Too Much Talent For Luck To Be An Option: A Chat With A Three-Time Le Mans Champ
Photography by André Lotterer
André Lotterer is one of a select few racing drivers to score three overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is rightly considered as one of the world’s toughest automotive competitions along with the Grand Prix de Monaco and the Indianapolis 500. Altogether, they’re called the Triple Crown of Motorsport, and only the great Graham Hill has ever achieved the feat of winning all of them.
But even finishing at Le Mans is a triumph in its own right, and André is likely to do more than just finish this weekend, seeing as his Rebellion R13 Gibson is the fastest in qualifying behind the two hybrid Toyota TS050s. It seems the LMP1 hybrids are phasing out in the near future, but his three wins at the 24 Hours came during the heyday of Audi Sport, and during his years driving for the Ingolstadt factory, and despite having a new company car provided to him, he bought an Audi on his own dime.
Not just any Audi though: a Sport Quattro. That says it all: André is a true petrolhead, more than just a career driver. But despite having driven at Le Mans and in Formula 1 (he was called by Caterham back in 2014 to race at Spa), the Sport Quattro is a machine that will always excite. Besides driving quite quickly, André also finds some fun in photography, and as such I thought it would be even better to showcase his photos of his car if we were doing something for Petrolicious.
Romuald Clariond: André, how did we arrive there, mixing two things you love?
André Lotterer: I bought my Sport Quattro during the Spring of 2013. But to go back in time, my dad had a racing team in Belgium, and they started very early to play around with Audi rally cars. They were one of the very first teams to do that. It was a long-wheelbase Quattro, so I kind of grew up around cars like that, and Audi has always been something special for me. As a kid, I loved the five-cylinders for the noise and the fact that they stood out from the other cars. We had an S2 for a while, and really, all of that era was mega. These cars became legends and I became an Audi Sport driver when I grew up.
RC: How did you come to the point of buying your own Sport Quattro?
AL: I started getting into classic cars again a few years ago, and the first one I bought was a 2.7 RS back in 2012. Once I had bought that car, I became more confident, and I had a friend who was not a dealer, but was kind of an in-between who knew the scene, and he called me up saying he had a cool car for me. I thought it was a perfect match: I loved the car, I loved everything about it, and I was racing for Audi then. Everything was perfect.
The car had been prepared by Alfons Hohenester, who is one of the most renowned tuners for these types of cars along with Lehmann in Switzerland. The funny thing is that this guy drove for my father’s team back in the day, and he knows me from when I was very little! So I bought the car, despite being a little bit shy again—when you’re racing money is precious, because you won’t make money forever in this job—but I believed it would be a good investment!
As it’s been prepared, it has 450 horsepower, it’s a beast! I told Audi Sport I bought this car, so I’ve done a few things with Audi Tradition. We did a photoshoot together, and they put me in their calendar in 2014 or 2015, I’m not sure which year. When Audi Argentina sponsored the 1000 Millas in Patagonia, they sent my car there for me to drive it in the event. It’s been my favorite car since then, and it’s actually my daily driver today here in Monaco as you know! It’s funny, really turns heads, even here. Some people don’t really know what it is, but the ones who know go crazy, always taking pictures. I’ve even been to Spa with this car, I parked in the paddock, and there were people around all the time. You can’t really say it’s a beautiful car, because the lines and proportions are completely out of rule, but there is something raw and brutal about it. It’s wild and that makes it beautiful in a different sense. When you look at it from the back, it’s just so sexy…
RC: From the front as well!
AL: Yeah, everything is interesting. And I have the Group B wheels, the magnesium ones. And it’s a bit lower than stock. I’m actually happy about the transformation, because the standard car is amazing too, but the wheels and the power are not as good as this one. I love it as a daily driver. And I’ve put a straight pipe exhaust in it, so the sound is, well, you know.
RC: Everyone in Monaco knows when you’re starting it?
AL: Yeah, when I start the engine: “Ah… André is here!“ I love it, I drive it also the way it’s meant to be driven. Maybe not on gravel roads, but on the asphalt… let’s just say I’m a proud owner.
RC: So in the end your childhood memories led you to buy something more rally than circuit-based, which is more your field in motorsport. Back in January it was an amazing ride to go up the Col de Turini pass to watch the Rallye Monte-Carlo from the Hôtel-Restaurant des Trois Vallées in this beast, with everything it represents in rallying and in this place. WRC fans didn’t care about the modern cars anymore!
AL: Yes, as my dad had a rally team, I have these memories like this personal picture where I’m sitting inside one of these Quattros. The car is impressive today too of course. It’s from 1984 and the technology that’s inside is incredible: you get seat-heating, electric windows, electric mirrors, the comforts are there, and it’s impressive how Audi switched the brand just before this car to target premium markets, but this is still a real performer of course, a homologation special as it were. Look at the differential, you have three positions: the standard position is only traction with open diff, then the second position is traction but locked diff, and the third position is full four-wheel drive. Which is good when you attack, but around hairpins…
RC: What else do you like about the Audi history and DNA? I’m a big Avant enthusiast as you know. I love the way they’ve made sporty wagons, and we can consider the RS2 as another rare Audi classic along with this one.
