INTERVIEW. Raphael Wolf on Wolf-Power Racing’s Audi RS 3 LMS 

News | June 30, 2023

Three-time Overall TCE Teams’ champion Wolf-Power Racing has suffered it fair share of problems since winning its most recent title in 2021. Raphael Wolf though is confident the future is looking brighter for both his team and its second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS TCR.


Words – James Gent

Images – Nico Mombaerts / Petr Fryba

It hasn’t been the easiest of starts for Wolf-Power Racing’s new Audi RS 3 LMS in the 24H SERIES. True, on paper, seven TCR podiums from 11 starts so far is a decent strike rate, but bear in mind those results include no wins and three DNFs. Plus, myriad problems meant that on only two of those seven occasions did the lead Wolf-Power Audi finish within a lap of the TCR winner. Hardly the devastating form we’re accustomed to from the three-time Overall TCE Teams’ champion. 


Team manager Raphael Wolf however is adamant: it’s only a matter of time before Wolf-Power Racing is back where it belongs, at the front of CREVENTIC’s TCE division. 


“I think we can do it. I know we will be back up there again, and hopefully soon, but it may still take some time.”


Raphael’s assurance shouldn’t be mistaken for bluster either. In the Wolf-Power garage at the Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, for which the team’s #117 RS 3 has just banked TCR pole, we’ve pulled the absorbed team manager away from the laptop plugged into the #121 Audi. All around us, Wolf-Power mechanics, buoyed by the potential of a strong result, are busily prepping both cars for tomorrow’s race start. In the background, Queen’s The Show Must Go On is playing at volume on the team’s workshop radio. A little on the nose, but thematically fitting.


A team doesn’t simply ‘forget’ how to win championships after all, as proven by Wolf-Power Racing’s recent TCR win in the 2022/2023 Middle East Trophy, to say nothing of Raphael and brother Adrian’s collective experience since setting up shop in 2004 (36 years after father Peter started his own motor racing journey). Moreover, while the German team’s Audi managed only three class podiums in 2022, the RS 3 is already three-for-three in the 24H SERIES this season, and came just 6.193 seconds short of a redemptive win in Abu Dhabi. Wolf-Power Racing has clearly been working hard during the off-season to get on top of the car’s niggles…

“Actually our season never ended!” Raphael continues. “When the European season ended, we went straight to Kuwait and then to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. So the cars were never back with us in the workshop. But you can improve from race to race, and that’s what we try to do.”


The potential of Audi’s second-generation TCR charger is as big a reason for Raphael’s confidence as the team around him. Its predecessor, during its first five-year run, finished almost a quarter of its 3,105 appearances on the podium, a benchmark Ingolstadt hopes to beat with the new model. Hence the revised, fourth-generation twin-turbo four-cylinder (new exhaust system and engine management system, and reconfigured cooling system), the “optimized” and more robust six-speed sequential transmission (800g lighter and twinned with stronger driveshafts), and the “more harmonious and aerodynamically favourable” bodykit (note the new front air intakes and the more stable rear spoiler, now mounted from the rear). Even the new adaptable chassis makes setup changes quicker and more flexible. 


And yet, since Wolf’s first race with the Audi back in Dubai 2022, things have not gone to plan: two potential 24-hour wins have gone wanting through mechanical gremlins, and at least two further podiums have been lost due to on-track collisions. Hiccups that were unheard of during the 2019, 2020 and 2021 title runs, when the team picked up 12 wins, and only once, across 20 races, failed to get at least one car onto the podium. 


It begs the question then: why move away from the proven Volkswagen Golf GTi, a car still capable of fighting at the front in TCR as Holmgaard's win at Spa demonstrated last year, in favour of something new and, at the time, relatively unproven for 2022?

“Well, the Volkswagen would have been a good option as well. They [VW] had developed the Mk.1 TCR, but then stopped their motorsport project and the cars went back to the museum.


