In a realignment of its motorsport strategy, Audi has announced that it will retire from the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, at the end of the 2016 season. The company will instead shift its focus towards the all-electric Formula E racing series.
Recently, Audi revealed that it will step up its involvement in Formula E Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport for the 2016/17 season. Moving forward, the manufacturer will officially join the racing series as a full works team in 2017, joining the likes of Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, with the latter in 2018.
“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power. As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so,” said Rupert Stadler, chairman of the board of management at Audi.
Audi’s departure from the WEC marks the end of an 18-year involvement, where the brand was active in Le Mans prototype racing. It all started in 1999 with the R8R and R8C, both of which competed in the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2000, the R8 LMP was introduced, becoming one of the most successful race cars by winning Le Mans five of the six years it competed in – 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005. The R8 was succeeded by the diesel-powered R10 TDI, which followed in its predecessors footsteps – dominating the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Le Mans.
Audi took further Le Mans victories in 2010 with the R15 TDI plus, followed by the R18 TDI in 2011. With hybrid technology becoming the norm from 2012 onwards, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro took over from the R18, going on to win Le Mans from 2012 to 2014.
“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously extremely hard to leave. Audi Sport Team Joest shaped the WEC during this period like no other team,” said Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport.
As for its other motorsport programmes, Audi will remain committed to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) racing series, where it will be competing with a RS 5 DTM in 2017. As for its involvement in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the company has yet to make a final decision on whether it will invest more into the motorsport. In the current 2016 season, Mattias Ekstrom piloted his Audi S1 EKS RX quattro to win the World Championship.