In the beginning

Motorsport has been a driving force for the Audi brand since its inception.

Since its earliest days, succeeding in motorsport has been both an essential development tool and driving force for the Audi brand – in this first snapshot of our racing past, we go right back to the beginning.

2 June, 2022

A focus on motorsport is as much a part of the Audi DNA as design and engineering

Last weekend, Audi Sport won its sixth 24 Hours of Nürburgring in the last decade, cementing the brand’s hold on one of the toughest and most coveted races of the modern era. But this certainly came as no surprise to anyone with even a limited knowledge of the brand, given its reputation as a motorsport powerhouse. From world rally to touring cars, to sports cars and endurance racing, Audi has long been at the forefront – literally – not only winning races but challenges conventions in doing so with new technologies.

That pioneering spirit and real world testing in the cauldron of motorsport dates right back to the very beginnings of the brand and indeed all of the companies symbolised by the ‘Four Rings’ from back even before the First World War. 

August Horch, the engineer and founder of the Horch and Audi companies initially concentrated on long-distance rallies as a means of promoting his company and the speed and resilience of his cars. From the perspective of prospective customers, these gruelling rallies showed that Horch’s vehicles could not only deal with the rigours of competition but did it better than the opposition – seething which provided a tremendous boost for the image of the company.

In the 1906 Herkomer Run, the Horch 11/22hp in the hands of a valued customer, bettered the opposition made up of mainly Benz and Mercedes vehicles and set the standard Horch meant to duplicate. 

Audi Sport takes its sixth win in 10 years at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring over the weekend.
August Horch (leaning on the car) with the Horch 11/22hp - winner of the 1906 Herkomer Run.

But when the company failed to repeat its initial successes in subsequent years, motorsport became a topic of some controversy among the company's management, and contributed to August Horch’s eventual departure from the company he had founded.

August Horch enjoyed even more success with his next company, Audi, which he established in 1909. At around the same time that Ferdinand Porsche rose to fame as both designer and racing driver, August Horch and his team won the Austrian Alpine Run three times in a row between 1912 and 1914. His Audi cars became well-known virtually overnight.

Of the four companies based in Saxony, DKW with its two-stroke motorcycles had the greatest involvement in motorsport in the 1920s. In its motorcycle advertisements, DKW boasted: “One thousand race wins in two years!”

In 1914, Wanderer made its mark in the Austrian Alpine Run with the legendary ‘Puppchen’ model and from 1928 onwards Wanderer cars were regular winners of such events. These motorsport successes led to contacts with Ferdinand Porsche, which later resulted in a contract to develop racing cars for Auto Union. While NSU triumphs with its two-wheelers continued for decades, the successes of the NSU cars were fewer by comparison. But the  achievement of the white cars with their six-cylinder supercharged engines in the 1500cc class at the first German Grand Prix on Berlin’s Avus circuit in 1926 certainly made up for that.

This was just the beginning though, and the dawn of a new era in motorsport and the brand’s success was just around the corner.

DKW was hugely successful in motorsport, boasting 'One thousand race wins in two years' in an ad for its motorcycles in the 1920s

Horch driving the Type C in the Austrian Alpine Run.
The Wanderer Puppchen at the Austrian Alpine Run 1914.
NSU - the white supercharged race cars on the Berlin Avus track in 1926.