The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 is a new car for a new class in global GT racing

The 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed was the stage for many impressive firsts and among them has been the worldwide debut of Audi Sport Customer Racing’s latest product, the ludicrous Audi R8 LMS GT2. With 640 horsepower, it’s faster than its GT3 and GT4 brethren but, somehow, it slots in between the two. Audi Sport says it’s the most potent car to come out of the Customer Racing program, and you’ll be able to see it on track next year as Stephane Ratel Organization (SRO) will allow the GT2 class to compete in series like the GT Sports Club in Europe and the GT World Challenge America across the Atlantic.

Racing has a tendency to become more and more expensive as time goes on. The pattern is as follows: a sanctioning body or a championship organizer proposes a new ruleset for a new category that’s supposed to replace an older, prohibitively expensive one. Everyone involved is happy, the new class is launched, it becomes popular, and as it starts to gain momentum, the cars evolve pushed by factory involvement and, in a matter of years, they become too expensive, and we’re back to square one. This is, broadly, what happened with the (still) highly popular GT3 formula that turned, from one category catering for amateur drivers, to one that comprises the bulk of today’s leading sports car and luxury car manufacturers, many of them pouring serious amounts of money in developing race cars able to win on the world stage. Let’s see how GT2 plans to fix this issue. In a way...

A bit of history to see where we stand

Stephane Ratel, the founder of the SRO Organization, has always acknowledged that GT-based sports car racing has survived through the decades thanks to the involvement of privateer teams, often funded by wealthy amateur drivers and not due to the fleeting participation of works teams. As such, his vision has always been that at the center of a championship organized by SRO there should be the gentleman driver, a driver that’s very much keen about his racing but doesn’t race to earn a living and is involved in other enterprises to gather his funding to go and race.

This was the thinking behind the GT3 class that was born in 2006 as a cheaper alternative to the GT2 and the GT1 classes that had been around for a few years and that have become quite expensive (especially the top-tier GT1 class).

In GT3, for instance, you had simplified aerodynamics (compare the GT2-spec V8 Vantage and the GT3-spec V12 Vantage, as an example) compared to the GT2 and GT1 cars, steel brakes, less power, and, to help the gentlemen drivers, electronic driving assists like ABS that were nonexistent in the higher echelons.

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 Is the R8 We Deserve For the Road But Can't Have
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If you checked out the links above, you will have noticed the "GT2" Vantage is actually known as the "Vantage GTE." Since this whole naming thing has gotten a bit confusing with the introduction with the GT2 class that’s quicker than the GT4 class but also slower than the GT3 class, let me go back in time and try to draw out how these classes used to be referred to back when they were introduced and how it changed over the years.

By and large, the current era of GT racing was kick-started by the ACO's decision to allow GT cars back at Le Mans as prototype entries dwindled with the imminent death of Group C in 1993.

This category had already been on life support and as these prototypes went away and they were replaced by the cheaper, more rudimentary, and, ultimately, slower World Sports Car (WSC) open-top prototypes, there was a void. The World Sports Car Championship was no more and three people - Jurgen Barth, Stephane Ratel, and Patrick Peter - thought a GT-based world championship will fill its shoes just fine.

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 Is the R8 We Deserve For the Road But Can't Have
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Ratel and Barth were behind the Venturi Gentlemen Drivers’ Trophy while Jurgen Barth, a former Porsche works driver and Porsche Motorsport senior, was organizing the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany series. The three agreed to join cars from both of their single-make series and let them race in endurance-style events in the hope that others will join with their GT cars following the general rules imposed for GT cars by the ACO in 1993. The BPR Global GT Series was thus born and in proved successful right off the bat: during its first season, in 1994, a plethora of high-level manufacturers joined such as Ferrari (with a modified version of the F40 GT that had dominated the Italian GT championship in the past few years) and Lotus with the Esprit.

As more cars and more manufacturers appeared in 1995, a four-tier class structure was organized: you had GT1 where the likes of the McLaren F1 GTR, Porsche 911 (993) GT2 Evo, Venturi 600LM, Ferrari F40 LM, and Jaguar XJ220 all raced together, and it went down from there with a plethora of Porsches being split between GT2, GT3, and GT4 depending on their specification and power with a few other cars like the Marcos LM600, the Callaway Corvette C4, and the TVR Cerbera thrown in there for good measure.

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 Is the R8 We Deserve For the Road But Can't Have
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In the series' very brief history (it folded in 1996 to make way for the FIA-sanctioned GT Championship), the cars were shuffled between these four categories, but the nomenclature was kept by FIA.

In 1997, the GT1 class was opened for highly modified GT cars based on limited-run road-going models (think Porsche 911 GT1) while the GT2 cars brought together cars that used to race in the GT1, GT2, and GT3 classes of the BPR Global GT Series. At the end of the 1998 season, the GT1 class was abandoned as it had become too expensive and the GT2 class became the top class (and only class) for 1999. Because it was the only class, it was no longer referred to as "GT2", FIA instead using the simpler "GT" designation while cars built to non-FIA rules were known as "N-GT" cars where "N" stood for ’National.’

