Audi is realigning its motorsport strategy and this means there’s a bit of bad news. Audi will no longer be part of the FIA World Endurance Championship and this includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, at the end of the 2016 season. Instead of this, Audi is taking up a factory-backed commitment in the all-electric Formula E racing series.
It was the Chairman of the Board of Management, Rupert Stradler who spoke to 300 employees of the motorsport department and put this strategic decision in the context of the current burdens on the brand. He pointed out to 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.”
It’s a strange decision, some might think, as the German-based team, which won Le Mans 13 times between 2000 and 2014, finished third in 2015 and 2016, with both races won by Porsche. The battle between Audi and Porsche was certainly epic and all the drivers Loic Duval, Lucas Di Grassi and even Oliver Jarvis (who has raced in full WEC campaigns, sharing one of two Audi R18s) would certainly be disappointed.
2016 Formula E
2016 Formula E
Jarvis in fact called it ‘The end of an era’ in one of his tweet. But Audi is hunting for greener pastures and Formula E might be the beginning of a new chapter. Ten teams – including Renault, Audi and Jaguar – currently take part in the Formula E series, with two new entries to be allocated for 2018-19 subject to the approval of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and this is where Audi’s strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year by year starting in 2018 matches the its motorsport ambitions.
The commitment in FIA Formula E will already commence in 2017 and 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.
Audi’s other commitments like DTM, where Audi will be competing with the successor of the Audi RS 5 DTM in 2017, will remain untouched. However, there’s no final decision on the company’s involvement in the FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX). 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.
But the departure from WEC brings tears to our eyes. For 18 years, the brand was active in the Le Mans prototype racing. During this period, it scored 13 victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mind you, Le Mans has been a great way for it to develop the engines of tomorrow. We say this because it was in 2001 that Audi clinched the first victory of a TFSI engine at Le Mans, followed by the success with the TDI engine in a race car in 2006 and finally the hybrid powertrain in 2012.
Audi has participated in 185 races to date, and the 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 and the history continues to pour out. Yes, it’s a sad day for motorsport as we won’t see a four ringed car out on the track in the next season of the WEC. What we do await however, is the company’s foray into Formula E and see them compete against some of the best in the world.