Audi Leaving Le Mans Behind for Formula E Electric Racing Series

Audi is leaving its long-standing involvement with FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the Le Mans series behind, turning its attention to the all-electric FIA Formula E racing series.

Rupert Stadler, chairman of Audi’s board, made the announcement to 300 Audi employees Wednesday at the Audi Motorsport headquarters in Neuburg, Germany. That decision was based on keeping Audi competitive in the years to come by bringing “factory-backed commitment” to Formula E.

Audi will be using its experience and technical savvy from motorsports at Neuburg, and its expertise in production development at its factories that now includes electric cars.

“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” said Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”

Audi will be leaving behind an impressive history of performance at the FIA WEC, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans series. The automaker took 13 victories during Le Mans races in France over an 18-year period. Other accomplishments include being recognized for its TDI engine in 2006 and taking the first triumph of a sports car with a hybrid powertrain in 2012, according to Audi.

“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously extremely hard to leave,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport.

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On September 2, Audi announced it would be increasing its commitment to Formula E through the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport Formula E Team. Starting in the 2016/17 season with the opening round in Hong Kong on October 9, Audi will increase its involvement with the team. In addition, the company plans to incorporate Formula E into a factory-backed motorsport program for the 2017/18 season.

Audi said the timing coincides with the strategy of offering fully battery-electric models year by year starting in 2018. It’s expected to be an electric crossover SUV rumored to be called the Audi Q6 e-tron, based on the e-tron quattro concept that was unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Shifting over to electric will be part of the overall shift from diesel to electric cars that Audi and parent company Volkswagen are undergoing. In July, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler told a German newspaper that it expects electric vehicles to account for 25 to 30 percent of its sales by 2025. Audi plans to have at least three EVs by 2020 as part of a new major plan, the company said.

Several other automakers are playing a part in the Formula E series. Renault, Jaguar, Citroën DS, Mahindra, and NextEV all run teams in the series. BMW and Faraday Future, have partnered with teams and plan to increase their involvement over the years. Mercedes-Benz will be joining the series in 2018, according to The Verge.