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What Audi’s LMP1 Program Means To Me

Bradley Brownell October 27, 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, Motorsports 8 Comments

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Okay, so maybe Audi pulling out of LMP1 isn’t the world’s biggest surprise, but I woke up Wednesday morning to the abrupt and looming closure of the program that has defined high-level sports car racing for nearly two decades. For eighteen seasons, Audi has been running one of the most professional teams with world-class drivers, stellar engineers, and boundary-pushing cars. I am nearly 30 years old (next Summer), and I have never watched a season of racing in which Audi was not at the forefront of technology, and at the very least within shouting distance of the overall victory at Le Mans. The world of sports racing prototypes changed yesterday morning, and the ripple effect will be mega.

They brought the sport to a whole new level, and they have continued to advance that every year. The very first race I ever went to see in person was Audi’s inaugural season with the R10 TDi, and that car absolutely blew my mind wide open. I’ve seen them run at Sebring, Road Atlanta, COTA, and Le Mans. No matter where I am, I know that Audi is the class of the sport, and the one to beat. Even though I’m a rabid Porsche fanatic, I absolutely respect what Audi has done, and know that neither Porsche nor Toyota would even be in this sport were it not for the spectacular level of sporting competition that Audi instigated.

Audi has employed some of the best drivers ever, and their current lineup (Duval, Di Grassi, Jarvis, Fassler, Treluyer, and Lotterer) will go down as legendary. Audi helped push Mr. Le Mans, Tom Kristensen, to an incomprehensible 9 career Le Mans victories (one with Bentley and one with Porsche), and 6 Sebring victories (a record number in both cases). My personal favorite driver, Allan McNish, has been paired with Audi for the entirety of their time in the sport.

It is somewhat ironic that Porsche and Toyota are left alone at the top of the sport, as both manufacturers exited high-level sports cars in 1998 just as Audi was entering.

You can pin this exit on DieselGate if you like. It doesn’t make sense for Audi to continue racing a diesel and promoting that technology if the buying public is reminded of their road-car transgressions every time they see the R18 e-tron Quattro.

Audi does claim that none of their 300 Audi Sport employees will be rendered redundant, which is a positive. I hate to see motorsport professionals lose their work on the whims of a manufacturer’s board of directors. I hope that they find another way to get back to Le Mans, and soon.

Audi Sport meant world class, it meant technological progress, it mean excellence in racing, it meant advancement of the sport. It meant a lot to a lot of people. Goodbye Audi Sport LMP1 Program, we’ll miss you!

  • dukeisduke

    The R10 TDI blew me away when it first came out, and I’m still amazed by it. You have to watch the original Truth in 24 to appreciate the technical genius of Ulrich Baretzky and his team.

    • Bradley Brownell

      Wolfgang Ullrich is the head of Audi Motorsport.

      Brad Kettler is the head of Audi Sport Team Joest.

      Ulrich Baretzky is the head of engine development.

      It’s not simple.

      • dukeisduke

        Baretzky is the one I was most impressed with, since he seems like a crazy, animated guy. An engine genius, too.

  • jeepjeff

    This fallout from diesel gate makes me sad. I’m not a big fan of Audi’s road cars, but I can respect why people like and drive them. They sell proper sports sedans that are designed as driver’s cars. Audi was the big name when I started following Le Mans and while part of me doesn’t like rooting for the top team (I’m secretly an A’s fan over the Giants, and the Yankees suck), that kind of dominance is an incredible technical achievement. Consistent top placement (usually top of the podium) for the 24 hours of Le Mans for nearly two decades? Holy. Shit.

    And then Toyota made a move to grab the ring. TRD frustrates me no end. It’s proof that Toyota knows how to build fast, capable cars. In all their efforts, Le Mans, Nascar and everywhere else they try their hand. And what are they selling to the general public? The most painfully bland cars built for people who would rather they weren’t driving. So. Yeah. A common enemy got me on the Audi Le Mans bandwagon. I’ve been rooting for them for years.

    Hopefully those 300 Audi Sport employees get to join the Porsche effort and that gets kicked up a notch or three. I’m going to be annoyed if Toyota just gets to take Audi’s spot.

    • outback_ute

      The sportscar program is definitely a big part of what has helped Audi elevate their brand, and as you say they capitalised on it too with S/RS cars and the TT and R8.

      I’m not sure if Formula E will have the same effect because it seems to be a spec formula?

      Anyway, my favourite memory of the era is the crocodile car from the Race of a Thousand Years in Adelaide on 31/12/2000. They also had a couple of local drivers in the team for that race too. The race started around 5-6pm from memory and finished just before midnight – then there were two stages for concerts. Great event.

      • Bradley Brownell

        Formula E is still relatively spec, but in the coming years it will become less and less so. I believe currently gearboxes are open formula, and there are some changes you can make to the motors, but batteries and chassis are spec. 2018 things will start getting more exciting from a manufacturer’s standpoint.

        • Any rumors on the future (or lack thereof) of FanBoost?

  • Hubba

    Porsche absolutely would have returned to Le Mans without Audi. It’s the biggest sports car race in the world, and Porsche is the biggest name in sports cars, except maybe Ferrari. Ferrari has F1.

    The Cayenne and Macan are nice, but the deal closer is the Porsche badge.

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