Winning comes in many forms. How it's approached is a matter of style and preparation. No manufacturer in recent history has defined this in a more exemplary way than Audi. Running separate and combined operations in Europe and the United States takes more than raw talent. Audi's success owes in part to the efforts of Ralf Juttner and Brad Kettler. This month, Juttner looks at the European side and Kettler muses about the U.S. Both are very different individuals, but each shares a common passion: winning.
Awaiting A Technical Universe
Ec: When did you decide on motorsport as a career and how did you progress to your current position?
RJ: My father worked in the race engine department of the Borgward in Bremen, also driving their racecars. When Borgward closed in 1962 our whole family moved close to Stuttgart and my father worked for Bosch, where he soon became the head of the motorsport department. During my school days I often followed him to race weekends in Germany and through this got in touch with motorsport quite early.
I studied Space and Aeronautic Sciences in Stuttgart-Vaihingen. I made my final degree dissertation at Porsche. In 1984, after my studies, I was employed in the Calculation and Simulation Department in Weissach, becoming head of the group for non-linear analysis projects. In 1990, I went to the racing department to oversee the design of a new chassis successor to the 962 for the then-new 3.5-liter Group C. Unfortunately, this project came to a halt.
Reinhold Joest was looking for an engineer and that lead to Sebring for the 12 hour race in 1992. Joest asked me to join the team. I soon took the role as team manager and technical director and in 2001 became--together with Joest--company CEO.
Ec: How have the duties of technical director changed as the cars have become more complicated?
RJ: The biggest difference is the amount of data we have to deal with nowadays. When I started we didn't even have a data acquisition system except the basic Bosch telemetry. Nothing that you really could use to make a lap or driver comparison. The basic data for setting up the car had been the lap time with any driver comments. Now you need two extra engineers for the chassis data alone; the data arrives instantaneously and everybody is 100-percent relying on it to be available and correct. The tech director is to guide all this information correctly, make sure the big group acts as one unit, and to make sure all the output from engineering is going to the people who need it. It's vital if you have more than one car. All information is shared.
Ec: The R8R's first appearance at Le Mans was by all accounts as a standard prototype, and the following year it was in a class of its own. Few programs have had that type of rapid development. How did it come about?
RJ: This is something that amazed even Reinhold Joest and myself. At the end of 1998 we were shown the first R8R and were shocked, wondering whether we might have made a mistake. Audi was really new to sports cars. We made some suggestions to make the R8R a better endurance car but things moved slower than we thought was necessary. Once the work for the new R8 moved along, all the things we asked for had created a racecar that now looks to be beaten not only on speed but also on reliability, robustness and user-friendliness.
Ec: Were you surprised at how successful the R8 was in such a short time, not only at La Sarthe, but on the traditional short circuits around the world?
RJ: The success at Le Mans didn't come as a surprise, although we had a good race at Sebring. Everybody was nervous about the first ALMS race with the R8 after Le Mans at Sears Point. I have to say, though, I believe a good racecar is a good racecar everywhere. I don't believe in cars that can be on top at one track and nowhere else, including special tracks like La Sarthe.
Ec: Joest Racing's record of is full of success with Porsche, but the Audi years have been overwhelming. Take us to 1998 when this all came about with Ingolstadt.
RJ: This story is quite funny. Near the end of 1997 we were asking for work from Porsche but they decided to use their own team to run the FIA GT, and after 1998 there was no major program. Audi was about to start the Le Mans project and there was a flip chart in Dr. Ullrich's office with a list of teams. Nobody called us because they thought we were still linked with Porsche. When we heard rumors about the project, Reinhold called Dieter Basche, former head of Audi Sport. A few moments later we had a call from Dr. Ullrich and a few days later we met in Ingolstadt.
Ec: Was the R10 as big an adjustment to make as the R8 was from the original R8R?
RJ: Not really. The adjustment to the chassis itself was not much different to other times when you get a completely new car. The biggest difference has been the amount of data, not only from the engine side but also from the chassis [using a different data acquisition system than with the R8], and the number of people involved to handle the data. The differences between a diesel-powered car and a standard gas-powered car like the R8 or R8R have been surprisingly small.
Ec: Can you take us through the preparations you make as technical director on a typical race weekend?
RJ: The main task is to make sure the cars are prepared properly after the last run. You also have to check the remaining mileage of parts within the car. After studying data from past races on that specific track and after going through some simulation runs for your car and the cars from the opposition (as well as you can), you come up with items to be checked and tested during practice sessions. The work has to be split between the two or three cars and a detailed plan is set up. This is done with the race engineers; by that time we also define the starting setup for the first session. A very important point is the contact with the tire manufacturer to include that information and requirements in the planning.
