October 27, 2016

Audi has withdrawn from sportscar racing to focus on Formula E. It’s a serious endorsement of the all-electric championship and perhaps an indication that the competition was getting a little too hot in the World Endurance Championship.

The manufacturer ran its Formula E campaign under the Abt name, which is pretty much an in-house motorsport effort for the times that Audi doesn’t want to enter a full works effort. It has now stated its intention to turn the Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport team into a full Audi entry next year.

This is yet more good news for Formula E, as Jaguar Racing, Mahindra, Renault, Citroen and now Audi are involved to some extent. McLaren has signed a deal to supply the batteries and even though the teams really don’t have that much technical freedom compared to Formula One, it has more manufacturer backing.

Audi is about to launch the e-tron SUV and will follow that with a full electric line-up. So Formula E is a natural bedfellow for the marketing effort that’s coming.

“The first all-electric racing series perfectly matches our strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year by year starting in 2018,” said Audi chairman Rupert Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”

 

WEC is awesome at the moment

It’s welcome news that Audi is bolstering its Formula E effort, but it has withdrawn from a World Endurance Championship that is absolutely at its peak. The Ingolstadt marque has duked it out with Porsche and Toyota at some of the world’s greatest circuits with some of the most spectacular looking cars on the planet right now.

The WEC does allow a certain level of technical freedom and Audi’s LMP1 R18 is an absolutely stunning machine. it’s also a hybrid that bears the e-tron name. Unfortunately it’s a diesel-electric hybrid and Audi is part of the VW group that is trying to clean away every last trace of the ‘dieselgate’ scandal that rocked the company and finally led to a $14.7 billion deal with the US regulators.

Porsche won Le Mans this year, too, with its 919 petrol-electric hybrid, while Toyota ran it close. Audi might well be at the end of the natural development cycle with the R18. This car simply might have nothing left to give and even if it does, Audi would have to ditch the diesel.

Time for a fresh challenge

So rather than ploughing money into a fresh car for the series that Audi has dominated in the past, the German marque may feel it is time to move on to pastures new. Audi has been a dominant force in sportscar racing for 18 years and won Le Mans 12 times since the turn of the century, which is an outstanding achievement. For the last two seasons, though, Porsche has taken the honors in the world’s most famous endurance race.

Formula E’s limited development means that a serious manufacturer budget should guarantee some level of success, too, especially as Abt has done the groundwork and the team knows the car.

Audi doesn’t send a works team into battle to come second, so watch out for a serious assault on the Formula E crown from the off and also bear in mind that might be why it has called an end to the WEC campaign.

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