Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler made the historic announcement. Audi is leaving LMP1 and the World Endurance Championship at the end of 2016. This means 2 more races before Audi leaves in favor of Formula E.
“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.”
Translation? Dieselgate claims another victim. It is zero secret that one or both of VAG’s LMP1 programs could have been a casualty of the emissions scandal. Rumors had begun to circulate that it was Audi’s head on the chopping block. But calm words from Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich and others in Audi put our mind at ease. Turns out it was all a lie, or misdirection or cooperate double speak. Anyway you want to slice it Audi is done after this season. They are packing up their technology and diesel and bolting for Formula E.
After 2 more races we will see the end of arguably the most successful run by any manufacturer in any form of motorsport ever. During their 18-year run in top-level prototype racing Audi has won Le Mans 13 times, second only to Porsche. They were the first to race with diesel, and they were the first to win (2006) doing so . They were the first team to win Le Mans with a hybrid-powered LMP1 in 2012.
“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously extremely hard to leave,” said 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.”
Audi’s exit leaves a massive, gaping hole in the WEC. Their premier team, their backbone is gone. I won’t go as far as to say the WEC is doomed without Audi, it isn’t. LMP1 grid next season will be made up of 2 Toyotas, 2 Porsches and 1 ByKolles. The latter is a privateer entry and has zero chance of winning. While LMP2 is expected to see a boom in entries that coincides with new regulations and new machinery, LMP1 is dwindling. LMP1s are the most technically advanced machines in racing. With that comes a massive cost similar to running a top flight F1 team. After Nissan’s failures and Audi’s exit were now down to 2 manufactures. This is hardly uncharted territory, it has happened before, however this puts the WEC in a perilous position. 1 Team competing in your top class is a bad look. Really bad. and the WEC is only 1 team away from that exact position.
Instead of racing at the most prestigious race in the world Audi has elected to focus its attention on the relatively unknown Formula E series. Sure you know it, we know about it but the all-electric series hasn’t exactly taken off like wildfire. However, Formula E is growing, attracting more manufacturers with each season. Renault and Jaguar currently power cars in the series. Volvo and BMW have not only offered support but are serious about joining the grid in 2017/18. Audi, who has been offering support to Team ABT Schaeffler Sport is now poised to bring a full factory effort in 2017/18.
The question remains, if a major German Automaker ditches the greatest race in the world in favor of electric car racing, does anyone care? Honestly do you care about formula E more than a passing curiosity? Sure its kinda cool to sit down and watch it a little, should I stumble across a race. But I don’t go out of my way to watch it. I suspect many of you feel the same way. I could be way off base here, and if I am I’m sure you will let me know. I just can’t see today any other way than very sad. Even though I was never really an Audi Fan, I respected them immensely. Their departure is a massive loss to racing fans everywhere.