Reigning American Le Mans Series champion and 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Allan McNish takes a wistful look back at the Audi R8 he and his Audi team-mates piloted to a staggering 50 victories during its seven-year lifespan.

I'll be having a sentimental look at the Audi R8 on the BEN/MotorSport stand at the Autosport International Show this coming weekend. It's the actual car I raced in the 2004 Le Mans Endurance Series and at Le Mans that year, but also in which I scored a win at Silverstone in 2005. However, my last R8 races were actually last season - an incredible six years since my first R8 race.

Dindo (Capello) and I were doing the full ten-race ALMS championship, and Audi Sport's philosophy was the same as back in 2000 when we gave a race debut to the Audi R8 at Sebring but then reverted back to the older R8R for the next two races at Charlotte and Silverstone while the R8 was further tested in Europe in readiness for Le Mans. So for the Houston and Mid-Ohio races last May the R8 - the 'Old Girl' - was dusted off while the R10 TDI was put through its paces testing back in Europe in readiness for the big one in France.

Having driven in Le Mans Series races at Silverstone, Nurburgring and Istanbul in the second half of 2005, I knew how hard it was to achieve top results in the Audi R8 with the regulation changes so thought we'd be hanging on just trying to claim points at Houston, Mid-Ohio and also Lime Rock in July - a race which would come too soon after Le Mans to get an R10 TDI out to Connecticut.

But at Houston, two things came our way. It was a very, very bumpy street circuit and the race was staged in the evening. While we were able to run 100 per cent from the first laps in testing to the last lap of the race and get the best out of everything that we had, for a variety of reasons the opposition didn't.

Either they were sidelined with technical issues - both LMP2 Porsches had gearbox problems for example - or our rivals made mistakes around the temporary circuit bordered by unforgiving concrete walls. So Dindo and I achieved, despite it being Friday the 13th (May), the 62nd Audi R8 victory and I think both of us felt that would be the last as we didn't think we'd be in a position to pick up the pieces and win again in the 'Old Girl'.

We left the lovely hot Texas sunshine on a high having won the first two ALMS races and one week later, after visiting and re-visiting the same Houston shopping malls, found ourselves shivering in bitterly cold conditions at Lexington (which reminded me of Scotland in winter), at a resurfaced Mid-Ohio track where the R8 just had no grip or feel - we were sliding everywhere as if on ice. It took us too long to warm up the tyres and consequently too long for us to get up to any pace. I qualified second-fastest but was easily out-qualified by the LMP2 Porsche which, running 160kg lighter than our five-year-old R8, went on to win - and finish second - with Dindo and I coming home third. But very importantly we claimed another LMP1 maximum score.

Porsche returning to victory lane after quite a significant length of time was a bittersweet feeling for me. I still know a lot of people involved in the current programme from my days with Porsche and I remember Lucas Luhr, for example, when he was a junior driver just starting out with Porsche as I was moving on to Audi, so it was nice to see them enjoying the spoils of returning to top flight motorsport. The fact they'd taken a possible victory away from us was, nevertheless, disappointing. The other thing that occurred that weekend was that both Dindo and I uncharacteristically each had an incident in practice. We both pride ourselves in not having unnecessary accidents and I can't remember either of us causing car damage in any races thereafter.

Two weeks later it was Le Mans test weekend which saw Dindo set the second fastest time with Frank (Biela) fourth-fastest, although it was mainly a case of fine-tuning the new car to the Le Mans track for the very first time. The day after the test I flew home to Scotland in preparation for a full day of media interviews Audi UK had arranged, then I flew back to Le Mans to give the R10 TDI a final systems check. Then it was back to Monaco for a couple of days before heading back to Le Mans...for the big one.

Allan McNish



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