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Ralf Juttner:  A Race Odyssey

So how does someone with a diploma in space and aeronautic science end up calling the shots for a bushel full of wins at Le Mans? Toss in eight years of the Porsche R & D dept. at Weissach as a start and then moving on over to hang out with Reinhold Joest for on the job training. Hit print and you come out with a sheet on Ralf Juttner, the technical director and team manager for Joest Racing which is a polite way of saying Audi. Juttner was there for the Le Mans victories with the discarded Porsche WSC, part of the effort that got the Audi R8R on track resulting in the roll out of the record shattering R8 and on to the present R10. So what does this modest individual have to say about his role?

Ralf Juttner considered this while participating in a recent Michelin tire test in Portugal with a solo Audi R10.

                                                                            Kerry Morse

KM: When did you first get in to motorsport as a career choice and how did you progress up the ladder to your current position?

Juttner: My father worked in the race engine department of the Borgward car company in Bremen, also driving their race cars. When Borgward closed (in 1962) our whole family moved close to Stuttgart and my father worked for Bosch where he soon became the head of the motorsport department. During my school days I often followed him to race weekends in Germany and by this got in touch with motorsports quite early. Also through this I got to know quite a lot of people from the business (Porsche, Bosch etc.).

Anyway, my professional education did not take motorsports into account directly. After finishing secondary school and the usual army time I started studying Space and Aeronautic Sciences in Stuttgart-Vaihingen.  The faculty of this University at that time has been one of the leading ones for the method of Finite Element Analysis (FEM). Knowing a lot of Porsche people myself and through my father I did all my practical works and the final degree dissertation at Porsche. After my studies in 1984 I was employed directly and started in the Calculation and Simulation Department in Weissach, becoming head of the group for Non-linear Analysis projects.

Only in 1990, on behalf of Helmut Flegl (once head of the racing department at Porsche), I changed internally into the racing department to oversee the design of a new chassis which should become the successor of the 962 for the then new 3,5 liter Group C. Unfortunately this project came to a stop and Porsche did not undertake any major development in motorsports (this has been also the end of the 12 cylinder Formula One engine for Footwork).

At that time a race engine engineer from Porsche, who was at all the IMSA races with Joest Racing, told me, that Reinhold Joest would be looking for an engineer. So I gave Reinhold a visit together with this engineer (Helmut Schmid) and the next thing was that I have been in Sebring for the 12 Hour race in 1992. While I did not have any specific task during that weekend I ended up race engineering one of his 2 cars (Larrauri/Winter) from the next race in Atlanta on and for the rest of the season. With the chemistry between Reinhold Joest and myself obviously working fine he asked me, whether I would like to join the team as an employee which I then did. I soon took the role as Team Manager and Technical Director and in 2001 became – together with Reinhold Joest – the CEO of the company.

KM: How have the duties of a technical director changed as the cars have
become more complicated? In the days of the Porsche 962 you could have a crew of x amount and with the R10 you need considerably more.

Juttner:  The biggest difference is the amount of data that we nowadays have to deal with. When I started we didn´t even have a data acquisition system on the cars except the basic BOSCH Darab and telemetry system. Nothing that you really could use to make a lap comparison with or a driver comparison. The basic data for setting up the car had been the lap time and any driver comments. Now you need two extra engineers for the chassis data alone, the data arrive instantaneously and everybody is 100% relying on the data to be available and correct.

The major task as a Tech Director is to guide all this information correctly, make sure the big group acts as one unit and to make sure that all the output from engineering is going to the people who need it. Also it is vital that, if you have more than one car, all information is shared properly and that workload is shared between all of your car groups.

KM:  The first appearance of the Audi R8R at Le Mans in 1999 was by all
accounts a standard prototype and the following year the new R8 was in
a class of its own. Few programs have had that rapid type of development. How did it all come about?

Juttner:  This is something that amazed even Reinhold Joest and me. After finishing the basic contract data with Dr. Ullrich at the end of 1998 we have been shown the first step of the R8R and I may tell you, that we had been quite shocked a bit, wondering whether we might just have made a mistake. First of all, Audi was really new to the sports cars, second it was (even compared to Porsche) a big company where things are moving a bit slower than in a 40 people race team. There have been some suggestions from our side to make the R8R a better endurance car but things moved slower than we thought was be necessary. There have even been 3 evolutions of the R8R alone! Anyway, once the work for the R8 moved along, all the things we asked for – and more – had been put into that car and by doing so created a race car that – still now – looks to be beaten not only on speed but also on reliability, robustness and user friendliness.

KM: Were you surprised at how successful the R8 was in such a short time,
not only at La Sarthe, but on the traditional shorter circuits around the world.

Juttner:  The success in Le Mans did not come as a real surprise (although a success there always has to be!). And although we had a good race already at Sebring everybody was a little bit nervous about the first ALMS race with the R8 after Le Mans which was Sears Point (Infineon Raceway). Latest by then it was clear that the R8 was a race car for every track.

I have to say though, that I believe a good race car is a good race car everywhere. I don´t believe in cars that can be top on one track and nowhere on another, even including special tracks like Le Mans. A good car is a good car: Basta!

KM: The record of Joest Racing is full of success with Porsche, but the Audi years have been overwhelming. Can you go back to 1998 when this all came about with Ingolstadt?

