Dieselgate takes a bite out of Audi’s endurance racing legacy

The possibility was floated last week, but now Rupert Stadler — Chairman of the Board of Management over at Audi — has made it official. After one of the most dominant runs in endurance racing history, Audi is pulling out of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the conclusion of the current 2016 season. This means a lot of things for a lot of people, but the gist of it is this: the German automaker will no longer compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It really is the end of an era, and it was a dominant one at that. In the 18 years that Audi competed in Le Mans prototype racing, it won the most prestigious endurance race 13 times. Just as impressive, is the fact that it secured a total of 106 wins out of 185 races it contested, setting numerous records along the way, inducing the first to win with a TDI engine in 2006 and the first to win with a hybrid engine in 2012. Audi’s dominance in endurance racing was also felt in the US as the team secured nine consecutive American Le Mans Series titles, a run that extended from 2000 to 2008.

And just like that, the German automaker’s tenure in the WEC is over, all thanks to the massive cuts parent company Volkswagen has had to deal with since the diesel emissions scandal broke.

To be fair, Audi’s withdrawal from the WEC doesn’t spell the company’s complete separation from competitive racing. It’s still going to be involved in Formula E with a fully-factory backed team after spending past seasons working with Audi tuner ABT Sportsline and component builder Schaeffler. On top of that, it’s still going to compete in the DTM until further notice, and a decision on its participation in the World Rallycross Championship has yet to be made. So, in the meantime, that too will continue.

But, as far as Le Mans and the WEC are concerned, it’s time we prepare for a future without one of the most dominant outfits in the series.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

It’s the end of an era

The news is still fresh so it’s going to take some getting used to, but if you’re a fan of endurance racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, not having Audi there is like the NBA not having LeBron James anymore. So, imagine if LeBron retired today; that’s what Le Mans will be like without Audi.

I’m legitimately bummed about this but given how bad Volkswagen messed up this entire Dieselgate fiasco, something had to give. Unfortunately for fans of Audi’s endurance racing team, it had to be sacrificed.

The only silver lining I can think of at this point is that this is only temporary and once Volkswagen has everything in order, it could pave the way for Audi to return to the World Endurance Championship at some point in the future. It’s not unreasonable to hope for something like that to happen, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who shares in that sentiment. Hopefully, that’s the case because it would be a travesty if Audi doesn’t return to endurance racing when all it has done since entering that environment 18 years ago is win.

You really messed up on this one, Volkswagen. You really did.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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Press Release

Audi is realigning its motorsport strategy. The premium brand will terminate its FIA WEC commitment, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, at the end of the 2016 season. Instead Audi is taking up a factory-backed commitment in the all-electric Formula E racing series.

Speaking to 300 employees of the motorsport department on Wednesday morning, Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler put this strategic decision in 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. That is why the Board of Management had decided to terminate Audi’s commitment in endurance racing. In the future, Audi will be using the know-how and skills of the motorsport experts 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,” says Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.” The first all-electric racing series perfectly matches the strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year by year starting in 2018, Audi currently being in the greatest transformation stage in the company’s history. The commitment in FIA Formula E will already commence in 2017. It is regarded as the racing series with the greatest potential for the future. That is why Audi has intensified the existing partnership with Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport in the current 2016/2017 season. On the road toward a full factory commitment, the manufacturer is now actively joining the technical development.

The commitment in the DTM, where Audi will be competing with the successor of the Audi RS 5 DTM in 2017, will remain untouched. In mid-October, the premium brand won the manufacturers’ and teams’ classifications. In 2013, Mike Rockenfeller most recently brought the title of DTM Champion home for the four rings.

No final decision has yet been made concerning a 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. The brand is currently evaluating a possible extension of the commitment, the exciting topic of electrification being on the agenda in rallycross racing as well.

The departure from the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) marks the end of a successful era. For 18 years, the brand was active in Le Mans prototype racing. During this period, it scored 13 victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and set numerous technical milestones. At Le Mans, Audi clinched the first victory of a TFSI engine (2001), the first success of a race car with a TDI engine (2006), plus the first triumph of a sports car with a hybrid powertrain (2012). In the brand’s 185 races contested 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), the world’s 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,” says 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!” Due to the LMP commitment, Audi has been demonstrating Vorsprung durch Technik and learning a lot for use in production.

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