Allan McNish is intent on playing a leading role for Audi in Belgium this Sunday when the German manufacturer undertakes a full 'dress rehearsal' in preparation for next month's Le Mans 24 Hours.
McNish is joined by all eight of his fellow Le Mans drivers who will drive the latest 'factory' Audi R15 TDI 'plus' sports-prototypes in a 1,000km race at Spa-Francorchamps - five weeks before the Audi Sport team head for Le Mans bidding to score a ninth victory since its 1999 debut.
The 40-year-old Scotsman will pilot the revised R15 TDI along with Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen around the historic and ultra-fast 4.35-mile Belgian track located 40-miles South East of Liege in the Ardennes.
“Audi Sport Team Joest enters three R15 Plus sportscars in a full-out 'dress rehearsal' for the Le Mans 24 Hours,” confirmed McNish. “All three cars will be in Le Mans trim driven by all nine of Audi's Le Mans drivers.
“We'll face our fiercest rivals for the first time this year, the 'factory' Peugeot team which also has a three-car entry at Spa and then Le Mans in June. The 1,000km race in Belgium will effectively be like a 'mini' Le Mans. It'll be the first time this year where the real performance of both Audi and Peugeot can be judged and compared.”
Spa is the second round of the Le Mans Series, McNish and Capello having won the eight-hour Paul Ricard LMS opener. McNish has previously driven a petrol-engined Audi R8 (2004) and diesel-powered R10 TDI (2008) at the Belgian track – together with an Audi A4 DTM (2005) – but with little to show in terms of results.
McNish added: “Having won first time out with the R15 Plus at Ricard last month, another race win at Spa would be a tremendous fillip to the entire Audi team as we head towards Le Mans – not to mention the physiological battle.
“Spa is one of the best circuits in the world which feature the legendary corners of Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and Pouhon. It's a track that every racing driver loves. Situated in the Ardennes, it is often affected by inclement weather – it has its own micro climate – which you have to be very aware during the race. Everyone I'm sure will be hoping for dry weather.
“I began the final race of the 2004 LMS season leading the championship but my co-driver, Pierre Kaffer, tangled with a backmarker at the 'bus stop' chicane with us 30-secs ahead in the race. Our Audi R8 caught fire so our title aspirations literally went up in smoke.
“In the German Touring Masters (DTM) race the following year I was heading towards a point-scoring finish but picked up a puncture three laps from the chequered flag. In 2008, I qualified on the front row but Dindo and I lost three laps with a unscheduled pit-stop for repairs when our Audi was hit from behind by a spinning Peugeot and we eventually finished fourth so I definitely have a score to settle with this particular track!”