The short answer is yes.
An OEM leaving the sportscar championship is not new, OEM’s will come and go as the board/committee see fit they are not in sportscar racing for the good of the spectator. They are there to learn & develop new technology to eventually end up on there road car production lines. The fact that Audi have been in sportscar racing for the last 18 year is something that we should be grateful for whichever team/driver we support.
It’s not the first time in the history of sportscar racing that we have been down to two OEM’s, indeed Audi were very nearly at one point the only OEM in sportscar racing after Peugeot pulled the plug in 2012 until the FIA/ACO asked Toyota to bring their plans forward. We can still have great racing with two OEM as we have seen with Audi/Peugeot, Porsche/Jaguar, Porsche/Ferrari, Porsche/Lancia, Jaguar/Mercedes, Peugeot/Jaguar (these are just of few the rivalries that I can think of). Even the greatest race of them all, the Le Mans 24 hours in 2011 came down to a battle not only between two OEM’s but just two cars.
A brief look at Audi’s 18 years in sportscar racing and most importantly, Le Mans.
Audi’s sportscar story starts eighteen years ago with four cars in two classes at the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, the open-topped Audi R8R and the Audi R8C coupe in the LMP and LMGTP classes.
The two R8Cs that were in the race both failed to finish due to gearbox issues, the highest placed R8R of Frank Biela, Didier Theys and Emanuele Pirro came home third overall and started an amazing unbroken run of an Audi being on the overall podium at Le Mans from 1999 to 2016. The second R8R crossed the line in fourth place.
2000 see’s Audi return to Le Mans with three of the new R8’s to face competition from Cadillac, Panoz, Pescarolo Sport (Courage chassis), seeing off the competition and leading to Audi’s first win at La Sarthe with Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emanuelle Pirro finishing ahead of the other two R8s in the race & taking Audi’s first 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans.
2001 see’s Audi once more enter two R8’s at Le Mans going on to finish first & second with their closest challenger finishing 15 laps behind. It was the second year in a row that the trio of Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen & Emanuelle Pirro would go on to claim the top spot.
2002 see’s Audi enter three cars at Le Mans going on to finish first, second & third for the second time in three years. Not only that but Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen & Emanuelle Pirro went on to claim the top spot for the third year in a row and claim a “hatrick” of Le Mans wins making them, so far, the only trio to have won Le Mans three times in a row.
2003 see’s Audi represented by three privately entered R8’s, one car each for Champion Racing, Audi Japan Team Goh & Audi Sport UK. The top Audi would go on to finish third behind the two works Bentley’s.
2004 see’s Audi represented by four privately entered R8’s by three teams, one car each for Audi Japan team Goh & Champion Racing & two cars from Audi Sport UK team, Veloqx. Audi Japan team Goh took the top step of the podium with the other three Audi’s finishing in second, third & fifth position for the third time in five year Audi take a 1-2-3 at Le Mans.
2005 see’s Audi represented by two privately entered R8’s one car each for Champion Racing & Audi Playstation Oreca with the Champion R8 taking top spot on the podium & the Oreca R8 going on to finish fourth.
2006 see’s Audi back as a works entry entering two all new R10’s power by a 5.5 litre twin turbo V12 diesel engine (not the first diesel to have been entered at Le Mans) going on to make Le Mans history as Audi take the first win at La Sarthe for a diesel powered car when Frank Biela, Emanuelle Pirro & Marco Werner took the top step with the other Audi R10 finishing third.
2007 see’s Audi back with three R10’s but facing a strong challenge from Peugeot who also enter a diesel engine car. Frank Biela, Emanuelle Pirro & Marco Werner go on to claim there second consecutive win at Le Mans with the other two R10’s failing to finish after both suffered accidents.
2008 see’s Audi back for the third & final time with their three R10 Tdi’s facing a even stronger challenge from Peugeot who also enter three cars. After a race long battle it’s the R10 of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen & Rinaldo Capello that came out on top with the other two R10’s finishing fourth & sixth.
