Is A Pay-To-Play Privateer About To Run Audi’s R18 At Le Mans?

Audi’s factory involvement in LMP1 racing has come to an end. This has been well documented, however the R18 may live on in privateer hands. We reported that the team responsible for running the Audi prototypes, Team Joest was exploring the possibility of running the Audi chassis with a customer engine. Audi’s 2017 chassis is all but completed, it just requires testing. The Team Joest option was intriguing simply because they have run the cars for the past 18 years. They know the ins an outs of the chassis, their storied history at Le Mans is second to none. If any team could make a privateer effort successful it would be Joest.

“Obviously it had not tested yet but it was very far in development and very far in getting it built,” Audi Head of LMP Stefan Dreyer told Sportscar365 in October. “I think it would have been the car to beat.”

The car is nearly complete, and should be competitive. Plus it seems there is a team on board willing to run it. However, It is one thing to say you want to do something, it is something completely different to actually do it. Just because Joest wants to run the cars it doesn’t mean Audi would be on board with it. Or will they? In an interview with Autocar VW Group boss Wolfgang Durheimer admitted that the possibility of Audi’s running in privateer hands is something Audi would be willing to explore. 

“We are very willing to co-operate with any team that has the expertise and budget to race them,” Durheimer told Autocar. “There is interest, but it is more complex than the World Rally Championship situation – these cars are on a different level technologically to anything else racing today. They are not cars that a privateer can just operate.”

Joest wants to race the cars, Durheimer says Audi is willing to let a privateer run the cars, only hold up is funding. Maybe they should start a kickstarter or something.

The most interesting thing about all this is the fact that Audi seems keen to allow a privateer to run the full power-train, diesel hybrid and all. We thought originally that if any team was going to run the Audi chassis, they would have to do so with a 3rd party customer gasoline engine. The Diesel Hybrid would prove too complicated for a privateer to run without factory assistance. That said, it looks like Joest is really the only team capable of handling such a car.

What does all this mean? You have a team who wants to run the cars and a manufacturer who is willing to allow it. Should be a done deal right? Not so fast there is one rather enormous obstacle in the way, money. Operating a top-level LMP1 program is ruinously expensive. The cars are every bit as expensive and advanced as a Formula 1 car. Audi has made it clear that they are willing to offer their cars and their support, as long as somebody else pays for it. To acquire such financing means any such arrangement won’t see the track until 2018 at the earliest. Should Joest or some other team come up with the financing, we will see the Audi R18 race once again.

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