“After that, it was down to the CUPRA [Leon Competición] and the Audi. We’ve run SEATs before as well, and of course Marcus Menden told us he was buying an RS 3 he wanted us to run.” – Raphael gestures to the #117 on chocks behind us. – “That’s Marcus’. But in the end, it really came down to the support we knew we could get from Audi.


“The most important thing, especially with a new car, is that you get support. And we did have very good [logistical and service] support from Audi. They saw the problems first-hand. Detlef Schmidt [Technical Project Manager, Audi RS 3 LMS] was in our pit garage in Dubai. He saw the issues we were having with the car. He reported them, and Audi made a new revision of the part to improve it. To see that we have Audi’s support and the efforts they went to was really 
important for us.”


“Issues” aside, the capabilities of the new RS 3 were certainly on show first time out in Dubai in 2022. Wolf-Power’s #116, with 2012 World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff at the wheel, took TCR pole just half a second shy of an all-TCX front row, and repeatedly swapped the TCR lead with established rival AC Motorsport and series debutant BBR during the opening 12 hours. Sadly, gearbox gremlins started to take hold at two-thirds distance, and come the chequered flag, the #116 Audi had been shunted back to 6th in TCR, 57 laps adrift. 


That the podium beneficiaries were the sister #112 Volkswagen Golf and AC Motorsport’s first-generation Audi was almost too ironic for words. BBR meanwhile took its first of an eventual six wins with CUPRA en-route to a controlled Overall TCE Teams’ title win. Gremlins are surely expected on a new car’s debut, but had Wolf-Power perhaps backed the wrong horse…? 

“The new generation TCR cars are definitely faster, and at some point, the first-generation cars just won’t be competitive anymore. And we had the opportunity to get one of the new Audis – we were actually the first Audi customer team to get a new Audi for endurance racing. We knew, or I should say, we expected some problems, because the car had never done 24 hours before that first race in Dubai. It was the first time for Audi as well. And, actually, we only had a few problems. We had one gearbox shaft problem during the race, which meant we had to replace the gearbox. But the pace was definitely there.” 


The equally fitting Tubthumping is now playing on the garage radio.


Poor fortune, if not mechanical failure at least, followed the RS 3 to Europe. Celebrations for the car’s maiden podium were bittersweet, as an off-track moment and a broken exhaust bracket cost the team – now running as the standalone ‘Wolf-Power Racing’ for the first time – a possible 2nd place in Mugello. An assisted trip into the gravel one round later at Spa cost the #116 six laps and a shot at TCR victory. A race-ending collision with series debutant MANIACK Racing on lap eight of the Hankook 12H HOCKENHEIMRING, an event at which Wolf-Power was previously unbeaten, was the season’s nadir, and left many wondering whether a bizarre incident in Dubai, when Huff collided with TCE front row starter LAMERA GT LUX during the qualifying cooling down lap, had in fact been a portent of bad luck to come. A ‘theory’ the genial Raphael dismisses with a grin. 


“Well, first of all, in Mugello, we were unlucky to be in the gravel, but we also had a technical problem. It was a very little problem but it still cost us time in the pits. But again, we improved that to make sure it never happened again, and it never happened again, so that’s the most important thing!

“Spa was a different story. We were very good pace-wise again, and on Saturday, it was all good. Then on Sunday, we were hit right after the restart. That was just pure bad luck, and if you look at the on-boards, there was nothing Jasmin [Preisig] could have done to avoid it. 


“It’s frustrating. After so many years of success, of victories and championships… I mean, we knew, at one point, our luck would run out for a while. Actually we hoped that it would all come together during one season, and I suppose it did!”

Four rounds into its first season, and Wolf-Power’s second-gen Audi had scored ‘just’ 43 points, compared with 77 for championship leader BBR. Raphael and Adrian Wolf could have been forgiven for changing this, tweaking that, and overhauling this in a bold effort to get back to the front. This, again though, is dismissed by Raphael…


“To learn about a new car takes time. I mean we knew, every [facet] of the Volkswagen. We knew which parts we might have problems with, and which parts we had to check and how often. These are things you learn over time, and we basically had to start from zero again with the Audis.


