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.