Audi has a history of its motorsport programs being used to promote and develop new road car strategy.
So it was only a ‘semi-bombshell’ yesterday when the German giant told its 300 motorsport department employees and the media that the current World Endurance Championship (WEC) team will be disbanded after this year and efforts will be channels into the all-electric Formula E racing series.
No jobs will be lost and - no surprise as Audi is German - the DTM (German Touring Car Championship) program will continue unchanged. It no doubt irks Audi management that despite massive financial input, and some good showing s from the RS 5 DTM racers, this championship has proved elusive since 2013.
Not yet decided is Audi’s future in the World Rallycross Championship. Audi won this year’s title and with talk of that sport also turning to electric-powered vehicles, the German giant may elect to continue its minor involvement.
However, by any measure Audi’s withdrawal will be a body-blow for the World Endurance Championship. Audi has raced its staggering sports cars for 18 years and along the way collected 13 victories at Le Mans, including the first for a TFSI engine (2001), the first for a turbo-diesel TDI (2006) and the first for a hybrid (2012).
Audi had previously announced a ramped-up commitment to its current Formula E race partner Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport for the 2016/2017 championship which is now underway and at the time signaled its intention to run a full-on factory team from 2017-2018.
Yesterday’s announcement will see staff now being redeployed from the WEC sports car program to technical development of the Audi all-electric Formula E race cars.
Some skeptics in German motorsport circles claim Volkswagen Group’s $US12-billion ‘dieselgate’ settlement in North America has to be funded somehow, so terminating Audi’s WEC team is no surprise and indeed Volkswagen’s Polo-based World Rally Championship program is said to be now under the financial microscope like never before.