We are faced with the sad truth that by the end of this season, Audi will no longer be racing in the FIA WEC, including at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Audi has recently announced its termination in the said sports car racing program to shift its focus primarily on the Formula E championship and its partnership with Abt Schaeffler team. At the same time, the German automaker will also maintain its DTM program. As for the World Rallycross, a decision is yet to be made but it looks like Audi will still support the EKS team which is headed by DTM’s long-time driver Mattias Ekstrom.
In an official statement by Audi’s Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler, Audi will be upgrading its motorsport segment to become at par with its increasingly electric production cars. In short, Audi will be venturing to electric powered motorsport in the near future.
Prior to the official announcement last Wednesday, reports have already been circulating about the end of Audi’s 18-year involvement with the WEC. It was said that this year’s WEC 6 Hours of Fuji will be the last, and for the reason that the cost of competing in said racing events was too expensive and that diesel-ran road cars are slowly getting outdated. Not everyone believed in this, however, people were expecting that Audi will see the current rules first before quitting by the end of 2017 (by then, the rules would have changed making the diesel-powered Audi R18 e-tron Quattro less competitive than its petrol-powered rivals).
Audi has been quite successful for the past 18 years in prototype racing but leaving the said competition has also been very hard for them, says Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Audi’s Head of Motorsport. Ullrich was able to oversee 13 Le Mans wins ever since. Ullrich is also thankful for the Audi Sport Team Joest, to Reinhold Joest and his team, to the drivers, partners and sponsors who have been with the German automaker in their 18-year journey at the WEC.
With Audi gone, Porsche and Toyota will be the only LMP1 manufacturers in the race and will have to battle it out at the 2017 season. It looks like it’s going to be a one on one battle between these two as no other competitors are slated to join.
Audi first came to the prototype racing scene in 1999 along with the R8R and R8C. It won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for three years in a row starting in 2000 with the R8. Its sister marque, Bentley won the 2003 race but after that, Audi regained its winning streak. In 2006, Audi won the La Sarthe and became the first manufacturer to win with diesel power (using the R10 TDI). In 2009, Peugeot’s very own diesel-powered contender broke VW Group’s winning streak but from 2010 to 2014, Audi once again took over with the R15 plus. The R18 hybrid cars then became the norm in 2012 and onwards.
However, Audi has not been able to step into the winner’s platform at the Le Mans since 2014. Fellow VW Group Porsche took over the last two seasons of Le Mans. Audi’s #8 crew composed of Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loic Duval is currently in third standing, 28.5 points below Porsche’s #2 crew (on its way for two more races in Shanghai and Bahrain).