2009 see’s Audi back but this time with the new R15 Tdi entering three cars, think it’s fair to say this wasn’t Audi’s finest hour at La Sarthe with the top Audi finishing third, 6 laps behind the winning Peugeot. Of the other two R15’s one finished seventeenth & the other failed to finish due to an accident.
2010 see’s Audi come back with a vengeance entering three R15 plus Tdi’s. after the race was dominated by Peugeot it was Audi who took yet another 1-2-3 finish and set a new distance record in the process of 397 laps & 5410.71kms (a record that still stands today).
2011 see’s Audi return with three new car’s in the form of the Audi R18 which was also Audi’s first closed car to race at Le Mans since the Audi R8C in 1999. After an epic race long battle, once again with Peugeot, it was the R18 of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler & Benoit Treluyer taking the top spot by 13.854 seconds from the leading Peugeot after 24 hours of racing. The other two R18’s failed to finish due to two huge accidents which both drivers were lucky to walk away from. 2011 would also see another piece of history being made when Leena Gade became the first female to win the race as lead engineer.
2012 see’s Audi come back with four R18’s two of the new R18 Etron Quattro’s & two of the R18 ultra with competition this year from Toyota as Peugeot had withdrawn from sportscar racing. Audi went on to take a 1-2 with the R18 E-tron Quattro driven by Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler & Benoit Treluyer finish first ahead of the other E-tron Quattro thus making history once again for Audi being the first hybrid engine car to win at the 24 hours. The two R18 ultra’s ended up finishing third & fifth.
2013 see’s Audi back with three R18 E-Tron Quattro’s and a stronger challenge from Toyota. After a race long battle the R18 of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen & Loic Duval came out on top, with the other two R18’s finish third & fifth and Tom Kristensen taking his ninth victory at Le Mans.
2014 see’s Audi with three R18 E-tron Quattro’s, but this time not only did they have competition from Toyota but from Porsche as well. Once again it was the R18 of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler & Benoit Treluyer that came out on top. Out of the other two R18, one finished second and the other failed to finish due to an accident.
2015 see’s Audi enter once again with three R18 E-tron Quattros. This time, however, there was not to be success at La Sarthe as the the competition from Toyota and in particular from Porsche had become much stronger, with Porsche coming out on top and the best place Audi finishing third with the other two R18 finishing fourth & seventh.
2016 see’s Audi back with two R18’s for what would be the last time in their eighteen year history in sportscar racing and arguably their worst performance with the top R18 ending up in third, but 12 laps behind the winning Porsche and the other R18 finishing in fourth.
Not only have Audi been busy in the World Endurance Championship, but over the years they have been in the American Le Mans Series, winning nine races in their first season in 2000, including it’s first win at Sebring and Petit Le Mans with the R8.
Audi also competed in the Le Mans Endurance Series taking first in all four races of the opening season & winning the championship in 2004.
Regardless whether you’re a Audi fan or not, you have to stand up and applaud their achievements over the last eighteen years. After one hundred & six race wins, thirteen Le Mans wins in eighteen years, eighty pole positions and ninety-four fastest race laps, nine American Le Mans Series titles, two World endurance Championship, one Le Mans Endurance Series title, eleven Sebring wins, nine Petit Le Mans wins and multiple other achievements, it is now time to say goodbye to Audi.
Will Audi be back?
Who knows but for now they are off to join in the ranks of Formula E. Maybe one day we will see Audi return with an electric powered car at Le Mans and add to their history making efforts at La Sarthe. First Diesel to win Le Mans, first hybrid to win Le Mans & distance record at Le Mans.
There is no denying it is a sad time for sportscar racing & the World Endurance Championship as the departure of Audi will leave a big hole to fill, but as I said at the start of the article Audi, will not be the first or last OEM to leave a sportscar championship.
But for now it’s Auf Wiedersehen & Danke to Audi