Audi Dumps World Endurance Cup Racing and Le Mans after 18 Years of Success for Boring Formula E?

AutoInformed.com on New regulations lead to as yet unknown competitive changes. Audi will drop its FIA Word Endurance Racing participation – aka WEC – program after 18 years, including the fabled 24 Hours of Le Mans race, at the end of the 2016 season. Instead, Audi will be running a factory-backed effort in the all-electric, so far laughable, Formula E racing series where the drivers have to switch cars during the “race”  because of their lack of range. That’s right, a pit stop means changing cars legally in what is only one step removed from NASCAR’s decal racing where the cars are essentially the same except for which maker decals are applied to the bodies.

The Audi withdrawal comes as the ongoing ruinous, company-threatening legal, civil and criminal costs incurred by the diesel fraud scandal at the Volkswagen Group  has snared the Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen brands. (See U.S. Court Grants $14.7 Billion Plea in VW Diesel Fraud Case. Criminal Charges, Fines, Stockholder Lawsuits Outstanding) This threatens the existence of the company in the world’s second largest auto market. Projected October sales results show the VW Group as the biggest loser in the U.S. with diesel-emission fraud enmeshed VW/Audi, dropping to 39,645 units or -17.6% year-over-year. ( U.S. October Vehicle Sales Forecast Down – Again)

Audi is, arguably, along with Ferrari and Porsche, the most winning make in endurance racing history. Not disclosed by Audi or the FIA were the incentives that Audi Formula E participation involved  – rule changes, appearance money and/or a share of the FE gate, not that racing organizations ever do such things <grin>.

“To reduce costs for manufacturers is a major focus for the ACO, in partnership with the FIA. Furthermore, these two organizations have clearly set the course for the coming years: stay at the forefront of innovation while offering the best possible platform for new technologies in preparation for the cars of tomorrow,” said Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest the organization that runs Le Mans, and is clearly on the losing side here.

“The WEC is made up of a grid of 32 cars, 20 teams, with four categories and six manufacturers entered.  In a week’s time, in Shanghai, Porsche and Toyota will be battling on the track for the 2016 LMP1 world title, as Ferrari and Aston Martin will be for the GTE title,” said Gérard Neveu, CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in what looks to be a “whistling past the graveyard” statement.

Addressing 300 employees of the motorsport department on Wednesday morning, Audi Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler framed this shocking move as what he claims is the “context of the current burdens on the brand, pointing out that it was important to focus on the things that would keep Audi competitive in the years ahead.”

Sister VW Group brand Porsche, currently leading the WEC points race for both drivers and makers (Toyota Finally Wins a WEC Race at 6 Hours of Fuji) is trouncing Audi and Toyota in the series. Porsche has thus far not disclosed its 2017 racing plans. In what is a growing industry trend in AutoInformed’s view, ruinous product development costs or for that matter all costs, will see Audi using the expertise of the motorsport workers from Neuburg and Neckarsulm partially in motorsport and partially in production development.

“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” said Stadler, whose German company along with the German ilk of alleged technology leaders in auto development failed by dismissing Toyota’s hybrid move into electrification decades ago. The Germans are still trying to get on the lead lap. (Driving the 2012 Toyota Prius V – Another Hybrid Benchmark)

“As our production cars are becoming  increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to be even more so,” claimed Stadler. “The first all-electric racing series perfectly matches the strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year-by-year starting in 2018 with Audi currently being in the greatest transformation stage in the company’s history. The commitment in FIA Formula E will already commence in 2017.”

The “commitment” in the DTM, where Audi will be competing with the successor of the Audi RS 5 DTM in 2017, remains. In mid-October, Audi  won the manufacturers’ and teams’ classifications, but not the driver’s championship. In 2013, Mike Rockenfeller most recently brought the title of DTM Champion home for the four rings.

Audi said that no final decision has yet been made on its future involvement in the FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX). 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.

Audi Endurance Racing History

The Audi abandonment Le Mans prototype racing after 18 years is notable because it scored 13 victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and set numerous technical milestones. At Le Mans, Audi took the first victory of a TFSI engine (2001), the first success of a race car with a TDI engine (2006), plus the win of a sports car with a hybrid powertrain (2012). In the brand’s 185 races 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), considered by marketers as the most important racing series for Le Mans prototypes at the time.

“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.”

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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