The news that Peugeot is going to join the FIA WEC’s Hypercar ranks in 2022 has dominated the news cycle in sports car racing in the past two weeks. We are living in unsettled times for sports car and endurance racing, where factory programs are like gold dust and race organizers are hard at work trying to secure the future of their respective championships as the automotive industry moves towards a zero-emissions future.
In the ACO’s championships, when keeping a tally of the manufacturers that have come and gone, do you include Aurus? You may not have realized it, but Aurus, the Russian automotive manufacturer, has been racing (and winning) in LMP2 this year.
It would be easy to discount Aurus, and for that matter, Alpine, from the list of manufacturers competing in high-end ACO championships, but the fact of the matter is, both brands are aspirational and are using the LMP2 platform as a way into international motorsport.
During the European Le Mans Series season, G-Drive Racing’s Aurus 01 came very close to taking the title, after three wins with Roman Rusinov, Jean Eric Vergne and Job van Uitert at the wheel. It was a tour de force of sorts, that ended with, what G-Drive considers a “silver medal” for a new brand which is trying to gain some prominence. With an FIA WEC appearance in Bahrain next month on the horizon and an Asian Le Mans Series campaign to focus on over the winter, Aurus is hoping that by the time it competes at Le Mans with G-Drive Racing for a second time in 2020, everyone watching will recognizes Aurus and associate it with success.
“Aurus made its official debut last year during the Geneva Motor Show,” Rusinov explained to RACER. “Aurus marketing has taken an intelligent decision to promote its brand through motorsport. All successful car manufacturers are doing motorsport for marketing — it’s the best platform to promote their names.“
Racing at Le Mans, and specifically in the LMP2 class, was a logical step, because it enabled Aurus to compete straight away and fight for wins. Le Mans gave Aurus a platform to introduce itself as a premium automobile brand to motorsport fans and potential customers alike, specifically outside of Russia.
Aurus, right now, is a very new and insular brand, which started out by producing presidential limousines (the Senat) within Russia. But the company is starting to move further afield and sell cars outside of its home market — a Senat recently was presented to India’s president, for example — and is developing more products to add to its range.
If Aurus is to be successful in expanding its reach, then it must find a way to become an aspirational brand. Rusinov, and G-Drive Racing chief Alexander Krylov, for that matter, are relishing the chance to help do that.
“If you’re going to speak about Roman Rusinov and the management of G-Drive Racing, and all the racing programs, my goal would be to do something even more interesting with Aurus,” Rusinov said. “This can be the beginning of a story. We need to believe in what we are doing and I think what we have done already is good.”
The question is, how much further will Aurus go? G-Drive Racing is a long-time advocate for LMP2 racing, which features a limited selection of cars but a huge number of world class teams and drivers. But it’s not out of the question that eventually Aurus could go on to do something much bigger and better. And if it does, G-Drive Racing will likely come along for the ride.
“I cannot say we will do LMP1 (or race in the top class) next year,” Rusinov stressed. “It would not be intelligent from my side, because it’s a much more complex set of decisions. But what we will do in Le Mans for the next two years has to be decided soon.”
Le Mans is hugely important in driving this program moving forward. Rusinov feels that a fan base both inside and outside of Russia is building for Aurus, and that the story of a limousine manufacturer winning at Le Mans is one that deserves to be told to a wide audience.
“Aurus is gaining a lot of fans in Russia,” he explained. “For all our fans it was a really good point that G-Drive Racing is racing with a Russian brand with a Russian driver. It’s also very positive in Europe with all our foreign fans — we had a lot of fans supporting G-Drive Racing at Le Mans from different countries.
“If Aurus wins with the 01 at Le Mans, you can make a movie straight away — like the Americans did with Ford against Ferrari — because if we win Le Mans with the 01 it’s a dream for everyone. We already had a chance this year — if we didn’t have an electrical failure, we could have won. But going on to win after this year’s events would be even sweeter.”
Internally, Aurus is taking this program very seriously, Rusinov believes.
“I believe the Russian nation is following the progress of the project closely,” he said. “It is of great importance, not only to Aurus but to the entirety of the Russian automotive sector as well as all of our Russian fans, and we will fight hard to be as successful as we can.”