“If we could create the excitement that we did with the first Audi R8, that would be perfect,” says Audi Sport boss, Stephan Winkelmann.
Stephan Winkelmann might have been born in Berlin, but he grew up in Rome. And, as the former President and CEO of the now thriving Italian super sports car manufacturer Automobili Lamborghini for more than a decade, take it from me, he’s three parts Italian and one part German.
After 11 years at the helm of the one of the world’s most exciting automotive brands, Winkelmann was called upon to create the same kind of brand magic he made at Lamborghini with Audi’s high-performance sub-brand, Audi Sport GmbH.
Winkelmann spoke exclusively with CarAdvice at the recent launch of the all-new 2017 Audi RS3 Sedan and Sportback.
CarAdvice: After such a long journey at Lamborghini, it must have been sad to have to pack your bags and move on?
Winkelmann: Being there for 11 years leaves an impact, but after being in charge of one company for more than a decade, it was clear that sooner or later the call would come. But I’m thankful that it lasted that long.
But as you know, I was very close to the people there at Lamborghini, so I don’t think of them as colleagues any more, they’re friends. We grew the company together and we were thinking as one unit, and I missed that a lot when I first arrived at Audi Sport.
But I have to say, at Audi Sport, I found a very dedicated and motivated team, with perfect cars, which I never had when I joined Lamborghini. So, I was surprisingly positive. But it’s a completely different company, because one is embedded in the mother company, and the other is completely separate.
Do you think you can bring the same level of excitement to Audi Sport that you managed to inject into Lamborghini, over the next decade or so, and is there another level of excitement you can bring to the brand?
What I learned at Lamborghini, the hard way at the end of the day, is that everything takes time. When I joined Lamborghini, everything was completely new. And to mould a company to a position where everyone thinks the same way takes time, and the results from that process take even more time. So, I was blessed twice in that sense.
I think that at Audi Sport we have huge opportunities, and I think that in a shorter period of time we will see more results because we have more and more models coming through. But in my opinion, what we have to work on at Audi Sport in my opinion is the brand. We are building great products, but in the past, I think we really missed the opportunity to build this brand.
The brand is already there, but we just have to talk about it and put all the elements in a row. Audi Sport has to be a sub-brand. It has to be a company which has the right balance between being credible as Audi Sport, but at the same time as part of Audi.
The point is, we just can’t detach from Audi and be autonomous, because that’s impossible. Our ‘RS’ models are based on what Audi is developing and producing. But if we can achieve something like we did when the first R8 came along, in terms of a lighthouse – not only for Audi Sport but for the brand in general – then that would be perfect.”
CarAdvice: You also have here on display the Audi RS3 LMS race car which is powered by a four-cylinder turbo, so does that provide you with an opportunity to develop a high-powered, four-cylinder version of the RS3 in the future?