Reports have come out in the last few days that suggest the Audi racing team will withdraw their LMP1 car from World Endurance Racing and Le Mans at the end of 2017. The rumours have been circulating Audi’s Ingolstadt headquarters in Germany but officials from the team have refused to comment.
Cost-cutting initiatives have been put in place by the Volkswagen Group after its disastrous 2015 with the “dieselgate” issue. This saw both Porsche and Audi only running two cars in Le Mans this year rather than the three they normally opt to run in the prestigious race. The company have apparently been questioning whether it is good for business to challenge their most profitable brands – Porsche and Audi – against each other in the highest class of sports car racing.
The cost for each team to run in a season of the World Endurance Championship is rumoured to be more than 200 million euros. With the Volkswagen Group trying to cut costs in their motorsport funds to try and recover from the “dieselgate” disaster, saving this sum of money would be very beneficial.
Audi also run the only diesel-hybrid LMP1 car, with Porsche and Toyota running petrol engines. It could be that Volkswagen wants to cut all links to them and diesel engines and does not want to be seen showcasing diesel engines after the diesel emission manipulation scandal.
Also, against Audi’s favour of staying in the sport, 2018 brings a new megajoules rule, with WEC committing to a minimum 10 megajoules. Audi currently run a 6 megajoules turbocharged 3.7-litre V6 diesel engine, meaning a massive rework would be needed for the team to have a legal car in the series. This would included providing a second kinetic energy recovery system in the car and would cost more funds to develop a new engine to fit in the rules.
If the rumours become truth and Audi does pull out of Le Mans and their LMP1 programme, the budget saved would likely be spent on Volkswagen’s electrical car budget. Volkswagen is determined to turn around their “dieselgate” slur and is putting a lot of focus on the electric car industry, hoping to release up to 25 new electrical cars by 2025.
Along with dropping out of World Endurance Racing, Audi’s participation in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) is under consideration. The programme is looking to be completely reconstructed in the next few years.
If all this comes to pass it is possible that Audi will look to a race series like Formula E. This would be encouraged by Volkswagen to further promote and develop the electronic cars scheme. With Audi racing in Formula E, Volkswagen could use the technology in those cars in their 25 or more new electronic cars, using their racing budget and their development budget to reach that number of cars sooner. If Audi raced in Formula E they would also be competing against the road-car competition (Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW) rather than their sister company, Porsche.
Whether Audi will leave Le Mans and LMP1 racing is not yet confirmed, but clearly there is some strong truth to this rumour. It would be sad to see the 13-times Le Mans winners leaving the sport as only Toyota and Porsche would remain to battle in the LMP1 class of World Endurance racing. LMP1 is already losing Rebellion Racing next season as the team drop down into LMP2, leaving only three teams in the LMP1 class if Audi do stop racing in it. Whatever the case, it can be safe to say Audi will not stop racing altogether, they may just be changing the series that they race in.