THE THING

With 710bhp and so much grip it could bend physics, the 90 qu­at­tro GTO was the stu of night­mares for Audi’s IMSA ri­vals

CAR (UK) - - Car Interactive - Words Ben Barry | Pho­tog­ra­phy An­drew Shay­lor

HANS JOACHIM Stuck – he of the hair, the speed and the slow-down-lap victory yo­delling – is on record as say­ing the Audi 90 qu­at­tro IMSA GTO is his sec­ond favourite race car of all time. When you con­sider his favourite is the Le Mans-win­ning Porsche 962, and that he makes no men­tion of his For­mula 1 or DTM drives, you re­alise just how spe­cial this most un-Audi Audi was.

‘It was kind of on the up­per edge of a reg­u­lar chas­sis car, the max­i­mum you could do with a street car,’ re­calls Stuck. That ‘up­per edge’ meant tak­ing the Audi 90 – it­self a high-spec Audi 80 with a five-cylin­der en­gine and qu­at­tro all-wheel drive – and re­plac­ing the, erm, en­tire mono­coque with a tubu­lar space­frame, adding a com­pos­ite body with arches that make Alexis Car­ring­ton’s shoul­der pads look mod­est, and drop­ping in the un­hinged Audi qu­at­tro E1 S2 rally car’s en­gine tuned from 600bhp to around 710bhp. Only the pro­duc­tion car’s wheel­base and roof were re­tained.

Four-wheel drift­ing over kerbs, the IMSA GTO spat flames from a sawn-off ex­haust ex­it­ing through the pas­sen­ger-side ‘door’ as its KKK tur­bocharger made a racket that sounded more Star Wars X-Wing than race car. Def­i­nitely ‘up­per edge’.

De­but­ing in 1989, the IMSA GTO ar­rived at a cru­cial junc­ture in Audi’s his­tory. Audi Sport had proved the qu­at­tro con­cept with rally ti­tles and records at Pikes Peak. But the re­sults weren’t so great on tar­mac. Audi sales had also plum­meted in the US in the wake of the long-since de­bunked un­in­tended-ac­cel­er­a­tion myth. Trans­lat­ing the qu­at­tro suc­cess story to some to­tally in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion on North Amer­i­can race cir­cuits made sense.

The first move was a 200 qu­at­tro. When it won in its de­but sea­son, Trans Am banned it plus – with Trumponian bril­liance – en­gines of un-Amer­i­can her­itage. Audi moved to the IMSA tour­ing car se­ries, where the GTO would face Mus­tangs, Corvettes and Nis­san 300ZXs.

‘When we first came to the US, no-one could be­lieve what we could achieve with this car – a small en­gine, five-cylin­der… it’s a Ger­man sa­loon car!’ re­mem­bers Stuck. ‘The V8s had a lit­tle more torque but the five-cylin­der was a jewel: lighter, more com­pact and you could use the power in­stantly. With the lighter en­gine, our brak­ing point was later. They passed us on the straights, we passed them un­der brak­ing. There was an ideal line all the oth­ers would take but we could reg­u­larly use any line!’

Audi missed the first two rounds but won more races than any ri­val, with seven vic­to­ries – five of them one-twos – to fin­ish the sea­son sec­ond-in-class. The 1990 ti­tle was there for the tak­ing but Audi US pulled the plug, killing off many en­thu­si­asts’ all­time favourite race car (cur­rent Audi de­sign boss Marc Lichte among them). And Hans Stuck’s sec­ond-favourite.

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