Then, in 2000, the "N-GT" moniker was assigned to a new secondary class that was meant to open slower and cheaper cars in comparison to the GT cars (stuff like the Dodge Viper GTS-R, the Porsche 911 (993) GT2 Evo or the Lister Storm). The "N-GT" became the playground of the 996-generation Porsche 911 GT3-R (and its future iterations, the GT3-RS, and the GT3-RSR) that did battle with Ferrari’s 360 GTC. At the same time, at Le Mans and in the American Le Mans Series (and, subsequently, in the European Le Mans Series), these same exact cars were split between the "GTS" and the "GT" classes. The first one was one, and the same with the "GT" class and the latter was the twin of the "N-GT" class as seen in FIA GT competition.

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The homogenization happened in 2005 when the two parties agreed to return to the "GT+number" style of designating classes. That happened because the LMP1 and LMP2 classes replaced the LMP900 and LMP675 prototype classes and the organizing bodies thought that it’d be nice to refer to the GT categories following the same naming strategy. In 2006, the GT3 and GT4 were launched and, thus, we were back to where we’d been some 12 years earlier with a four-class structure. Nothing changed to this structure up until 2011 when the ACO basically decided to no longer allow GT1 cars at Le Mans because of the fact that they were being caught up by GT2 cars and because of their drop in popularity/rise in costs.

As such, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and, likewise, the Le Mans-style championships were left with only one GT car.

That’s when the ACO thought about splitting these GT cars into two separate classes based around the level of the prowess of the driver lineup. In short, GT2 cars driven by all-professional driver lineups were to be known as "GTE-Pro" cars while GT2 cars driven by semi-pro or amateur driver lineups were to be known as "GTE-Am" cars. To give "GTE-Pro" an edge over "GTE-Am" it was then decided that, in "GTE-Am," you could only run year-old cars whereas in "GTE-Pro" you could enter the newest toys. Meanwhile, in North America, the American Le Mans Series had already dumped the GT1 class from its ranks for two seasons by that time, and it too changed the nomenclature: GT2 cars were now known as "GT" cars. While all this was going on, the GT3 and GT4 classes continued to be called that.

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In 2014, the ALMS merged with the Grand-Am series to keep professional sports car endurance racing alive in North America.

The product of this merger tried to effectively blend the race cars seen in these two otherwise distinct championships. The "GT" cars of the American Le Mans Series thus became "GTLM" cars, a suggestive name given they could compete at Le Mans, while Grand-Am’s very own "GT" cars were called "GTD" cars where "D" stood for Daytona, the scene of Grand-Am’s crown event, the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Five years later, GTLM remains a GTE-based class but without the separation of cars based on driving talent as seen in the World Endurance Championship and at Le Mans and the GTD category morphed into a full-blown GT3 class. In July of last year, Stephane Ratel decided to confuse you even more - you deserve an award if your brain isn’t in pieces by now, really! - and ’reintroduce’ the GT2 class. Only it has nothing to do with the GT2 class as we knew it between 2006 and 2010 since that one is still around as the GTE/GTLM class. The ’GT2’ we’ll see from 2020 is, then, a new class and, as mentioned before, it’s meant to fill the gap between GT4 and GT3.

Great!

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 is a race car built with amateurs in mind

When the announcement was made almost one year ago that there would be a new, cheaper class that would accommodate high-output supercars designed around the needs of amateurs, people sort of shrugged their shoulders. Was there really a necessity for one more class? Isn’t GT4 the amateur-oriented class?

GT3 cars are also quite approachable and the Am Cup class for this year's 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps is packed with over 10 entries preparing to take the start. Well, apparently, there is.

"Modern GT3 race cars have increasingly evolved into a class for pros. With the Audi R8 LMS GT2, we are now closing this gap and making a car available that is tailored to meet the needs of this customer group," said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi Sport, in a press release. Reinke added that "the new generation of GT2 race cars achieves even higher top speeds than a GT3 model and nearly identical lap times. This is ideal for gentlemen drivers: its longitudinal dynamics stands for a new experience with Audi, and lateral dynamics does not put excessive demands even on amateurs."

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 Is the R8 We Deserve For the Road But Can't Have
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How does the R8 LMS GT2 achieve such amazing "longitudinal dynamics," as Reinke calls them? It’s all got to do with the engine and the lightweight construction. The former is the 5.2-liter, naturally aspirated, DOHC, 40-valve, V-10 that puts out 640 horsepower and in excess of 405 pound-feet of torque. To put it into context, the GT3 version that’s strangled by the Balance of Performance system (that forces manufacturers to fit air restrictors and other gimmicks to balance the field out) develops anywhere between 450 and 500 horsepower. A base model 2019 Audi R8 cranks out 570 horsepower (up by 30 horsepower compared to the pre-2018 version) and 406 pound-feet of torque. The range-topping V10 Performance delivers 620 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of twist that allow for a 0-60 mph sprint in just 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 205 mph. With all the aero appendages, the GT3 version won’t surpass 170 mph even on a long straight like Nordschleife’s Dottinger Hohe, but the R8 LMS GT2 will be quicker, maybe surpassing 180 mph although we’ve got no word on performance.

