Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 20, 2016

Audi Motorsport: Nobody Thought It Would End Like This

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Winning Le Mans a final time, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photos)

An era ended today for Audi Motorsport.

The company is pulling out of world sports car scene after 17 glory-filled seasons – a run of success that was without precedent.

For the record, Audi won its final event – actually a 1-2 finish for its top Le Mans Prototype teams – at the 6 Hours of Bahrain endurance race Sunday.

“Since 1999, the LMP race cars with the four rings have won 107 of 187 races in America, Europe, Asia, and Australia,” the company said in a valedictory press release. “In the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) since 2012, Audi has stood for bests as well. On 16 occasions, the brand’s sports cars were on pole position, winning 17 of 41 races. 23 fastest race laps complete this tally. No other manufacturer has been more successful in even just one of these categories. In addition, Audi clinched two drivers’ and two manufacturers’ world championship titles.”

At the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, where Audi achieved its most stunning, and likely enduring, successes, the German manufacturer won 13 times in 17 tries.

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There is no official “cause of death” for the program; but it can be fairly said it was done in by at least three factors: 1. Audi lost an internal struggle with Porsche at Volkswagen Group, over who would represent the group in sports car racing. 2. Audi had probably proven all it could in the sport, and really had nowhere to go upwards, except perhaps Formula One. 3. But any such ambitions were snuffed out by an emissions cheating scandal that has gripped VW and Audi, in particular.

And as VW and Audi cut costs to cover fines, buy back millions of illegally polluting vehicles, and fire tens of thousands of employees, the Audi Motorsport budget of more than $250 million annually stood out as an inappropriate excess. (VW’s current chief executive Matthias Müller came from Porsche, and views Porsche’s equally lavish motorsports expenditures with considerably more tolerance.)

It must be noted that Audi’s sports car racing development programs became centered on diesel power. And with the discovery of emissions cheating devices on its diesel vehicles, VW decided to drop diesel, and change course toward an electric car future.

Accordingly, Audi is being thrown a bone by being given permission to shift its racing efforts to the nascent Formula E electric car racing series. That will allow Audi to keep busy its hundreds of racing program employees – many of whom were signed to guaranteed long-term contracts a couple of years ago (contracts as long as ten years, in some cases). Audi also, not long before the diesel cheating scandal broke, had opened an opulent new racing team headquarters in Neuberg, Germany in September 2014.

“Now, we’re going to look ahead,” said Wolfgang Ullrich, the godfather of Audi Motorsport, “giving our all in our new projects, just like we’ve come to be known.”

But even the ever-optimistic Ullrich knows this is the end of an era: “What happened in the WEC,” he sighed, “will not repeat itself.”

Jerry Garrett

November 19, 2016

 

 

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