Lots of car companies offer factory-built racecar versions of their production cars, but they’re often aimed at the ranks of high-end pro racing. Porsche, Mercedes-Benz AMG, BMW and, of course, Mazda all offer racecars assembled with the backing and wherewithal of an OEM. But there’s another European builder that offered a factory version of a car that doesn’t really exist on the street.

The Audi RS3 LMS is a front-drive sedan TCR package offered with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with all the development details tidied up like only a factory effort can bring. The street-going RS3 used a five-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. Prices when new were about $130,000.

According to Strom Motorsports principal, Brett Strom, who drives and supports the car in the NASA Western Endurance Racing Championships series, the car’s owner David Depillo had an MX-5 Cup Car, but was really looking for something quicker, more substantial and something with paddle shifters.

“We talked at length about running it at IMSA, and he wanted to do something a little bit more than club racing, but in particular he just liked the price point of the car,” Strom said. “It was a factory built car, which is what I like about it too, while being paddle shifted, because he doesn’t really like driving a manual, which seems to be a pretty common thing these days among people.”

They ended up focusing their efforts on the NASA WERC series, where they won five of five races in E0 and took the 2019 E0 Championship. They made it look easy, in a sense, but the team has had to do a lot of testing and experimentation with setup. According the Strom, the right setup, the way to get the car to be its fastest is not readily apparent, and the team had to find out through trial and error and, finally, with help from other teams in professional racing.

“There’s some tricky little things you do with them that are not intuitive that I actually didn’t even figure out on my own. I figured it out from other IMSA teams, and that makes the car a hundred times better,” Strom said. “That car on paper just doesn’t seem like it should have that amazing of specs. And I got to be honest too, I’ve watched a lot of people run those things without a good setup on it. It’s very alignment finicky, kind of. If you have the wrong toe or the wrong camber in it, that car is terrible. You can do whatever you want with the shocks and the spring rates are generally fine, you just kind of leave them alone, but if you have the wrong alignment settings, that car is awful.”

The team detuned the car for E0. It makes about 285 horsepower at the wheels, but the engine can make up to 350. In that trim, the car is well-suited for endurance racing because the fuel mileage is excellent. Where the car really shines, however is in fast turns. The aerodynamics package on the car makes it really stable in high-speed turns like, say, Riverside at Buttonwillow, turns 2 and 9 at Willow Springs or the entire west side of Utah Motorsports Park.

“Because of it being a front wheel drive, and it’s like 64% front weight bias, but the car has really good aero, so it’s always quite stable, and it’s front wheel drive so you’re not going to spin it out around a corner in that regard,” Strom said.

Inside, the car has all the hallmarks of a factory-built racecar: precision work, excellent paint, carbon fiber and tidy equipment. One piece of equipment that looks like it came out of a drift car is the rear handbrake lever. Because the car is front drive, it’s difficult to get heat into the rear tires. The handbrake operates the rear brakes only, and it’s used to warm up the brakes and tires.

“A lot of what puts heat into the tires sometimes is the brakes, and the ratio of braking power is, I don’t know, 80 percent front,” Strom said. “On your out lap, you drag that handbrake to try and put more temp in the rears than what would happen if you just hit the brakes normally.”

Because the car is front drive and because of the way the car is set up to work best, the driver has to adjust the brake bias to compensate for tire wear and fuel load. The car has two ways to adjust bias: one is with the knob that adjusts the valves between the two masters, and then there’s a hydraulic block for the rear so you can do quick adjustments if it starts raining.

“We use it in endurance races where when you start you’re running a lot of your bias and then you’ll find that the car is 45 minutes, hour in, or like at Miller was particularly bad, when the rears were three hours old, you had to significantly push the bias back towards the front, because otherwise you would trail brake down to turn one and the car would just want to step out on you all the way in,” Strom said. “So keeping that car going quickly, the bias is very important. And if you don’t run enough rear bias starting out on the front tires, you’ll drive the front tires off the thing, which is always a challenge. That’s the biggest challenge on those cars, is just keeping the front tires on it.”

Owner: David Depillo
Year: 2017
Make: Audi
Model: RS3 LMS
Weight: 2,750 lbs. w/o driver
Engine/Horsepower: 285 (detuned for E0)
Transmission: Six-speed DSG
Suspension Front: Bilstein double adjustable
Suspension Rear: Bilstein double adjustable
Tires Front: Yokohama 285-650-18, medium compound
Tires Rear: Yokohama 285-650-18, medium compound
Brakes Front: AP Racing Radi-Cal Pro 5000, six-piston caliper, 380 mm rotors
Brakes Rear: Stock rear rotor with two-piston AP Racing caliper
Data system: AiM MXG dash, Motec C125 data acquisition
Sponsors: SSF Autoparts, Yokohama Tire, LiquiMoly, Strom Motorsports, Lending Link, Brembo, Motec.
Image courtesy of Brett Becker

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