Audi Sport announced today at midday that they are going to leave FIA World Endurance Championship by the end of this season.
There have been rumours hanging around for a long time that they were going to finish their WEC programme, but those were all about the end of 2017. So the fact that it will happen already in 3 weeks time, when the final race of the year in Bahrain is over, comes out as a big surprise.
The team still have the opportunity to win both the driver and the team titles, but realistically they need a bit of help from both Porsche #2 and Toyota #6, since the title can’t be won alone by winning the two final races of the year. But there still are 12 hours to run, so a lot can happen.
Audi has been a part of sportscar racing for the last 18 years. The programme started at the end of 1998, where they were preparing both an open Spider model and a closed Coupe model. Both cars participated at Le Mans in 1999, where the open car finished on a 3rd place. Therefore Audi Sport chose to continue with that version.
Those were followed by 9 years where Audi swept all the winners trophies – only interrupted by Bentley in 2003, that was loaded with Audi parts, and looked a lot like their 1999 model. In 2006 they had the first diesel car to win Le Mans overall, that a lot of people thought was impossible – but they did it.
2009 was a bad year for Audi with their new R15 model, when Peugeot beat them at Le Mans with their closed car. In 2010 we saw Audi back on the top step, although it was not because they had the fastest car. Instead it was because Peugeot had got a bad batch of parts for their engines from a sub supplier, that made 3 of the 4 cars blow up.
In 2011 they put a roof back on the car, and then it was named R18 – a name that has been used ever since. The fact that there was a roof on the car exactly that year, is probably something that Mike Rockenfeller and Allan McNish are still very happy about. Both drivers had enormous accidents during the race, when they had two separate incidents with two Ferraris. The cars were total write-offs, but both drivers could more or less leave the cars unharmed. Rocky had to have a small break for a few weeks, and that meant that Tom Kristensen got a short comeback in DTM as replacement for him, until he was fully fit.
Still, they managed to win the race that year, and took every victory in the French race until 2015, where Porsche beat them. That thing repeated again this year, where even both Toyota cars were ahead of the best placed Audi.
An impressive statistic from Le Mans for Audi is that they have had at least one car on the podium in every single year where they have competed – and in some of those years, they even have swept the podium.
Audi hasn’t always had the fastest car, but often the most reliable, and hereby beat the faster cars, after the whole 24 hours.
Especially this year, there has been a lot of unhappiness at Audi with their BOP compared to Toyota and Porsche. Their diesel fuel tanks have been limited so much this year, that they have run at least one lap shorter than their competitors. Even with all the innovation of the diesel engine, and a move up to the 6MJ category, they have only gained very little compared to the other competing teams.
The Audi car has often been the fastest this season, but they have been driving on the edge. They won the race at Silverstone, but were later disqualified for excessive wear of the plank underneath the car.
At Spa they were about to get beaten by both Porsche and Toyota, before both Toyotas had to retire and Porsche got a problem with their hybrid system. So Audi just about scraped a victory there.
At Le Mans they got well and truly beaten by both Porsche and Toyota – and hadn’t it been for the unlucky events around Toyota with 3 minutes left of the race, they wouldn’t even had been a part of the podium.
At Nürburgring they had the lap times, but still the ended up losing to Porsche, after they, according to themselves, were unlucky with Full Course Yellow periods.
The same thing happened in Austin – and in Mexico too.
In Japan they got early problems on Audi #7 on their hybrid system, and the only solution was to dismount that part. The car was sent back on the track and did some okay lap times. Audi asked the FIA if they were allowed to continue like that in the race, and was told they weren’t because the car was homologated with a hybrid system, and since they ran without it, the car was running outside the regulations. After that message, Audi decided to pull out the car themselves – but if that incident was the final blow to the programme is a bit unclear.
But from the outside it seems a little like they got a bit cranky because ACO and FIA haven’t supported them more with their BOP. If it’s a worth point or not is a bit hard to say from the outside – but the fact is, Audi has been a big part of Le Mans and ACO racing since late 1998.
However, they probably could have chosen a slightly better way to end their programme, rather than to pull the plug 3 weeks before the season finale in Bahrain. But Audi Sport is clear in the press release that none of the 300 workers on the sportscar programme will lose their jobs, but instead they will be moved to the DTM and their new Formula E programme, that starts from the 2017/18 season.
Lucas di Grassi is already a part of this programme, but if there is room for more of the “old” Audi boys or if the other 5 guys have to find a new company, remains unknown. Perhaps they will be led into Audi Sport’s customer GT3 programme, but only time will tell.
We would like to say a big Thank You to Audi Sport for their many years in the sport, and wish them all the best in the future with all the other racing series, that they wanna participate in.
You can read more about their FIA Formula E commitment here