Audi is to terminate its international sportscar racing programme at the end of the 2016 season, to focus its efforts on the FIA Formula E electric single-seater championship.
The decision will see the German brand no longer competing with a works team in the FIA’s World Endurance Championship and particularly at the Le Mans 24 Hours, which Audi has dominated since first entering in 2000.
Cars wearing the four rings have won the Le Mans race 13 times since, the only manufacturer with more Le Mans victories being Porsche with 18.
Rumours that Audi was considering ending its programme in the WEC’s headline LMP1 category have been circulating for some time, heightened by the return of sister brand Porsche to the series in 2014.
Most rumours indicated that the programme could be cut at the end of the 2017 season, and some industry sources are suggesting that the earlier end has come as a result of the drastic cost-cutting required across VW Group brands following the fallout from the ‘Dieselgate’ emissions scandal.
Audi chairman Rupert Stadler is reported to have told staff at the brand’s motorsport department, all of whom will be retained; “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 be even more so.”
The brand announced its tie-up with Formula E team ABT Schaeffler at the start of October, just ahead of the new season of the electric racing series that runs through the winter half of the year.
At the time the brand said it was “using the 2016/2017 season to learn more about the world’s first fully electric racing series and to prepare for the 2017/2018 season, on the road to a fully factory-backed commitment.”
Now Audi appears to be ramping up its involvement at a time when the Formula E series is seeing unprecedented manufacturer involvement. Jaguar is entering a full works team from this season, Mahindra, Renault and DS Automobiles are already in the series and BMW is widely tipped to be taking an involvement in the US Andretti team.
According to Stadler Formula E presents great opportunities for Audi as the brand prepares to market its first electric vehicles (EVs) in 2018. “It is regarded as the racing series with the greatest potential for the future,” he said. “That is why Audi has intensified the existing partnership with Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport in the current 2016-17 season.
“On the road to a full factory commitment, (Audi) is now actively joining the technical development,” Stadler added.