Audi’s Exit coming from Le Mans Will Send Shock Waves through the Sport
Blame Dieselgate. Blame increasingly uncompetitive technology. Blame time.
The news of Audi’s upcoming departure coming from its long reign atop global sports-car racing was as shocking as This kind of was inevitable. The reasoning behind the withdrawal was painfully Germanic: This kind of’s a calculated business move along with nothing more. along with even if This kind of was inevitable, the loss of Audi coming from the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is usually on par with McLaren leaving Formula 1, Ford leaving NASCAR, or Ganassi leaving IndyCar. Make no mistake, This kind of is usually a big deal.
The same machinelike efficiency that will Audi introduced to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999 was applied by its board of directors—along with its accounting department—to forecasting its future at the French endurance classic. using a rumored annual investment of a half-billion dollars to consider, the numbers seemingly stopped generating sense for the brand.
The first ax started out its slow along with silent fall when Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal broke in September 2015. The Volkswagen Group didn’t know the size of the fine at the time, nevertheless This kind of knew its bottom line could take a massive hit at some point. This kind of finally arrived on Tuesday.
Coming less than 24 hours after the announcement of a $15 billion buyback settlement in North America alone, the decision on Wednesday to cleave one of the VW Group’s two most expensive racing projects coming from the books was the inevitable response. Porsche’s Le Mans gasoline-fueled program, which is usually said to command the same half-billion-dollar investment each year, was spared.
Shortly after Dieselgate broke, insiders told me every racing program within the company was instructed to drop whatever wasn’t turning a profit or adding to the company’s reputation. Coming off two lopsided Le Mans losses courtesy of sister brand Porsche (along using a prolonged drubbing inside the entire world Endurance Championship at the hands of Porsche’s 919 hybrid), Audi Sport’s LMP1 program was unable to meet either of the VW Group’s self-imposed sustainability criteria.
On the engineering front, Porsche (along with Toyota, to a lesser degree) also made This kind of hard to ignore that will the era of Audi’s turbo-diesel dominance had reached its natural conclusion. Once the featherweight 919 along with its barely-there V-4 turbo arrived, Audi’s strong nevertheless hefty V-6 became a glaring performance liability. Where the Porsche’s tiny drivetrain helps the 919 to turn along with brake with alarming fluidity—This kind of’s a marvel of chassis-balance perfection—the R18’s higher engine weight has painted Audi’s design team into an unenviable corner. As though the R18 chassis has a giant boulder strapped to its back, every single decision made with the chassis since 2015 has involved overcoming the kinematic nightmare inside the engine bay.
This kind of year’s R18—the most radical LMP1 machine ever built—took weight reduction to psychotic levels in a bid to recapture Audi’s Le Mans glory. On appearance alone, This kind of has also managed to make the 919 along with Toyota TS050 look tame.
A wild F1-inspired high nose, size-zero packaging at the front of the chassis, along with revolutionary aerodynamics were employed to bridge the increasing gap with its rivals. Audi threw everything This kind of could think of at the reimagined turbo-diesel R18—at significant cost—along with so far, through seven WEC rounds, Porsche has a few wins; Toyota along with Audi have one apiece. Despite all of the effort along with advancement, the brand new R18 has failed in its mission to overtake its VW Group stablemate.
To turn the tide, a brand new, skinny, non-diesel solution could be required, along with with This kind of, the entire concept of the R18 also could need to change. Take whatever the latest R18 cost the VW Group, triple This kind of, along with that will’s what Audi Sport could need to reassert its dominance at Le Mans. In light of the financial clampdown, along with having spent a fortune on the 2016 design, Audi Sport’s turbo-diesel decline came at the worst possible time along with sealed the program’s fate.
One friend inside the Le Mans team estimates that will 0 people, coming from Audi employees to subcontractors to outside vendors, will be impacted by the dissolution of the Le Mans project. “This kind of’s like losing a friend,” he said. “This kind of’s going to change the dynamics of a lot of people’s families along with lives.”
Once the Le Mans program winds down at the end of November, Audi Sport will turn its full attention to the all-electric FIA Formula E open-wheel series. Thanks to the (mostly) spec nature of Formula E, only a tiny portion of the vast engineering along with mechanical expertise contained within Audi’s Le Mans program is usually anticipated to be redeployed to the brand new venture.
Formula E has struggled to earn a following, meaningful TV ratings, along with commercial success, nevertheless with Audi—the titans of endurance racing along with forward-looking technology—opting in, the series has gained a huge legitimizing presence.
For a series built on little more than hype, Audi could be a transformative entrant in Formula E. Take everything the brand has done to drive fans towards Le Mans since 1999—all of the sport-meets-technology promotional campaigns, for example—along with apply that will blueprint to Formula E, along with Audi could help the series connect with its target audience in brand new along with meaningful ways.
Going beyond the 0-plus people who are in for significant improvements, the Le Mans program’s central home, the FIA World Endurance Championship, is usually about to face its most daunting stress test. The WEC experienced a similar shock when Peugeot scuttled its Le Mans effort shortly before the 2012 season got underway, nevertheless This kind of had the comforting presence of Audi along with the incoming Toyota program to lean on.
Although there are similarities on the surface, Audi’s exit is usually unlike anything the series encountered when Peugeot packed up along with left. Yes, the French producer was an important part of the championship, nevertheless This kind of came along with went in a few years along with was rarely accused of spending the kind of money Audi lavished on the sport. With Peugeot, Le Mans only lost its second-best customer. Without Audi, the 24 Hours along with the WEC series are staring into the terrifying void they always feared.
How many television, print, radio, along with digital advertisements has Audi purchased each year to support its Le Mans program along with the season-long WEC effort? How many race tickets, hospitality suites, catered meals, servers, valets, hosts, security guards, along with trackside banners has Audi paid for at every race? How many hotel rooms, rental cars, along with flights have been booked at each round, along with how much have those items contributed to local economies? How many drivers, engineers, mechanics, truck drivers, marketing along with PR staff, travel coordinators, along with support personnel currently rely on Audi to feed their families? How many former drivers have been kept on the payroll as brand ambassadors?
How much money does Audi pump directly into the 24 Hours of Le Mans along with the WEC through marketing rights, special promotions, renting space for hospitality compounds along with trackside support buses, to have its vehicles used as the exclusive pace-car supplier, to place in-car cameras inside the R18s, to use the Le Mans along with WEC logos, along with so forth?
After 18 intertwined years, sports-car racing’s richest financial circulation system will stop flowing. The WEC’s biggest spender is usually leaving, along with Le Mans is usually in for a huge budget shortfall. There are real concerns about the short-term health along with long-term viability of the WEC without Audi. coming from a practical standpoint, along with with Porsche’s formidable 919 serving as the standard bearer, how many manufacturers are prepared to match or exceed $500 million per year to play for the win?
- Column: The Balance of Heartbreak at Le Mans
- U-S-A! U-S-A! Ford Steamrolls GTE Class at 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans
- The 2016 24 Hours of Daytona in 40 Stunning Photos
At the steep buy-in cost along with the three to a few years needed to develop a brand new Le Mans prototype into a contender, there’s no guarantee a replacement for Audi will appear. The tone of the conversation could be entirely different if another producer was on the horizon, nevertheless until that will brand is usually identified or improvements are made to bring the costs down, the ramifications of Audi’s departure will weigh heavily on the sport.
After losing its headliner along with cash cow to Formula E, Le Mans along with the WEC have a long winter ahead.
This kind of story originally appeared on Road & Track.