Last Friday reports began to surface indicating Audi would be leaving LMP1 after the 2017 season. Earlier this month Rebellion announced it will be leaving the LMP1 Privateer Class. Leaving ByKolles to run the sole LMP1 Privateer car this season. Admittedly the LMP1 Privateer Class has never gained the steam the ACO had hoped for. The Car count never rose above 3 cars and is all but dead. Audi leaving would be a huge loss to Le Mans and the WEC as a whole. Since arriving in 1999 Audi has been the lone mainstay in LMP1. Teams like BMW, Bentley, Peugeot, Cadillac, Nissan have all gone by the wayside while Audi remained, and dominated.
Audi’s exit would mark another casualty in the growing wake VW Auto Group’s of Diesel-gate scandal. Audi has already scaled back their Le Mans effort from 3 to 2 cars this year. They plan to do more of the same in 2017. Not helping Audi’s cause is sister company, Porsche’s recent run of success, winning the past 2 24 Hours of Le Mans and last year’s World Championship.
Rumors and hearsay tend to run rampant this time of the year. Every year every single team evaluates their program and makes a decision on their racing future. The trick is trying to decipher what teams actual plans are and what is just typical internal discussions. While I am not 100% convinced the Audi exit rumors are accurate I believe there might be something to this. There is just too much going on for there not to be something going on here.
The Audis run diesel engines. They are very technical and quite different from street going diesels but diesels all the same. Diesel-gate will shut down markets for VW which brings into question the viability of racing a diesel car. In motorsport you can show off how clever your tech is if it doesn’t sell cars the racing program is not long for this world.
Porsche is beginning to take over as dominant team in the WEC. While this year has been far more competitive than last year, Porsche rises to the top step of the podium more often than not. They lead both the Driver and Constructor Championships. Audi on the other hand has had pace, but fallen victim to reliability woes. Audi’s are typically bulletproof, their recent failures is baffling. VW needs to cut costs, when you consider Audi’s struggles and the success of Porsche, another VAG marque the writing might be on the wall for Audi.
However the Audi bosses like Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (I know sounds more like a Bond villain than The Head of Audi Motorsport. In a recent interview with Sportscar365 Ullrich downplayed the exit reports.
“We have seen so many press rumors during the last years. The good thing is that in most of the cases, the negative ones didn’t occur. I’m an old optimist and I’m looking forward to the future. We are going the standard way of how we organize our race program, which is always in the autumn of the year. The meeting of the boards, where normally the motorsport programs are decided, has not taken place yet. So there’s been nothing to decide and it’s going to come.”
Ullrich does have a point. Rumors fly around every year about what teams will enter or leave the sport. Most of the time the rumors are unfounded. If Audi is leaving LMP1 then Ullrich and Audi Head of LMP Stefan Dreyer haven’t gotten the message.
Dreyer told Sportscar365: “This is not new; it’s been like this every year. Obviously the situation now is more difficult than in the past, but we have to wait. Before it’s not official we go 100 percent forward and we’re working really hard on the 2017 car.”
2018 sees some rule changes to the 2018 LMP1 rulebook. a 10 Megajoule subclass will be added to the existing 8MJ, 6MJ and 4MJ subclasses. In addition teams will be allowed to use 3 hybrid power systems instead of the current 2 systems. Ullrich even mentions they are continuing to work on the design of the 2018 car.
“We’re working on the project we need to be competitive in the future and the programs we plan to go. We are working, like everybody, to get the rulebook together so it’s fair to all the different technical concept. “If you look at today’s qualifying, I think it’s one of the best proof that the basic rulebook is a really good one. But there are many details that we all together need to work on. For sure it’s one of our targets to work on things that we think that are not in our favor (that) should be corrected.”
I hope the rumors are unfounded. I sincerely hope both Audi and Porsche remain in LMP1. The sport is in a much better place when more teams compete at the top-level. Yes, there have been rumors of BMW and Peugeot returning to LMP1 but neither has made anything official. They are both in the consideration phase with nothing more than a passing interest in the class. The WEC and LMP1 are in the tenuous position of only having 3 manufacture backed teams in the top class. It would not take much for them to find themselves in the position of having only 1 marque represented.