Driven to succeed
From hillclimbs to rally, touring cars to Le Mans and now pure electric racing – Audi has built its reputation in competition.
4 November, 2016
Audi has called time on its stunningly successful participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans classic after nearly two decades of competition for outright honours with high-tech LMP1 prototypes – and 13 victories in the world’s toughest sports car classic. The decision to realign its motor sporting activities also ends Audi’s involvement with the World Endurance Championship, where it has been a title contender since the series began in 2012, winning the WEC drivers' and manufacturers' titles in 2012-13. Though the mainstay of the LMP1 prototype sports car scene since 1999, Audi reacted to the ever-present question always surrounding a car maker’s successful and lengthy motor sporting campaign; how many times does it wish to merely repeat and reinforce what it has shown many times over?
As the brand has shown over and over again, motorsport can be a magnificent test-bed for new technology which is then applied to road cars. It’s also true that many car buyers enjoy different forms of motorsport and delight in watching their brand duking it out in varying and often extreme theatres of competition.
In the case of Audi and Le Mans, 13 wins in the classic 24-hour race was proof enough that it had racetrack mastery over remarkably diverse technology including turbocharging, hybrid power and quattro all-wheel drive.
Anyway, ahead there are existing, and new, challenges – technically and competitively – on various motor sporting battlefields.
Audi has announced it is ramping up its participation in Formula E, the international electric vehicles open-wheeler category now in its third season.
With Audi’s all-electric production models set to move into showrooms in the near future, Formula E is a more compatible fit with Audi’s future powertrain direction for road vehicles
From now Audi has a stronger commitment to the German ABT-Schaefller team, which has enjoyed support from Ingolstadt since the series began in 2014-15.
The dramatic change of direction to power up the involvement in electric propulsion has been endorsed enthusiastically by Audi’s chairman Rupert Stadler who declared: "We're going to contest the race for the future on electric power.”
The chairman explained that as Audi moves to an increasingly electric future for its production cars, its racing cars, as the brand’s technological spearheads, need to show the way.
The new 2016-17 Formula E Championship kicked off in October in Hong Kong with ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport’s Lucas di Grassi taking a close second placing. Next up for di Grassi and Daniel Abt and their ABT Schaeffler FE02 EVs is a street circuit in Marrakesh in Morocco this month before heading for Buenos Aires early in the new year.
The company’s serious participation in motorsport has long been part of Audi’s DNA, dating back to pre-war grands prix and the fabulous (and technically advanced for the day) silver Auto Unions steered by the likes of Tazio Nuvolari.
Audi went on to revolutionise world rallying when it redefined grip with its turbo five-cylinder quattro machine debuted at the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally. After a remarkable six ‘quattro years’ in which Michèle Mouton, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl collectively won 23 world championship rallies and landed four world titles, Audi withdrew from rallying in 1986.
Audi then took on circuit racing, immediately winning the 1988 US TransAm series. It was then runner-up after a limited programme the following year in IMSA-GTO.
In 1996 Audi was on the grid with its super tourer A4 in many national touring car championships, winning the title in seven countries – Germany, Italy, Britain, Belgium, Spain, South Africa and…Australia.
Audi's long and successful participation in the DTM is ongoing too while it seems like it will increase its support for 2016 World Rallycross champion Mattias Ekstrom's privateer team.
Audi Sport’s customer racing business is unaffected by the Le Mans/WEC withdrawal with its ongoing support of many R8 LMS GT3 squads around the globe and TT Cup racing in Europe.
Audi R8 GT3 customer cars are prominent in the popular Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race and the Australian Endurance Championship.
In Europe the highly entertaining one-make Audi Sport TT Cup is emerging as a great chance for budding young drivers to make an impact within the seven-race series which includes being part of the supporting program for the DTM and 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.
Coming in 2017 is Audi’s dramatic-looking RS 3 LMS race car, a mean track rocket based on the new RS 3 sedan and targeting those drivers seeking an affordable entry into motor racing. It has been developed for customer racing in the relatively new TCR (touring car racing) category, which is flourishing in 10 countries and growing fast.
So, as ever, motorsport continues to be an integral part of Audi’s ethos, and its valued reputation as a company prepared to test and prove its technology under the public gaze on the racetracks of the world.
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