Juttner:  This story is quite funny. Towards the end of 1997 we were asking for any work to do for Porsche but they decided to use their own team to run the FIA GT and after 1998 there was no major program anyway. In the meantime, at Audi, they were about to start that Le Mans project and one of the tasks has been to find a team. Therefore they had a flip chart in Dr. Ulrich's office with a list of teams with Joest Racing very much on top but nobody called us because they thought we are still linked with Porsche. Only weeks later the name was wiped out without anybody contacting us. When we heard rumors about the project Reinhold remembered Dieter Basche, ex head of Audi Sport, and gave him a call. After some moments of surprise there was a telephone call from Dr. Ullrich very quickly and a few days later we met first time in Ingolstadt. The rest happened as well very quickly and is, by now, history.

KM: How about a side trip and tell us about the Joest participation with the
Bentley victory at Le Mans?

Juttner:  Because Audi did not have a factory sports car program for 2003 Audi Sport was to assist Team Bentley in their chase after a Le Mans victory. There has been quite some engineering input from Audi into the program from the end of 2002. While the major design of the Bentley Exp Speed 8 had already been finished the input from Audi Sport consisted mainly of proper preparation, testing and methodical issues. They felt it would be the best to take over all the things that worked well in the R8 project including testing work, engineering assistance, Sebring race participation and also the team that ran their R8s and had worked so close with them. This ended up with most of our team being involved in the project from October 2002 until after Le Mans 2003. The difficulty has been to get the mixture of groups gelling together, which has not been an easy task, especially in the beginning. After all, the Bentley project already had RTN as the main design and manufacturing company, APEX Motorsport as the team running the cars in 2001 and 2002 and had now additionally Audi Sport with engineering support plus Joest Racing as an additional group of people running the car(s), some engineering input and myself as the Tech. Director of the project. By all means a quite difficult situation for everyone involved but finally it led to a big success.

KM: Was the R10 as big an adjustment to make as the R8 was from the R8R?

Juttner:  Not really. The adjustment to the chassis itself was not much different to other times when you get a completely new car. This is something you get used to while working in this business. The biggest difference has been the amount of data, not only from the engine side but also from the chassis (having a different data acquisition system than the R8), and the number of people involved to handle these data.
The differences between a Diesel powered car and a standard gasoline powered car like the R8 or R8R had been surprisingly small. We expected more difficulties in adjusting to that than we actually had to face then. After the normal period of acclimatization to a new car the switch from gas to Diesel was already finished.

KM: Can you take us through the preparations you make as the technical
director on a typical race weekend such as a round of the LMS?

Juttner:  The main task is to make sure the cars a prepared properly after the last race or test meeting. You also have to check the remaining mileage of parts within the car. After that you try to plan the race meeting with all its sessions and try to come up with a general plan of when and what has to be changed during that event.

After studying data from past races on that specific track (if available) and after going through some simulation runs for your car and the ones of the opposition (as good as you can) you come up with items to be checked and tested during the practice sessions. The work has to be split between the 2 (or 3) cars and a detailed plan is being set up. This is done together with the race engineers, by that time we also define the starting setup of the cars for the first session. A very important point is the contact with the tire manufacturer to include their information and requirements into the planning.

KM:  In your opinion, what makes for successful race team?

Juttner:  Attention to detail and 100% commitment of everybody involved. You also need as much experience as possible but it is also important that you have people who can share their knowledge and experience with younger guys that you always need to bring up. It is vital that every single team member has his full understanding of the importance of his work and takes full responsibility for it – no matter what it is.
You need to be prepared to as many situations as possible and try to make problems, should they arise, appear to you as another standard situation.

KM: It’s almost been a decade of Audi participation on the prototype world stage, what have been the high points for you personally?

Juttner:  One general thing I am still really happy with (and proud of) is the way Audi Sport and our team have found together to work with each other. Either side does not even recognize any more that there are two different parties. When the Audi people think about us it is if we were part of the Audi Sport group and the same is true the other way around.

In terms of results I have to say that the first and the last Audi win in Le Mans stand out a little bit. The first one obviously because it WAS the first one, the second one because it has been one of the very rare occasion where you cannot afford do miss a single heartbeat and we didn´t. It was clear before the race, that we only had 3 items to answer Peugeot´s speed: reliability, strategy and pit work. While Audi definitely gave us the reliability (which Peugeot had as well, unfortunately), strategy and pit work was up to us as a team. With the highest pressure, on us and very difficult conditions,  everybody in the team did exactly a 100% job, which was the minimum required to win.
For me personally, I enjoyed the years in America running the ALMS because despite the stress of flying a lot it brought the whole team together more than the “shorter” race weekends in Europe would do.

KM: Compare some of the driving pairings of the Audi prototypes to the pairings you ran in the Porsches.

Juttner:  In all fairness, this is a difficult one to answer. When I started at Joest in 1992 we had just 2 years of running the Porsche 962 in America and sometimes in Europe. In either case did we not always run only professional driver pairings but had to work with drivers that brought money as well. And although these drivers have all been good race drivers it is a difference to the all-pro-Audi lineups we were using since the beginning. In general it has been a pleasure to see the “old” Touring Car drivers from Audi make their step into the world of prototypes, greatly helped by a wealth of experience from Michele Alboreto, who joined the Audi team as a part of us. All of them grew into highly respected sports car specialists with Le Mans and championship wins. Together with Tom Kristensen, whom we as well look a little at as “our child” (at least in terms of sports cars) and – with a small break – Allan McNish, Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Dindo Capello formed such a long lasting relationship with us as a team, that it is basically impossible for me to compare it to other times before.

Kerry Morse, November 2008

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Features and pieces by Kerry Morse