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Audi announces exit from FIA WEC at end of 2016

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Audi Sport will withdraw from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of the 2016 season, perhaps sooner than expected but still confirming rumors as suggested and reported on by Sport Auto‘s Marcus Schurig a couple weeks ago.

This is a significant blow to the championship as Audi, arguably the flagship manufacturer in LMP1 since its arrival with the first iteration of the R8R and R8C in 1999 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, before the subsequent run of the R8 starting in 2000, the diesel R10 TDI in 2006, and further cars of the R15 and R18 since 2009, has been the benchmark.

But with Volkswagen Group (VAG) forced to reassess its business strategy and motorsports programs in the wake of the recent diesel emissions scandal, budget cuts were always going to be expected. Reducing entries from three LMP1 cars for Porsche and Audi at Le Mans this year was the first cut.

In a release from Audi on Wednesday, Audi confirmed it will still press on in FIA Formula E – where it can demonstrate electric technology – and also in DTM. No final decision has yet been made concerning a future involvement in the FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX), although in that series, Mattias Ekstrom won this year’s title.

“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” said Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler.

“As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”

Over an 18-year run, Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 13 times between 2000 and 2014, before sister brand Porsche has won it the last two years.

“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. It’s been a great time!”

The FIA World Endurance Championship has offered a pair of statements from its heads, ACO President Pierre Fillon and WEC CEO Gerard Neveu, respectively.

“It was with emotion that we all learned this morning about Audi’s decision to withdraw from endurance racing,” Fillon said as part of his.  “Although prepared for this, we regret the departure of a major figure in endurance racing for a different adventure.

“Present at Le Mans since 1999, the German firm has written some of the finest and strongest pages in the history books for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and, more recently, the WEC. More than a competitor, the marque with the four rings has been a real contributor in recent years to the tremendous growth of endurance racing across the world.”

Neveu added, “We understand this decision, although obviously we regret the departure of a major player in the WEC.  Audi has been involved in endurance racing for 15 years, and more particularly in the first five seasons of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

“Today we spare a thought first for everyone at Audi Sport and at Team Joest.  Drivers, engineers, mechanics and team members for whom this news is painful. We offer them our admiration and gratitude for their extraordinary sporting performances in the WEC since 2012.”

Toyota and Porsche have also expressed sadness over Audi’s departure:

This is gutting news, but this is when you have to say thanks for the memories and understand the business climate of the decision.

Female racer makes history with record finishes in dirt national midget events

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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Holly Shelton is riding high after setting a milestone for a female driver in a national midget series feature event on dirt this past weekend.

The Sacramento, California-area resident recorded the highest finish ever for a female dirt national midget series driver with a runner-up finish last Friday at the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League double-header weekend at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Shelton broke her own national record for top finish by a woman in a national dirt event – she finished third in a USAC race at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, last year.

One night after setting her new national record, Shelton and her Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota roared back Saturday to finish third (started on the outside pole) in the second half of the weekend double-header, making her the first female dirt driver ever on the national midget circuit to earn back-to-back podium finishes.

“It’s cool making history as a female, but my number one thing is I just want to win,” said Shelton, who will be graduating from Cal-State Sacramento with a B.A. in Criminal Justice this fall. “Truthfully, on the track I don’t even remember that I’m a girl. I’m just racing all the guys with the same goal they have – to win.”

Only one other woman has finished second in either a USAC or POWRi midget feature – Sarah McCune at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway in 1999 – but that was on pavement, not dirt.

The record-setting weekend was great consolation for Shelton, who missed three races earlier this season due to surgery and then sat out three other races last month after suffering a race-related concussion.

“It felt good,” she said of her back-to-back podium finishes. “It builds up my confidence. The car is fast and we keep getting better and we want to build on it.”

Shelton was one of four women that competed in midget competition this weekend. The others were 19-year-old Maria Cofer and 16-year-olds Holley Hollan and Presley Truedson.

“It’s awesome seeing all the little girls come up to me excited to see me at the track,” Shelton said. “Hopefully, it encourages them to pursue their dreams as well and, as the years go on, more girls will get into it.”

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