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Audi signs off from prototype racing with Bahrain win
German company leaves top flight Le Mans racing with a convincing 1-2
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye: after 18 years of winning, winning and more winning, Audi’s endurance racing programme has finally come to an end with – you guessed it – another win.
Lining up for the final time at the 6 Hours of Bahrain on Saturday, Audi’s two LMP1 entries edged clear of the rest of the field, with the #8 car of Loic Duval, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis taking the chequered flag after a hard-fought, 201-lap swansong.
Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer finished second in the #7 Audi, while Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and the retiring Mark Webber claimed the final podium position in the #1 Porsche.
“There’s no sweeter way to end such a project than with a one-two victory,” said Audi Motorsport head Wolfgang Ullrich. “It was a very emotional race and the entire FIA WEC made it very difficult for us to quit.
“Today, you could tell that we’ve grown into a big family over many years. Now, we’re going to look ahead, giving our all in our new projects, just like we’ve come to be known.”
Although Audi ultimately missed out on both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships this season, the result provided a fitting end to nearly two decades of dominance in endurance racing.
The German marque first entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999 and secured its maiden victory at Circuit de La Sarthe one year later, going on to win 13 of the 17 editions of the iconic race this side of the millennium.
But as well as dominating the sport, Audi also proved to be relentless pioneers, becoming the first team to win Le Mans with a diesel engine in 2006, and the first to win with a hybrid vehicle in 2012.
The World Endurance Championship was launched that same year, and Audi comfortably won titles in the first two seasons before succumbing to recent pressure from Toyota and Porsche.
The success of the latter brand – essentially a sister team to Audi thanks to the shared ownership of VW Group – is a significant factor behind the decision to pull Audi out of the sport.
Previously, the powers that be were quite happy to sit back and watch both outfits push each other to the limit on and off the racetrack. But the fallout from the emissions scandal has forced a serious rethink from those in charge of VW’s finances.
With a multi-billion pound fine to contend with it was announced last week that Volkswagen would be cutting 30,000 jobs worldwide, so you might suspect it’s no wonder the upkeep of two cutting edge LMP1 entries has been ruled as too much.
It might also explain why Audi has decided to embark on a new venture in the guise of Formula E, a series with a theoretically cleaner footprint than WEC. Reckon it’s made the right choice?