW YORK—Audi Sport is to Audi what M is to BMW or AMG to Mercedes—the tuning arm, the skunk works where cars go to lose weight, gain power, and find extra speed for the track. The US is a big market for Audi Sport, and the brand had several models on display at this year’s New York International Auto Show. There was the TT-RS and the brand new RS5 Coupe, but for us the real star of its stand was a new racing car, the R8 LMS GT4.
Audi Sport customer racing is separate from the factory backed efforts in DTM and the now-shuttered World Endurance Championship program, and you can actually buy these cars to run yourself. The new GT4 car fits into a gap between the RS3 LMS—a front-wheel drive touring car—and the R8 LMS GT3.
The R8 GT3 has been a sales hit; more than 200 have found homes thus far, and it’s racked up quite a lot of wins (including a memorable race in Macau where one GT3 finished the race upside down). But GT3 racing is getting expensive—the cars cost upwards of $400,000, and that’s before you factor in spares or the cost of running in a series.
GT4 racing is meant to solve some of that problem. To keep costs down, it’s much closer to the road-going R8. Head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke told us that more than 60 percent of the parts are identical to the road car, including that magnificent, naturally aspirated V10 engine. To our eyes, that makes the car much more of a looker than the carbon fiber-bodied GT3. Although prices haven’t been released yet, it should be reasonable for a race car if the rumors are to be believed.
Performance also fits in between the RS3 LMS and R8 LMS GT3 cars, and the performance should be accessible across a range of driver talent. After all, even the blisteringly quick GT3 cars have to be accessible to amateur drivers and come with complex electronic traction control programs and anti-lock brakes. But the R8 GT4 LMS won’t generate nearly as much downforce as its more expensive sibling, so cornering speeds should be very quick instead of slightly terrifying. The car is even slightly down on power compared to the road-going R8, as it has to be “performance balanced” to the other makes and models that compete in GT4 series.
Here in the US, the GT4 class has been adopted by the Continental Tire Sportscar Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge series. Right now, those series are full of McLaren 570Ss, Aston Martin Vantage GT4s, Ford Mustang GT350R-Cs, and Porsche Cayman GT4s; stiff competition indeed.