Looking back to the 1980s, perhaps it was always inevitable that the four rings logo would re-emerge in the top echelons of motorsport some day or another. Having adorned the noses of fearsome Auto Union monsters in the 1930s, being seen merely as extra manufacturing capacity for Volkswagen in the post-War period was never going to sit well with the company. Two threads of Audi’s racing renaissance in the 1980s are well known: the brutal Group B quattro rallye family and then the equally blunt-force IMSA GTO and Trans-Am weapons. But this car represents the origin of the third strand, and one which is mostly associated with the decade that followed: Audi’s frontal assault on touring cars.
Designed for the French Super Tourisme series in 1989, this is the Audi 80 quattro, the car that kick-started a slew of Audi touring car race wins and championships during the 1990s.
The Audi 80 quattro was a special guest in the Silverstone Classic Super Touring race. It’s been in the UK for a good five years or so now, occasionally popping up at previous ST gatherings, but this has to be its highest profile outing recently, if not ever. I hadn’t had a chance to see it before, so it was a real standout amongst the pack of British-origin Super Tourers that I’ve been lucky enough to see relatively frequently over the years. This French quattro is a lesser-known but very important piece in the Audi motorsport puzzle.
Next to the combination of more classic ’70s saloons like the Escorts and Rovers running at Silverstone the Audi looked space-age. Next to the latter-era true Super Touring regulation racers the Audi is far more like a GT, with its uncompromising angles, trick aero and huge power. That’s not surprising, as a lot of know-how gained during the IMSA programme was utilised.
Even in the context of its own progeny, the 80 quattro makes the shovel-front 80s and A4 Super Tourers that would follow look tame in comparison. Funded by Audi France, it was built by the French ROC Competition team, a national satellite team of the factory Audi Sport Team. That meant they had access to all the latest Audi developments. This local programme would be the proving ground for Audi’s assault on European circuit racing, whilst the German-run V8-powered car would tackle the DTM.
Competing between 1989 and ’93, Audi 80 quattros won three French titles between ’91 and ’93. This chassis took the 1991 championship with Xavier Lapeyre at the wheel; Marc Sourd came second in a sister car (still based in France). They’d swap positions the following year, and then Audi legend Frank Biela stepped in for ’93 and swept the title – although for this last hurrah the 80s were considerably neutered by new regulations, bereft of aero and down to 272hp.
Looking at the ’91 season is like scanning at a dream list of tracks, heavyweights from history. Montlhéry, Le Mans, Dijon, Pau, Charade, Rouen-Les-Essarts… This quattro (and all its over-powered sisters) around the volcanic rollercoaster of Charade or the flat-out blast of Rouen? Crazy.
Everything about the car shouts transition – it sits on the cusp between technological advances. There’s the rougher side to it, which you can see in the body panels, details and engine, but that’s purely a reflection of the time.
You just have to look at the materials and technology that underly the build: all-wheel drive, carbon-Kevlar panels, the dive-planes, complex vents and wings.
The four-cylinder engine sits up front in a tubular subframe hanging off the main spaceframe. It’s an 1,800cc, eight-valve unit that features a massive turbo – hence the power it could produce for such a featherweight engine. It developed around 400hp and 320Nm of torque, which are numbers that Super Tourers would hardly touch even at their peak.
The block was heavily modified by ROC, shortened and stiffened, split right at the horizontal centre-line of the crank and featuring a meaty turbo inlet. The dry sump tank was moved into the boot for 1991, having previously been mounted in the cockpit. Side pipes are responsible for its fantastic sound.
Along with the hardcore aero and flat floor, a 6-speed Ricardo gearbox, ZF steering rack, McPherson struts and ventilated disks all round complete the package.
Although the car looks boxy and imposing, it’s actually surprisingly light. ROC used a lot of lightweight panels, and little details like drilled-out hinges showed how much effort had been put into saving weight: 1,099kg all up was the result.
It flew around Silverstone in the hands of its current owner, Johannes Van Nierop, and former BTCC front-runner Frank Wrathall, its turbo-whine whistling over the shrill bark of the engine. Next to the low-slung 1998 Honda Accord it was battling (and defeated) for the lead of the race I watched from track-side, it had such a different attitude: far more noisy and much more alive and aggressive, which is saying something when Super Tourers are involved!