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.
Speaking to 300 employees of the motorsport department on Wednesday morning, Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler put this strategic decision in the context of the current burdens on the brand, pointing out that it was important to focus on the things that would keep Audi competitive in the years ahead. That is why the Board of Management had decided to terminate Audi’s commitment in endurance racing. In the future, Audi will be using the know-how and skills of the motorsport experts from Neuburg and Neckarsulm partially in motorsport and partially in production development.
“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” says Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.” The first all-electric racing series perfectly matches the strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year by year starting in 2018, Audi currently being in the greatest transformation stage in the company’s history. The commitment in FIA Formula E will already commence in 2017. It is regarded as the racing series with the greatest potential for the future. That is why Audi has intensified the existing partnership with Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport in the current 2016/2017 season. On the road toward a full factory commitment, the manufacturer is now actively joining the technical development.
The commitment in the DTM, where Audi will be competing with the successor of the Audi RS 5 DTM in 2017, will remain untouched. In mid-October, the premium brand won the manufacturers’ and teams’ classifications. In 2013, Mike Rockenfeller most recently brought the title of DTM Champion home for the four rings.
No final decision has yet been made concerning a future involvement in the FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX). In the current 2016 season, DTM factory driver Mattias Ekström in his Audi S1 EKS RX quattro clinched the World Championship title early, competing against numerous factory teams. Up to now, Audi’s involvement has been limited to supporting the private EKS team. The brand is currently evaluating a possible extension of the commitment, the exciting topic of electrification being on the agenda in rallycross racing as well.
The departure from the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) marks the end of a successful era. For 18 years, the brand was active in Le Mans prototype racing. During this period, it scored 13 victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and set numerous technical milestones. At Le Mans, Audi clinched the first victory of a TFSI engine (2001), the first success of a race car with a TDI engine (2006), plus the first triumph of a sports car with a hybrid powertrain (2012). In the brand’s 185 races contested to date, Audi’s Le Mans prototypes have achieved 106 victories, 80 pole positions and 94 fastest race laps. On two occasions, Audi won the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car. In addition, from 2000 to 2008, Audi, nine times in succession, secured the title in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the world’s most important racing series for Le Mans prototypes at the time.
“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously extremely hard to leave,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “Audi Sport Team Joest shaped the WEC during this period like no other team. I would like to express my thanks to our squad, to Reinhold Joest and his team, to the drivers, partners and sponsors for this extremely successful cooperation. It’s been a great time!” Due to the LMP commitment, Audi has been demonstrating Vorsprung durch Technik and learning a lot for use in production.