AL: Sure, they’ve made it sporty with the RS2, made a legendary car out of that, then translated it into the RS4 and RS6 later on of course. I don’t know how to explain it, but they had the vision that it would be cool to go fast with a long roof. It’s an Avant, it’s a family car, but it’s the best thing you can get; they didn’t even offer the first RS4 in a sedan body.
As I became an Audi Sport driver, the first year they didn’t have the RS6, so I’ve had to wait one or two years, but since then I’ve had an RS6 of some type for five years. A black one. Then a white one. Then a nimbus grey (the best one). And my last one was matte blue metallic with an Akrapovic exhaust, it was mega. All this started with the Sport Quattro.
RC: You also take quite a lot of pictures. Nice pictures I mean, as you are a photographer and did all the photos illustrating this interview besides the portrait. How did you start?
AL: My dad was a photographer. I remember he was breaking my balls [laughs] as he was experimenting with techniques and trying to teach me. Once he was gone for a month because he was doing Fuji and Macao, in 1986 I think. The team had a Volvo. They were Volvo’s works team for this European Touring Car Championship, and he came back with the full camera equipment, the full set-up.
He was reading books to learn about it, and during his free time he was taking pictures of race-cars, of me at the go-kart track, but also of other people. He could sell the photos because there was nobody else back then on go-kart tracks, so they were happy to have a picture! For Christmas he gave me one of his cameras, so I started playing around. It was still film. Then I’ve been busy with my career, so it was like a dormant interest of mine for a while. Then a friend started a bit and I got back into it. With something like a Leica, it’s easy to become passionate about it. I didn’t take any classes, I just try things out. I don’t know if I’m good, but most people seem to like the photos.
With the cars I have, it’s two passions that come together. People say you look at cars a different way when you have a camera. I think I agree with that.
I like editing the photos as well. It takes a lot of time. But I’ve decided to set up an account to put my good pictures on Instagram (@pixofdre). If I had more time I’d like to develop my work even more, but if you have passions and an eye for nice things, I think you can pretty much put it together naturally. It’s one thing to understand the techniques and everything, but then there’s also the matter of what makes it become a piece of art or not. You can do portraits of cars, or people like Ari Vatenen, or whatever it is you like.
RC: Yes, photography is a frame first of all.
AL: And not only for cars of course. Sometimes when I have time in the paddock, I take backstage pictures that nobody really takes. Like in the room where we chill out with our teammates. Or faces of people who are never in the foreground, like the mechanics. I edit the pictures, and give them to these guys. They’re always happy to get them because usually it’s the drivers in the foreground, even though it takes a whole team to do what we do.
RC: How cool is that? Getting your portrait taken from the driver you’re preparing the car for! Very cool. Do you do continue these photo projects in Formula E as you now also race in that series?
AL: Not so much, because I don’t really have the time to be honest. It’s so busy. We come a bit earlier, but there’s so much homework to do, and on the race day I think it’s impossible because the races are much shorter. In World Endurance Championship, you drive Friday, Saturday, sometimes you don’t even do qualifying on Saturday, so sometimes I just go out with my camera, when my teammate drive… I have the radio on of course, but I just go around and take pictures. Some people say we have to do an exhibition, but I think people like the idea of me taking the pictures more than the pictures themselves!
RC: But it’s really good stuff in my opinion, I think people would be interested in an exhibit for one reason or another. And anyway, this is something that not many drivers can do or care to do; we have a much higher percentage of guys who are just good at booze once they get out of the car!
RC: Switching gears back to your main line of work, can you talk a bit about your current prototype racing?
AL: Rebellion is back at Le Mans in LMP1, and I am joined by one of my teammates that I had when I raced with the Porsche 919—Neel Jani—and we have a new teammate with Bruno Senna. I’m looking forward to racing with them in the top category. Obviously Toyota is the only manufacturer left after Audi and Porsche have gone, so I’m happy to stay in this championship, it’s gonna be a bit tough on the regular WEC tracks, but in Le Mans it could be interesting, as it always is. The top speeds are gonna be quite high. And even if I’ve been used to huge structures with Audi and then Porsche, in parallel I was still racing in Japan with smaller teams, so it’s not a problem to be back in a smaller team. It could be fun to be the “underdog” for a change!
RC: But you remain an official Porsche driver despite them leaving LMP1, right?
AL: Yes, Porsche has been cool in the way they said even if they were leaving the LMP1 program, they would be keeping the six guys who drove the cars under contract. Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber were coming from the GT division, so they went back to the GT division. Brendon Hartley is racing in Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso, I’m not sure if he’s still linked to Porsche. For Timo Bernhard, Neel Jani, and me, they said as obviously there was not much activity at the moment, we could do GT races if we wanted to, so I picked the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, because it’s quite an experience in the Green Hell for a full day. GT cars are the fastest things you can compete with on the full Nordschleife today.
I’ve been quite spoiled with the cars I’ve driven in my career, but even with what I’ve experienced before in the Audis and the Porsches, the Nürburgring was the best challenge. It’s a cool race. And it’s funny in a “full-circle” way, because I was on Timo Bernhard’s team, Team75, and we’d done karting together when we were 12 or 13 years old!
RC: You’re racing in Formula E with the Techeetah team, and Porsche will arrive in the championship in 2019. So might you be taking a Porsche seat in this series?
AL: We don’t know for the moment, it’s too early. They will decide very late. For now I have a contract and a commitment with Techeetah, they have bigger plans in the future too, so who knows? Obviously, Formula E is a good place to be now. As a professional driver, you have to be where the manufacturers are, and they’re almost all going to Formula E! In two years’ time you’re gonna have Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, DS, Jaguar…
RC: Nissan then Renault will come next year…
AL: Yeah Nissan too. We heard the Ferrari group may join too under another brand like Maserati or something, then there’s also Mahindra, who doesn’t sound much to us but they’re quite big where they are… No championship ever had that! So I’m happy to be there and continue my tradition of racing in Le Mans at the same time.
RC: Are you feeling good in our days? There is all this vibe around the vintage racing and vintage cars, you don’t have a presentation of a manufacturer without the equivalent model of twenty or thirty years ago it seems like. Are you feeling good in your shoes or do you think sometimes, like I do, that you were not born in the right time?
AL: Well it’s the way it is, you cannot choose! But I wish I was born a bit earlier to experience the Group C era. Maybe from 1983 or 1984 until it stopped. I think that was cool. Cars were pretty raw, with ground-effect… Like the Jaguar XJR-14.
RC: You’ve been living through a big change as well, as you were driving in LMP1 before and after the hybridization, and now back in an internal combustion-only car.
AL: Yes. When I started in LMP1, it was 2009 and in the diesel era. But I can be happy with my experience, because when LMP1 became really cool again, from 2011, it reminded me of the Group C times when the cars had a closed roof. They became really sexy again. And I think we’ve been living a very special era that might never happen again, to have had Porsche, Audi, and Toyota competing. And there was even Nissan at some point.
RC: How could you forget Nissan’s entry…
AL: The battles, the races were excellent. Audi had a full commitment with everything, we had 350 people working on the program. We needed something, we had it developed, done, tested. We were sending a car to Sebring twice in the winter to test, with 100 people working with us.
RC: Very Formula 1 style!
AL: Actually more! It was a bit more complicated because the rules were more open and different. At some point, at Audi Sport, every day they were hiring new people to do these hybrid things. When I started, it was only diesel, and when the hybrid came up, it became super-interesting for everyone. What Audi did in Le Mans is really mega, this will never come back I think. So much sustained effort from a single manufacturer.
After that I had a year at Porsche, which is also a legendary marque in Le Mans, so it was also a special experience even if it didn’t go that well for our car; it could have been legendary for me if the engine had lasted three more hours in Le Mans, but that’s how it is… you have to swallow it. That’s why the joy is so big when you win this race. In Formula 1 the races are shorter so they do updates more easily. In WEC, especially in Le Mans, when you do an update you have to make sure the parts last.
RC: You had started in single-seaters, and you were not far from becoming a Formula 1 driver at some point in the mid-2000s, but you finally had a chance to enter a Grand Prix back in 2014 with Caterham, who’d called you to replace Samui Kobayashi. And it was in Spa! What was that like?
AL: Yes, obviously when you are in karting, then you get into some Formula cars, and nearly everyone there wants to be a Formula 1 driver at some point. I got close, and somehow I got stuck as a test-driver, so I’ve re-oriented myself to Japan. Then I came back to an international works motorsports team in WEC, I had my success, and yeah, Caterham called me up to give me a shot in Spa. It went really well, obviously I only did two laps in the race, but it was a really cool adventure to be an F1 driver for a weekend! They asked me to race Monza also, but they wanted me to share free-practice with another driver. So I said I was doing everything or nothing. Then they also called me for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, but Audi was not so keen.
RC: Not many drivers have done both WEC and F1 cars the same year in competition since both are hybrids. I think you’re one of the very few who’ve done that, even if it was a top WEC car versus a not-so-top F1 car. What are the differences and similarities?
AL: I’ve actually been the same speed in Spa with the LMP1 car, and then faster with the Porsche 919. In fact the corner speeds in that car were quite higher than the F1 car I drove. It was nothing shocking for me to be in F1, and I don’t want to sound arrogant, but the facts are there: you do 1 minute 54 seconds in a F1 car, and then you do 1 minute 54 seconds in an LMP1 car. And the LMP1 is 200 or 300 kilos heavier, so somewhere we have to be faster right?
RC: Logic would agree with you. How cool it is that you had the chance to experience both, and to be back at Le Mans again with another new perspective as the LMP1 series seems to be in its moments of twilight. Thank you for taking the time to talk about your cars and your racing André, always a pleasure.
AL: Happy to share, thanks for getting in touch!