Audi to end WEC campaign after 2016, including Le Mans

2016 Audi R18 LMP1 race car

Audi has confirmed earlier reports that it is about to end its participation in the World Endurance Championship.

Audi will exit the sport at the end of the 2016 season, in the process ending 18 years of prototype racing. (The final race will be the 6 Hours of Bahrain on November 19.)

During those years, Audi managed 13 wins in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, the highlight of the WEC.

Audi celebrates its 13th Le Mans 24 Hours win in 2014

“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously extremely hard to leave,” Audi motorsport boss Wolfgang Ullrich said in a statement. “Due to the LMP commitment, Audi has been demonstrating Vorsprung durch Technik and learning a lot for use in production.”

The writing has been on the wall for Audi’s WEC campaign ever since the Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions scandal erupted in September 2015. Unfortunately for Audi, its endurance racing efforts have centered on diesel technology. With the VW Group’s new focus on electric technology, continued promotion of diesel technology is clashing with new message the automaker hopes to signal.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Audi is confirmed to enter the Formula E Championship in 2017, one year prior to the launch of its first volume electric car, the e-tron SUV. This new endeavor will eat into a large proportion of Audi’s motorsport budget, and with the cost cutting measures at the VW Group, another fallout of the emissions scandal, two dedicated motorsport programs could be seen as a bit decadent.

2016/2017 Formula E Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport race car

“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” Audi CEO Rupert Stadler told staff. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”

Another factor impossible to ignore is fellow VW Group brand Porsche also competing in the WEC. Porsche is proving the new dominant force since entering the premier LMP1 Hybrid class in 2014, competing directly with Audi. Porsche is the reigning champion and is leading the 2016 season. In addition, Porsche uses a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain for its cars, which is actually in keeping with the automaker’s upcoming product strategy.

We salute the work carried out by Audi in top-level endurance racing and look forward to what the brand with the four rings will accomplish in the new era of electric car racing.