November 07, 2016 @ 07:46 PM

Audi makes shocking Le Mans exit in favour of Formula E

The Four Rings pulls the plug on prototype racing after 13 wins and almost two decades in the game

Pull out your morning clothes WEC lovers, because Audi has just announced that they will be making their exit from the World Endurance Championship! How is that possible? Who is going to give newcomers (and returning runners) Porsche, Toyota, and Peugeot a good beating with their decades of experience?


Disagree if you must, but the name Audi in Le Mans or the World Endurance Championship (WEC) is like Ferrari in Formula 1 or Subaru in the World Rally Championship. It’s just not F1 if there is no Ferrari, or it’s just not WRC without Subaru.


When the Four Rings recently announced their departure from the world of endurance racing this also signifies their exit from the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. If Audi was one of the back runners in the sport, the news might have not been such a big blow. But the brand had raked up 13 victories over the past 18 years of participation, making them one of the most successful teams in the LMP1 history.


“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously hard to leave,” said the Head of Motorsport for Audi, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “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.”


The German manufacturer made their WEC debut in 1999, where Audi entered the prototype racing scene with their R8R and R8C. It took them a year before they started bringing home Le Mans 24 Hour wins with their R8R. That started a winning streak for three years in a row. While the winning streak was slightly interrupted by Bentley in 2003, Audi was quick to get back on their feet and even became the first manufacturer to conquer La Sarthe with a diesel-powered machine in 2006 with the R10 TDI.


Audi enjoyed a few more years of domination at the legendary French circuit before the winning streak was broken once again, this time by homeboy Peugeot with their own diesel-powered race car in 2009. The fight to the top was an uphill battle since then, but Audi did not give up that easily  until they replicated their previous success which they did by winning races from 2010 to 2014 with their updated R15 plus and R18.


Although the challenge from newcomer Toyota was not something to be ignored, it was from Porsche that the real threat came breathing down their necks. Since then, Audi had gone winless from 2015, admitting defeat towards Porsche’s 919 Hybrid machine not only at Le Mans but in taking the WEC championship win as well.


We’ve seen numerous manufacturers come to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, dominated, then dropped out after a few years, Peugeot for example, and Porsche as well but Audi has always been in the sport giving these teams a run for them money with experience and technology. The departure of Audi from the scene is undeniably a big loss.


Throughout their years in the sport they created a number of legends along the way. Most notably is Danish driver Tom Kristensen who had earned himself the nickname “Mr. Le Mans” after securing nine Le Mans victories in his racing career, six of them when driving for Audi. Other drivers include Frank Biela, Allan McNish, Emanuele Pirro, and Rinaldo Capello.


While some had speculated that it was Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal that had led to the termination of Audi’s LMP program, Audi’s Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler said that the increasing relevance of electric power is one of the main reasons for Audi’s interest shift from Le Mans to Formula E.


“As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsports cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to do even more so,” he said. However, the brand will still maintain their presence in the DTM championship.


What are your fondest memories of Audi’s World Endurance Championship runs? There are bound to be a few! But tell us, how will you feel the absence of the four rings from 24 Hours of Le Mans race after 20 years?

 

Hussein Zain

 

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