“That’s a journey you have to take. At some point, you will have to change the car to an updated model, and then you have to learn everything all over again. Of course, if you take a car that has already run for a few years, there’s knowledge you can get from the manufacturer or other teams in the paddock. But right at the very beginning, we were essentially part 
of the development.


“From the technical side of things, every problem we’ve had, we’ve investigated, and we’ve sorted out to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of different problems, and that’s just part of the process of learning a new car. But with accidents, there’s not very much you can do. This is motorsport and bad stuff happens sometimes.”

That Bad Touch is now on the radio, we’ll assume, is just unfortunate timing rather than a subliminal message. After all, lessons learnt across the European season were aided in no small part by a (moderately) consistent driver line-up. TCR Drivers’ ‘Continents’ runner-up Jasmin Preisig and Ivars Vallers teamed together at all but the season-opener in Dubai, while Menden father-son duo Marcus and Marlon contested all but Portimão and Kuwait between them. The experience and pace former world champion Huff brought to the table in Dubai and Barcelona, of course, goes without saying… 


“To have that kind of driver line-up was very important because it makes many things so much easier. When ‘your’ drivers give feedback, you know what the feedback means: ‘it’s understeering like crazy!’ The more you know the driver, and the more you work with them race-to-race, the easier it is for everyone to understand things quickly.”


The tide finally began to turn when the Audi returned from its summer break. At the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO, the #116 secured a front row start, and overcame heavy tyre wear in the blistering heat and a broken driveshaft, to take a hard-earned podium. Two months later, the Audi was back on TCR pole in Barcelona (Huff again), and was on-course for a comfortable first win of the season until the “optimized” gearbox failed at three-quarter distance. A chaotic first trip to Kuwait – which included two on-track shunts and a severe vibration – was at least rewarded with a season-best 2nd in-class.

“We knew that 24-hour races were going to be difficult. That’s actually one of the reasons why BBR chose to run one its old CUPRA TCRs in Portimão and Barcelona, because they also knew that running 24 hours is a big challenge for a car.” Tellingly, it was BBR’s older CUPRA TCR that took victory in Portugal after the Thai team’s newer, Leon Competición overheated. “And that’s why we – well, we were hoping to go through Portimão and Barcelona without problems, but 24 hours are still a challenge at the moment.


“I’m confident that we’ll be ready to run a 24-hour race again soon. To do a 24-hour test, you need to do a 24-hour race. That’s the only way. You can do three days, eight hours each, which equals 24 hours, but it’s not the same as one 
24-hour stint.”


After a long season, one might be wondering why Raphael is still so confident about the racing year to come. Even a double podium at this year's Hankook 24H DUBAI was stymied by overheating transmission oil, an on-track collision, and yet more gearbox woes, to name just a few issues. Indeed, following our chat with Raphael, a well-deserved win at Spa would have made for a heart-warming end to this article. Motor racing is rarely that merciful however, and terminal gearbox issues eventually brought the #117’s race to an end after just seven laps.


On the other side of the garage meanwhile, and despite losing time in the refuelling area early on, the sister #121 Audi enjoyed a largely trouble-free run to finish 2nd at the Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, barely two minutes behind TCR winner Holmgaard Motorsport. Abu Dhabi aside, it’s the strongest result yet for the former three-time champion since its TCE win in 
Hungary in 2021.

It’s not the deserved win Wolf-Power Racing have been working towards, but it’s a significant step in the right direction for the new Audi RS 3 LMS TCR. Further steps hopefully await Raphael and Adrian Wolf in Estoril, and maybe even the Hankook 24H BARCELONA. Indeed, few in the paddock would begrudge the team a fault-free weekend, given the amount of hardwork that’s been going on behind the scenes to get the former champion back to the sharp end in TCR.


The show must go on.

You can also check this article out in our Hankook 12H MONZA magazine, available for download below.


share this content on: