While Audi and Toyota racers will be battling it out with one another in the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France on Saturday, the two companies — along with several other automotive marques — also will be waging an important battle of the brands.
Audi has managed to win 10 of the last 12 runnings of Le Mans, the world's oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923. Now, the 24-hour race that is televised in some 60 countries and rivets millions of automotive and racing fans to their TVs is revving up for tomorrow's 24-hour event.
An Audi driver on Thursday night grabbed the pole position in Saturday's race by driving an R 18 powered in part by hybrid technology, the first time such a vehicle has grabbed the best starting spot in the race.
The luxury brand of Volkswagen AG has managed to leverage its impressive run of performances into an unofficial status as the world's racing-technology leader, which redounds to its benefit in lots of ways as Audi battles BMW for the global sales-volume lead in the segment. In partnership with NFL Films, Audi produced Truth in 24 II, an hour-long documentary about two of its recent wins.
"The technologies proven on the racetrack give credibility to our brand and products," Mark Dahncke, an Audi spokesman, commented to the Wall Street Journal.
For Toyota, the picture is a lot different as it returns to Le Mans for the first time in 13 years, also attempting to win with its own hybrid technology. Toyota has been battered on the technology front lately, of course, after its major recall problems beginning in 2009. And supply problems last year hampered its sales worldwide.
So brand executives are hoping a strong showing at Le Mans — where Toyota will battle Chevrolet, Nissan, Aston Martin, and Porsche besides Audi — will restore some luster to the technology props that Toyota used to enjoy. "The exposure is huge," Rob Leupen, a director of Toyota racing, told WSJ.
Rolex, meanwhile, is sponsoring a dedicated web TV streaming site, lemans-tv.com, for this 80th race. Michelin, meanwhile, sponsors LeMansLive.com for pole position action (below).
May the best driver, engine, car, team and brand win.