Audi’s 18-year stint in (WEC) sportscar racing climaxed with a one-two result for its R18 e-tron quattro hybrid race cars in Bahrain, while Volkswagen’s (WRC) campaign ended in similar fashion with the top two podium places for the Polo R cars at Rally Australia.
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The ending of the two manufacturer programmes is widely believed to be due to the financial savings the Volkswagen Group has had to make in the wake of the ‘Dieselgate’ emissions-cheating scandal, resulting in heavy fines and significant costs in rectifying affected cars.
Audi has competed in endurance sportscar racing for 18 years, in the process winning 13 times in the Le Mans 24 Hours, a total only beaten by Porsche with 18. But the return of sister brand Porsche to the WEC in 2014 had stoked rumours of an Audi pull-out, which most expected would have been at the end of 2017.
However on 26th October the Ingolstadt marque announced it would be leaving the series at the end of the season and focusing future motorsport efforts on the FIA’s for electric-powered single seaters. The finale win for Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis and Lucas di Grassi was only the second time Audi had won in 2016, the season dominated by Porsche.
The end of the WEC programme will also see Audi motorsport head Dr Wolfgang Ullrich retire from a highly successful 23-year stint – alongside the victories he has also overseen seven drivers and four manufacturers titles in the (DTM), and victory in the 1996 among several Touring Car successes.
Volkswagen’s Rally Australia result, which saw Andreas Mikkelsen and Andreas Jaeger beat newly crowned champions and team-mates Sebastian Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, marked the end of a tumultuous four years in the WRC that resulted in four driver’s titles for Ogier, four teams and manufacturers titles.
Volkswagen does intend to build a new version of the Polo for selling to customer teams in 2018, while the weekend also saw a new motorsport era opened for German manufacturer in Macau, with its first TCR International touring car series title.
Driving a VW Golf, inaugural TCR champion Stefano Comini retained his title at the end of the second season for the category, having taken the first TCR championship in 2015 at the wheel of a SEAT Leon.
Volkswagen has committed itself to the TCR category, which is based on the concept of manufacturers building production runs of race-ready touring cars for customer teams to purchase and run – in its short history the TCR International championship has spawned a host of regional and national sub series across the globe. Audi has also just launched a version of its RS3 to TCR specification which it will be selling to teams for 2017 series.