Audi’s LMP1 program is dead. 1 more race and one of, if not the most successful LMP1 manufacturer is gone. Audi’s surprise exit from the WEC, effective at the end of the 2016 season has left a void in the WEC’s top-tier LMP1 class. The only manufacturers left standing are Toyota and Porsche. While both provide the highest quality in both car and organizations the simple fact remains that there are only 2 manufacturers left, with a total of 4 cars. Make no mistake, while The other WEC classes are thriving, LMP1 teetering on the brink. LMP1, specifically manufacturer backed hybrid spaceships are hugely expensive. Prohibitively so in many cases. The WEC’s top class is in desperate need of some good news. As a Manufacturer Audi’s involvement may be dead. But surprisingly their cars might not be.
The team responsible for Audi’s success, Team Joest might be poised to rise from the ashes of Audi’s exit. As you may or may not know Team Joest has been the team behind the Audi Factory Prototypes since their inception. However they have been a top-tier team for decades. Before Audi, Joest was highly successful running Porsches. Audi’s exit leaves most successful team at Le Mans without a car for the foreseeable future. Or will it? Team Joest managing director Ralf Juttner isn’t ruling out a LMP1 non-hybrid program using a variation of an Audi chassis.
“Of course it’s a great team; it’s one of the best in the world,” Juttner told Sportscar365. “We are now facing the difficult task of finding something short-term. We are aware that even without the short time frame, a program like the one we had with Audi for the last 18 years is not on the horizon at the moment. That is just possible in LMP1 and Formula One, which is not a real alternative for us. Everything else is smaller things. We probably need to look into smaller programs but maybe more two or three. But it will be a tough challenge. When you get that message at the end of October with the news, it’s very late. We only started last week to really look at everything.”
One of the options Joest is looking at is using a 2016 spec Audi R18 with the Hybrid-Diesel Power plant removed in favor of a customer engine. This would certainly provide the most cost-effective solution. A solution that would keep many of Joest’s 45 employees employed. The more exciting option is Joest utilizing the 2017 spec stillborn Audi chassis. The RP7 as it was internally called is understood to be nearly complete. The idea of running that chassis with a customer engine suddenly becomes very interesting.
“If there would be a proper solution to achieve that, it would be something that could be thought about,” Juttner told Sportscar365. “But you’d need money to run them. Most likely, you would not run it with that engine because then you would need too much assistance from Audi Sport, which has now been canceled. The same is true for the hybrid. The RP6 is the car we have now and the RP7 is nearly ready. You can take the hybrid system and engine out. We are (looking at it) but this car is built around the fuel cell of a diesel. So you cannot just pump 20 more liters in. It’s not so easy. There are reasonable things you think about and completely stupid things you come up with. We’ll see what comes to life in the end, something hopefully.”
“If we want to do something it should be something proper. I don’t think all of the programs that have been running in that category have been proper. I don’t want to do the same sh** just with clear desperation. Fortunately we are an old, well-situated company.”
“We had off-years, like ’97 when we had no income but we had the WSC, which we won Le Mans in 1996 with.(The car) was given to us by Porsche and we took our own money, developed the car further, did a lot of tire testing with Goodyear and took it to Le Mans. That was, at least for some of the guys, to keep the core guys. Then the Audi program came. Unfortunately we don’t have something like that now.”
Handcuffed by tiny budgets no one has been able to make a non-hybrid competitive. As a result car counts have never been higher than 4. However, with all due respect to Rebellion and byKolles, nobody has brought Joest’s engineering might to the sub-class. Given a manufacturer developed chassis with a reliable power plant I would be very curious to see how competitive such a car could be. The rules for the non-hybrid sub class are set up to make it competitive with the manufactures. Tto date no one has sunk the level of engineering required to do so. Both teams to try the sub-class have used chassis that were upgraded LMP2 Chassis. Rebellion used an Oreca 07 chassis modified for use in LMP1 and byKolles used a variation of the Lotus T128 P2 chassis. Neither were close to the spec used by the LMP1 big boys. If Joest can bring a lightweight chassis with the advanced aero and engineering that Audi has brought to the table for years, it could be competitive. Get the right drivers and it could surprise people.
I for one want to see Joest get the chance to do this, and so should the WEC. Not only would it bring the car count up but it could show the potential of the non-hybrid sub-class. Possibly even bringing in more teams to compete in a largely unpopular class. Getting more interest at the Privateer level is hugely important given state of the manufacturer side of LMP1. The WEC needs to be proactive, not reactive regarding LMP1. They are treading a very fine line, it would not take much and the WEC will find themselves in a world of trouble. The news that Audi has been caught with diesel emission related issues, proves dieselgate is far from finished. Should the Volkswagen Auto Group take another blow, Porsche’s LMP1 program could join Audi’s as another dieselgate casualty. Should this happen, the WEC will need Privateers to fill the grid. Without them and LMP1 as we know it could join Audi in Motorsports Valhalla. A glorious period of high-tech machines that became to good, to expensive for the greater good.
Unfortunately this is all talk at the moment. Even a non-hybrid LMP1’s are an expensive enterprise. While I’m sure Joest would absolutely love to run some form of program, it isn’t that simple. It is fairly late in the proceedings to try to secure funding for next season. Joest is a heavy hitter in sportscar racing, if anyone can juggle the cars, the engine swap, the overall development AND secure funding it would be Joest. Lord knows if I had the money I’d sponsor them in a heartbeat. A half Joest, half zombie Audi will be a talking point all season. Stay tuned.