If the Audi withdrawal was a splash…there’s a Tsunami coming
Much has been written of the future of the six Audi WEC drivers after the announcement by Audi to withdraw from WEC at the end of the 2016 season, less so though about the fate of the army of dedicated technicians and support infrastructure.
The decision by Audi to withdraw from the WEC has in effect significantly reduced VAG’s involvement in motorsport, apart from DTM and Formula E. VW announced this week that it is to withdraw from WRC, and while Porsche’s involvement in LMP1 beyond 2017 is still on the cards, it is by no means a foregone conclusion in the minds of some enthusiasts.
Porsche are scheduled to launch a new GTE Pro car in 2017, but there is as yet no certainty that Porsche will run in the GTE Am class as they have no Pro racer from 2016 to hand down to the private teams. With VAG’s financial woes a worrying factor for the foreseeable future, could we see in 2018 the return to privately run ‘factory’ teams as in 2016? This together, with the GTE Am car in 2018, could provide an income stream for Porsche which should keep the suits and the corporate image consultants at VAG happy. It would after all see Porsche keeping its toe in the motorsport water, as it did on and off through the 1990s and 2000s.
The WEC landscape will be a very different place in 2017, with no more sea of Audi red, and no more hospitality ‘towns’ in the paddocks and prime viewing sites around Le Mans. But how will the four-ring circus of Audi be received in the Formula E paddock, and how will Chase Carey receive Audi. I wonder if he will be as accommodating as the WEC and ACO have been? If Audi can rid themselves of their self-inflicted mantle of shame they are wearing, maybe they can propel Formula E to the stardom that their fan base enjoyed in the glory days of endurance racing.
How will Formula 1 (both Formula 1 and Formula E are owned by Liberty Media) react to the new kid on the block? Will Audi be content with being just another team on the Formula E grid after being perceived as THE team in endurance racing? I think there will be friction. Will Bernie and Chase be a push over? Personally I don’t see the Formula E landscape turning red just yet.
So what about endurance racing in 2018? Porsche, Toyota and ByKolles will make up the total LMP1 grid, which accounts for five cars. BMW is scheduled to bring at least two cars to GTE Pro and Porsche could have two GTE Am cars in 2018. There could be an introduction of LMP3 cars and more Gentleman drivers, but is that not a backwards move? The grid could look healthy on a numbers basis, but not necessarily on a quality basis.
To avoid a doomsday scenario, the WEC series really needs LMP1 for the box office, but who is in the wings ready to join the battle?
- Bentley – nope, they are VAG and the suits say no.
- Ferrari – maybe but they are strong in GTE which is good for sales but I doubt they have the funds for LMP1.
- Ford – doubtful as their GTE Pro entry hasn’t been the easy journey they had hoped for, I doubt they have the appetite for LMP1.
- Honda – Formula 1 isn’t happening for them, so why would they venture into LMP1.
- Mercedes – definitely not, they don’t take DTM seriously and all of their budget goes to F1, so they won’t fund LMP1.
- Nissan – unless something very special and secretive is going on I doubt very much if they will try again.
- Jaguar – they are committed to Formula E.
- Peugeot – possibly the strongest candidate if the noises from the ACO and WEC are to be believed, but by the time they get to the grid they could be the only LMP1 car there.
The ACO and WEC have some soul searching to do, they need to think long and hard about the future of endurance racing and find a way of surviving the Tsunami.
Just before going to press, Toyota responded saying that the Audi announcement would have no effect on Toyota’s commitment to WEC. “We are working on the finalisation of the 2018 regulations to start the car development for that season as soon as possible. We expect to continue our WEC participation beyond 2018,” a Toyota spokesman said.
Similarly, Porsche responded: “For Porsche, the Board’s commitment remains, and we will compete in the entire 2017 WEC season as planned. So far, Porsche has derived a huge benefit in terms of knowledge and innovation from the LMP1 programme for our production cars. Also, we don’t talk solely about the WEC here, we have a special interest in Le Mans. This 24-hour race is the crown jewels of worldwide motor racing, and Porsche has a unique relationship with it.”
Regarding the 2018 season, the Porsche spokesman went on to say, “The regulations for the next generation of LMP1 cars for 2018 will be technically extremely demanding, and offer such great technical freedom that Porsche believes it will gain further ground breaking innovations from them. But also, it is clear, that only four cars in the top LMP1 category isn’t ideal. Together with the WEC and the ACO the situation needs to be evaluated. This is going to happen within the coming days. We want to strengthen and support the WEC, because we believe in this fantastic platform to develop and show the potential of future hybrid drive trains.”
Written by: John Mountney
Images by: John Mountney & Glen Smale