The rumours were true. Audi Sport has announced today that the 2016 World Endurance Championship season will be its last in LMP1 for the foreseeable future. This news confirms Auto Motor und Sport’s report prior to this year’s round at Fuji that the VAG brand’s commitments would be coming to an end; though it’s a year earlier than the German outlet predicted.
Audi’s decision comes as the dust is still settling on the emissions scandal that has rocked the VW group, the future of diesel technology in road cars seemingly appearing bleak and in light of the upcoming WEC regulation changes in 2018 which do not favour the use of diesel-powered hybrid prototypes. Instead the brand is looking to focus on racing in Formula E.
Speaking to 300 employees of the motorsport department this morning, Chairman of the Audi Board of Management Rupert Stadler put this strategic decision in the context, also confirming that all the employees jobs would be retained.
“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” said Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.
“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. 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 marks the end of a dominant 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, and 11 won the 12 Hours of Sebring 11 times.
“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.”
This news leaves just Toyota and Porsche in the LMP1 H category for the 2017 season.
More on this story as soon as we get it.