Dominant Audi racing team dumps diesel hybrids for electric power


2016 Audi R18 LMP1 World Endurance Championship race car

2016 Audi R18 LMP1 World Endurance Championship race car

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Over the past decade and a half, Audi has built a racing dynasty.

The German luxury automaker has dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, one of the most prestigious events in motorsports.

But that dominance is coming to an end.

DON'T MISS: How to promote a Porsche hybrid? Bring its Le Mans sibling into rush-hour traffic

Audi will pull out of the FIA World Endurance Championship—which includes Le Mans—and focus on the Formula E electric-car race series instead.

The shift is meant to align Audi's motorsports program with the automaker's plans for future electric production cars, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said when announcing the change to motorsports staff.

The carmaker plans to launch an all-electric SUV in 2018, based on the e-tron quattro concept first seen at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show.

2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro

2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro

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Audi will exit the World Endurance Championship at the end of the current season, ending 18 years of participation in endurance racing.

Over that period, Audi won Le Mans 13 times, and gained the distinction of becoming the first manufacturer to win with a diesel car (in 2010) and with a hybrid (in 2012).

Since 2012, Audi has used diesel hybrid race cars at Le Mans, competing against gasoline hybrids from Porsche, Toyota, and (one one occasion) Nissan.

ALSO SEE: Audi e-Tron Quattro Diesel Hybrid Race Car Wins Le Mans 24 Hours Race (Jun 2013)

Hybrid powertrains are now mandatory for cars in the top LMP1 class at Le Mans, in fact.

Le Mans previously served as a valuable marketing tool for Audi's TDI diesel engines, but those powertrains are being de-emphasized in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal.

Audi has also been less successful at Le Mans in recent years, losing the last two races to fellow VW Group property Porsche.

2016/2017 Formula E Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport race car

2016/2017 Formula E Team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport race car

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As it deals with the fallout from the diesel-emissions scandal, Volkswagen may view two expensive Le Mans racing programs as unnecessary.

In contrast, Formula E will be more relevant to Audi's new technology marketing direction, and won't require it to share the spotlight with another VW Group brand.

MORE: Formula E electric-car races expands carmaker list, Audi, BMW, and Jaguar included

Audi been involved with Formula E since the series' first season, as a partner of the ABT Schaeffler team.

It will now take a more active role in the functioning of that team, and plans to launch a fully factory-backed program for the 2017-18 season.

Formula E has been attracting more interest from carmakers. with Jaguar joining the series this year, and BMW and Mercedes-Benz taking options to race in 2018.

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