In June, Porsche put an end to Audi’s streak of never losing two years in a row at Le Mans. After 16 successful years racing in the top class at Le Mans, Audi is rumored to be calling it quits after the 2017 season. A report from Auto Motor Und Sport says the decision to bow out of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), and thus the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has already been approved.
The evidence the German magazine cites is nothing new, but does point to Audi strongly considering hanging up its helmet and HANS device. Dieselgate costs are mounting, and racing two Volkswagen Group brands in Le Mans’ top class isn’t cheap. Reports suggest each brand has a budget of more than 200 million euros (roughly $220 million) per season in WEC, and in the end only one can win. Racing two brands at Le Mans was former Volkswagen Group supervisory board chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s idea, and with his ousting last year that choice is being reconsidered, insiders say. Before Porsche returned to Le Mans in 2015, Audi was closing in on Porsche’s record for most wins in the famed endurance race with 13 top finishes. Porsche secured back-to-back wins this year and last to retain its title of the winningest manufacturer with 18 overall wins.
Even without the astronomical costs of running two brands in WEC, with VW Group’s now tarnished diesel reputation, the company may not want a diesel-powered car racing in a highly visible top-tier series. Furthermore, Auto Motor Und Sport argues that diesel is becoming irrelevant, and says many automakers will phase out their diesel options in the next five to seven years.
Autocar reports that Volkswagen Motorsport boss and Bentley chairman Wolfgang Durheimer has been tasked with streamlining VW Group’s racing efforts to free up development budgets for electric cars. VW announced earlier this year that it plans to introduce more than 30 electric cars by 2025, by which time it expects EVs to make up 25 percent of its global sales volume. Audi announced in September that it’s expanding its partnership with the ABT Schaeffler Formula E team, which will see the automaker become more involved in technical development.
But the final nail in the Audi LMP program’s coffin might be a change in driveline regulations for 2018. Starting that year, LMP1-class cars need to reduce the energy they consume per lap by 10 megajoules. That would require major changes to the turbodiesel 3.7-liter V-6 and electric motor used in the R18 e-Tron Quattro, which adheres to the current 6-megajoule rule. In order to comply, Audi would have to engineer a second energy recuperation system into the car, which would cost serious money.
Volkswagen Group previously considered an entry into Formula 1, but ultimately decided against it due to the series’ unknown future and the constantly changing rulebook.
We reached out to Audi for comment and will update this story when we hear back. What do you think? Should Audi drop out of competition at Le Mans and let Porsche have its moment in the sun? Tell us in the comments below.