Len Hunt – Moving On
With the news that Len Hunt is moving on from Audi North America to take charge at VW North America, we asked John Hindhaugh to put his role in sportscar racing in perspective.

Len Hunt – a big man and a big personality. An enthusiast for all motor racing and sports / saloon car racing in particular. However whilst many of us would put ourselves in that category, Len has put his money - and his job - where is mouth is, several times.

I first met Len when he was behind the all-conquering Audi BTCC programme in the late 1990s. His style was, and thank god still is, very different from what we would consider the ‘norm’ in manufacturers circles. The phrase “I say what I mean and I bloody well mean what I say” could have been invented for the likeable Northerner.

During those glory years of Super Touring, Len was quick to realise the potential of hanging ‘mainstream’ advertising and marketing on participation in motor sport. It was obviously correct, being swiftly copied by Ford, Volvo and Renault! The subsequent market success of Audi UK was spotted and soon he was promoted and re-located to Detroit. Good news for his love of water skiing (yes really) bad news for UK motor sport.

Fortunately circumstances seemed to fall perfectly into place as, at about the same time as Len was getting his feet under the corporate table in North America, Dr Ullrich paid a flying (and unobtrusive) visit to Le Mans and, realising the potential of Sportscar Racing, as opposed to F1, made the momentous decision to throw the corporate might of Audi GmBh into endurance racing.

Len seized the chance to reshape Audi North America’s image, an image and therefore a market share which had been somewhat in the doldrums for several years. Motor sport would once again form an integral part of an Audi advertising and marketing campaign. Who can forget the classy US TV ad. series filmed (really filmed not videoed) at a sodden Mosport?

Len, in his inimitable style, was quick to admit that the large investment was fuelled by a “win on Sunday – sell on Monday” mentality: however to credit Len as only a shrewd marketeer would be to undersell the man completely.

Sportscar fans should not underestimate Len’s contribution to the sport in recent years. Dr. Don Panoz and Scott Atherton rightly recognise that without Audi’s considerable and very visible commitment, along with Len’s presence and very vocal support of the series, the journey to ‘World Class’ for the ALMS would at the very least have been longer and harder.

Add his unswerving support of Champion Racing, his genuine delight at their successes, his dismay at ‘other’ corporate activities keeping him away from the race track, the time he took to speak to Audi owners, his anticipation and boyish excitement at being allowed to wave the start and finish flag at his own event - Audi presents PLM - and the huge pride he had in seeing the rapid and impressive growth of the “Quattro Corral” at the tracks. It all adds up to a very ‘real’ bloke, and one of the ‘good guys’ too. One of the few that I can honestly say I would go and work for in any capacity without a moment’s hesitation.

Len and his true enthusiasm have become a popular part of Radio Le Mans and ALMS Radio-Web. Don’t take my word for that, you should see the e-mails we get when he has been on the air! Indeed Len’s enthusiasm and competitive spirit were undoubtedly an important part of the development and success of the ALMS.

This attitude was clearly on show at the 2002 ALMS banquet. Len was accepting the ALMS Manufacturer Award and famously lamented the withdrawal of Cadillac. “Where’s Bob (Lutz) - I’ll take him for lunch and I’ll change his mind!” Cue rapturous applause and laughter! But there was more, a good-natured swipe at the GM sponsorship of Tiger Woods: “Look Audi don’t make golf balls, we make cars, and that means we race cars, it’s that simple!” Typical Len.

From the left in this image, Rod Bymaster, Audi Sport NA Motorsport Manager, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, Tom Kristensen (newly-crowned 2002 ALMS champ ) and Len Hunt.

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Many will rightly remember Len as ‘Mr Audi,’ both in the UK and USA, but Len’s association with sportscars goes back much further. Len was part of the TWR-Jaguar effort, Le Mans always the jewel in the crown. I have heard many great stories from that era including one from the ‘fuel allowance’ days of Le Mans that involves Len and Alan Hodge - but they are not mine to tell! Nevertheless spend any time at all with the man and it’s crystal clear that Len Hunt ‘gets’ endurance racing, the whole 24-hour thing. Grasps the intrinsic drama of the whole show. Where money really can’t buy success, where a failed £1 part can screw a million pound effort (look at Toyota and Nissan as he is fond of reminding anyone who cares to ask, “why Le Mans?”), where every time the car pits for fuel there’s a collective holding of breath in the moment before the motor fires up.

He is a broadcaster’s dream, always entertaining, answering questions with truth and no PR spin, not once did he lead me up the garden path. Candid, even when we were on difficult ground, if you had a Len Hunt quote you could put your reputation on it.

I remember standing with Len in the Audi Le Mans Hospitality, after the race in 2000, as the trophy was brought in. There was a genuine pride as we walked around the trophy. “Look Hindhaugh,” he boomed, “Look at these names, that’s a who’s who in the sport, touch the names, that’s real history!”

So we did, we touched the names on the trophy. He made me search out the year of my birth and my first year at Le Mans, then made sure I touched them too. Then he sought out the earliest plate on the base and turning conspiratorially to me said, “Don’t tell any one but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those names there made a return!”

Sadly, although neither John Duff nor Frank Clement returned to drive in 2001, the other name engraved next to the year 1924 did return. It came as no surprise to all who knew him that there was no one more pleased than Len Hunt.

Len Hunt, a proper sports car enthusiast, who happens to be at the top of a major car conglomerate, is leaving Audi to take over the reins at VW North America. On behalf of all the ALMS Radio-Web and Radio Le Mans listeners, I offer my hearty congratulations, but also mourn his moving on. Rejoice in two Audi UK R8s to Le Mans this year, proof if it were needed, that Len’s legacy of a management style that is not so much ‘can do’ more like ‘bloody well will do’ is still practised by the faithful at Milton Keynes. Let’s just hope it endures in the hallowed halls of Detroit too.

Good luck Len, we will miss you.

A final thought – I reckon that a W12 Phaeton (even a Coupe maybe?) would make a more than reasonable GTS car – with Len on board, never say never!
John Hindhaugh

Len Hunt, below, with John Hindhaugh and Jim Martyn on either side.

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