Audi Sport has confirmed today that it will end participation in the FIA WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the conclusion of the current FIA WEC season.
The rumours have, for several years now circulated around the continuation of this programme. Particularly around a potential entry into Formula One and have been consistently rebuffed by Audi and VW management in that time as hearsay and speculation.
The announcement today though is for Audi to concentrate on the Formula E programme as the companies flagship racing programme. Audi’s Formula E programme was started by ABT on a customer basis before gaining factory backing from Audi. This decision will no doubt gain some controversy among racing fans but I can see Audi’s position here. The company since 2012 and the start of the FIA WEC has focused the LMP1 programme on developing its ‘E-tron’ branding so from that perspective moving to an all-electric series to continue developing this seems an sensible and logical move. Whether Formula E can be sustainable and have any longevity. The jury is still very much out for however I don’t think in eighteen years we will be saying Audi is leaving Formula E now.
At a personal level Audi Sport is a team I have huge admiration for and sportscar racing will be much poorer without the presence of Audi Sport. The style in which Audi ran its factory programmes. The loyalty the company gave to sportscar racing at a time when other OEM’s fled the sportscar racing world and its upmost respect to both competitors and fans leaves a huge gap in which someone has a huge task of filling. You have to remember that for a huge majority of Audi’s commitment to this area of the sport, manufacturers were hardly queuing up at the door to join and we didn’t have a ‘World championship’.
Audi sport joined in 1999 with the R8R and R8C programmes at Le Mans, a year of very high manufacturer presence. In 2000 the company stayed with sportscar racing developing the hugely successful Audi R8 LMP, at a time of a manufacturer exodus from most of the sport. For 2003, Audi took a short hiatus to allow Joest to claim victory with Bentley and the LMGTP entry. This factory hiatus lasted until 2006 with 2004 and 2005 represented by customer R8 entrants. In 2006, Audi returned with a fully fledged factory team running the R10 TDI, before the R15 and R18 programmes followed.
Audi’s press release in full
Audi is realigning its motorsport strategy. The premium brand will terminate its FIA WEC commitment, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, at the end of the 2016 season. Instead Audi is taking up a factory-backed commitment in the all-electric Formula E racing series.
Thank you for the memories Audi Sport.