The R8 LMS GT2 is lighter than a road-going R8 weighing in at just 2,976 pounds (some 450 pounds below the V10 Performance and 220 pounds below the R8 LMS GT4).

That’s because the interior is stripped and the body panels are made out of CFRP. You’ll notice that, while not as aggressive as the aero package of the GT3, the R8 GT2 LMS still packs some heat.

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In the front, there’s an extended splitter with a big opening in the front that directs air towards the radiator and then out through the two slated vents on the hood. The slates direct the air outwards so as to avoid thermal conflicts with the engine’s air intake on the roof which, in turn, has a ram-air effect. The nose still features two other vertical vents on either side of the main opening as well as the three gills above it. Winglets are placed on the sides of the nose to help it glue to the road better.

This will also be the job of the Pirelli rubber that will wrap around the 18-inch center-lock wheels.

From the side, you’ll notice the classic protruding air intake (’sideblade,’ as Audi calls it) typical of any R8 and, just below, a NACA duct. The diffuser in the back is similar to that on the GT4 model although it, as well as the underfloor, are made out of CFRP. On top of the tail section, there’s a swan-neck rear wing that extends all across the width of the car. The center panel of the back end is dominated by a large mesh grille in a recessed position, below the taillights.

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 Is the R8 We Deserve For the Road But Can't Have
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To help the amateur driver get to grips with it quicker, Audi Sport equipped its most powerful car ever (let’s all just ignore the R8 LMP900 prototype and the R10 TDi LMP1 as those weren’t sold through Audi Sport Customer Racing) with a healthy number of electronic aids: Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Traction Control (ASR), and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP). Power reaches the wheels through an S Tronic seven-speed double clutch transmission operated via flappy paddles. The whole package will set you back almost $380,000 (before adding VAT) in Europe. While this may seem like a lot of money, the GT3 version costs $405,000 without the (quite, frankly, obligatory) spare package that adds another $41,000 to the price. A GTE-spec car, meanwhile, comes with a price tag between $900,000 and $1.3 million.

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The R8 LMS GT2 in this creamy livery was seen in action at Goodwood, and as you'll know from the video above, its soundtrack has been shipped directly from heaven.

However, we’ll pass you the baton now and ask you: what sounds better? This or the Porsche 911 GT2 RS Clubsport? We’re asking because Porsche’s GT2 RS Clubsport is the only other car already confirmed for the GT2 class. It shares the 3.8 liter, flat-six, twin-turbocharged engine with the 991-based 935 and it will cost over $454,000. For the extra cash, you get 700 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque - 60 ponies on top of what the Audi offers. The downside is that the Porsche is heavier at 3,064 pounds and it’s rear-engined, unlike its GTE-spec sibling.

Who’s joining the party next? We don’t know for sure, but Stephane Ratel is confident, and he even told us what we should expect from the GT2 class: "This isn’t hypercars, but the most powerful of standard car ranges," he told Dailysportscar.com last year. He also said at the time that GT2 won’t replace GT3, at least not in the foreseeable future although he claimed that there’s already burgeoning interest in the new platform.

The 2020 Audi R8 LMS GT2 Is the R8 We Deserve For the Road But Can't Have
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"I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think I had positive feedback from manufacturers that could be interested," the Frenchman underlined. "If we’re starting with three [manufacturers] it would really be a success, but I think we could have five or six," Ratel told Motorsport.com later on. It’s unclear right now if the so-called pilot race for GT2 cars will still take place this year, but this seems unlikely at this stage. It’s also uncertain if they’ll be part of the British GT rostrum as originally announced although we’ll have to wait and see. If we’d have to put our money on it, we’d bet that Lamborghini, McLaren, and maybe even Bentley and Aston Martin are interested in the GT2 formula so there should be another (at least) couple of announcements on the way.

Further reading

2017 Audi R8 LMS GT4 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 Audi R8 LMS GT4

2019 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Audi R8 LMS GT3

2019 Audi R8 Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Audi R8.

2017 - 2018 Audi R8 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 Audi R8.

2017 - 2018 Audi R8 Spyder High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 Audi R8 Spyder.

2011 Audi R8 GT High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Read our full review on the 2011 Audi R8 GT.

2018 Audi R8 Spyder V10 Plus Exterior High Resolution
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Read our full review on the 2018 Audi R8 Spyder V10 Plus.

Audi Makes a Move to Please Purists with the Audi R8 V-10 RWS: RWD Performance at its Finest High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Read our full review on the 2018 Audi R8 V10 RWS.

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