Ec: In your opinion, what makes a successful race team?
RJ: Attention to detail and 100-percent commitment of everybody involved. You also need as much experience as possible, but it is also important that you have people who can share their knowledge with the younger guys that you always need to bring up. It's vital that every single team member has full understanding of the importance of his work and takes full responsibility for it, no matter what it is. You need to be prepared for as many situations as possible and try to make problems appear as another standard situation.
Ec: It's almost been a decade of Audi participation on the prototype world stage. What have been the high points for you personally?
RJ: I am really happy with and proud of the way Audi Sport and its team works together. When the Audi people think about us it is as if we were part of the Audi Sport group, and the same is true the other way around. In terms of results, I have to say the first and the last Audi wins in Le Mans. The first because it was the first, the last because it was a race where you couldn't afford to miss a single beat--and we didn't. It was clear before the race that we only had three items to answer: Peugeot's reliability, strategy and pit work. While Audi definitely gave us the reliability, the strategy and pit work was up to us as a team. Our team performed 100 percent. I also enjoyed the years in America running the ALMS because despite the stress of flying a lot it brought the whole team together more than the "shorter" race weekends in Europe would.
Ec: Compare some of the driver pairings of the Audi prototypes to the pairings you ran with Porsche.
RJ: That's difficult to answer. When I started at Joest in 1992 we had just two years of running the Porsche 962 in America and sometimes in Europe. In either case we didn't always run only professional driver pairings and had to work with drivers that brought money as well. And although these drivers have all been good race drivers it's different from the all-pro-Audi lineups we have used since the beginning.
Ec: Anything about the replacement for the R10?
RJ: Nothing I can say other than what Dr. Ullrich has stated, that the R15 will be a V8 TDI with a smaller, lighter engine and open cockpit.
Ec: Motorsport is certainly feeling the effects of the economic slowdown.
RJ: I hope the situation will quickly go back to normal; however, it's clear that Audi has to react to the current economic situation. But motorsport has been good for its image and those developments have been used for the road cars.
Point Man Of A Champion
Ec: I remember when you drove the truck for Porsche Motorsport and were doing on-track sales in what seems decades ago. How did this journey begin?
BK: I started working for Porsche Motorsport when we imported the truck from Germany in October 1998. I spent that summer working for them overseas and attending races and learning the process. Alwin Springer wanted me fully up to speed when we started the operation in the United States. He wanted someone who could work the truck, drive it, and fix it as well. Remember, the tractor was a Mercedes-Benz 1748, the only one in the country. If it broke, I had to fix it.
Ec: Crew chief has been eclipsed by the title of technical director, but it isn't simply word play--it's a far more difficult job. When did this all become noticeable to you?
BK: It's a different job now. The cars have become so technical and so demanding on the administrative side that the job has changed. During Champion's R8 days I filled both race engineer and tech director, but it was difficult. For me, this started to happen around 2001.
Ec: When you were running the Porsche GT-2, and later the GT-1, how many personnel did you have, and then onward to the Audi R8 and R10?
BK: Endurance racing has always taken a fair number of staff. Pit stops require at least seven. In the old days with the GT-2, the total team members for two cars might be 15. In the GT-1 era, maybe twenty for two cars. Today our crew can be 45 or more depending on the event. The people actually working on the car remain about the same, it's just the specialists and support staff are higher in number. For example, we now have catering people, I.T. specialists, telemetry and so on.
Ec: How do you prepare for a race weekend, both personally and with your team?
BK: I read last year's reports. I think about the circuit. I try to be practical about our strengths and weaknesses. I try to greet each member and put forth positive energy. Our organization has a lot of momentum when it's running well and I try to keep that going. I talk to my sons on the phone; that puts bookends on the event and gives me focus.
Ec: You're a veteran in the U.S. scene but have also done well in Europe, especially Le Mans. What are the major differences over here versus over there? And what do you count among your top successes in that type of theater?
BK: I don't find the differences a problem. Of course, there are rules to adapt to and know but in the end racing creates its own challenges no matter where you are. Among our top successes I would consider Le Mans 2003 and 2005, for different reasons. In 2003 we raced Bentleys. We ran a perfect race, the car was flawless we made good pit stops. We just got out-run by a faster car that did not break. Any other year that was a victorious effort. In 2005 we had a slower, heavier car, got in the lead after three hours and were hounded to the flag. We were constantly under pressure and slower some times by up to six seconds a lap. The team was unflappable and kept its head under some extreme pressure. I was extremely proud to be the only American team that had won since 1967. That was a special moment for sure. Additionally, running those races overseas was made possible by a supportive and focused team owner in Dave Maraj of Champion.
Ec: Previously we asked Ralf Juttner what makes a successful race team. Now it's your turn.
BK: I think a successful team is one whose members trust one another. Team members check each other and have respect. A good team is a diverse group where each one takes his job seriously and respects others' duties. A good team has strong leadership, may disagree at times, but acts in a unified manner when it counts.
Ec: You've been fortunate to continue working with drivers like Allan McNish through Porsche and Audi. Does this type of continuity help, or have cars become so technical that it is no longer that critical?
BK: I think it's very important. I feel fortunate to have worked with drivers like Allan for a long time. I think that kind of friendship and understanding helps advance everyone's thinking. There's a trust factor there that puts you all up to speed quicker. You know each other; you know the voice, accent, mannerisms. This can be invaluable during the critical moments of a race. It streamlines the language and creates an economy of words and movements. This description fits with almost every professional driver I have worked with. The results speak for themselves. You know their names.
Ec: Following that vein, driver feedback used to be the major element in testing, and now so many engineers rely on electronics. There seems to be a split in opinion as to the driver's importance.
BK: I'm old-school here. I will also date myself by saying that intuition about the tires combined with driver feedback are most important for me personally. No matter how technical a car gets, a human still has to drive it. Without that, it becomes a dry science. Data systems now are amazing in their resolution. They allow you to spot anomalies and trends better than ever before. This cannot be diminished, but at the end of the day, no matter how good the car is, a driver has to have the confidence to use it all and feel comfortable.
Ec: How will the recent economic problems affect preparations for the new season?
BK: I'm certain they will in some way. It is difficult to speculate on. I think all businesses big and small will feel an impact. I'm optimistic for the series due to its emphasis on development of alternative fuels technology.
Random Happenings In The World Of Motorsport
The economic tsunami has rolled through virtually all the top motorsport programs in the world. Manufacturers have sliced budgets and staff and cancelled programs that were to be rolled out in 2009. It's impossible to gauge the long-term damage, let alone the short term. Race teams around the world have seen personnel let go, restructuring and cutbacks that seemed impossible even a few months ago. The 800-pound gorillas haven't been immune to the drama; Formula One has priced itself beyond reality and the nightmare has caught up with the NASCAR bloat. Fewer events means loss of revenue at the tracks and this will have a direct effect on local economies. Of course there will be racing--there always has been regardless of economics, and there always will be. However, there will be major changes.
Formula One: Many ponder if Honda had been more successful in F1, would it have found a way to justify the expense to stay instead of pulling out? Explaining why a team with so little to show for the kazillions of yen spent would hang around was not an option. Toyota may very well follow next. It's an odd scenario, people that have done well in every form of racing get to F1 and fail to make an impression despite huge budgets. This proves that it isn't the amount of money but how it's spent.
The other news that wasn't deemed newsworthy was the appointment of Nick Craw as Deputy President of Sport for the FIA. The choice of an American struck almost all FIA watchers as bizarre, considering the FIA means almost nothing to the American racing community. Most expected Ferrari's Jean Todt to be named to the position, but Todt is such a lightning rod that the last thing the FIA needs is more tongue wagging given the problems of Prez Max Mosley. Will Craw's title mean a return of F1 to North America? Doubtful, because few cared on the last go-around of the circus.
Le Mans and all points beyond: The big news is Audi's pullout, with the exception of a shakedown of the new R15 at the Sebring 12 Hours in preparation for Le Mans in June. This leaves the ALMS without a headliner, a role that Audi has filled admirably since 2000, and the success has benefited both the series and Ingolstadt. As of this writing, no decision has been made to let Champion Motorsport carry the Audi flag with an R10 as a private team and not under the Audi Sport North America moniker. The timing is somewhat suspect, as Audi is set to launch a new batch of TDI rides for the American market and the R10 (or R15) has been the perfect ambassador for showing how good, green and reliable the technology is. Some critics point to majority shareholder Porsche as the reason for the cutbacks in Ingolstadt's sport program. Likely it's more along the lines of sending a message as to who is really in control. Seem familiar?
BMW appears to be staying put in the ALMS with its new M Coupe. It's a reasonable decision--the costs are realistic compared to F1 or a sports prototype and it will be popular with the fans.
Club racing: This is the area you'd think would be hardest hit, but for some shops it's business (close to) as usual. This is a serious hobby among many, and careful budgeting shows only a small decline in participation. Many of the owner/drivers have small to medium size businesses, and do their expenses as a business decision. One shop owner in California summed it up neatly: " If the last invoice was paid by a credit card, they don't have the money. If it was by check, it means another few races are in the works."