Sports car racing’s biggest spender is about
to close its account at the Bank of Le Mans.
For all those who’ve come to rely on Audi’s
staggering annual investment in the FIA
WEC and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, its
departure should have a chilling effect.
Continuing to spend hundreds of
millions on the WEC while shoveling
billions out the door to atone for its
“Dieselgate” sins would be a grave
mistake by the Volkswagen Audi Group,
but its board of directors could have kept
Audi in the LMP1 endurance racing game.
Given the chance to reduce its annual
investment in LMP1, or to move away
from the tarnished turbodiesels in favor
of a different cutting-edge drivetrain
technology, VAG took Audi in an
unexpected direction: Formula E.
The youthful, tech-friendly open-wheel
series is a bargain compared to LMP1, and
despite the minimal interest it holds for
many racing traditionalists, Audi’s choice to
go all-in with FE should be a warning sign.
With six-figure budgets only a starting
point to vie for a Le Mans win, there’s no
such thing as a bargain alternative worth
exploring. Nissan tried to topple Audi,
Porsche and Toyota with its pocket-change
P1 effort in 2015 and failed miserably.
Courtesy of the ill-fated GTR-LM NISMO, the
CURBING THE LMP1 ARMS RACE
and Toyota’s TS050 HYBRID are waiting to
eat any new manufacturer alive.
The ACO has dangled energy recovery
system development and the possibilities
of hydrogen-based propulsion to attract
new LMP1 manufacturers, but the phone
isn’t ringing. They should start asking
why before it’s too late.
LMP1’s broad technical freedom is wholly
unique in motor sport. R18s, 919s, TS050s
and 908s (Peugeot’s contribution to the
genre) are some of the most amazing
racecars ever produced, but the ACO would
be wise to recognize its cash-burning
formula no longer fits the financial climate.
The door was opened, a financial arms race
ensued, and it’s slowly closing as technical
curiosity has given way to cost containment.
Manufacturers are keen to explore new
horizons through motor racing, but at a
less staggering sum, and only where clear
value is present. BMW entertained the idea
of launching a P1 comeback, but elected to
go with GT. Peugeot says it would consider
a P1 return if costs are drastically reduced.
Facing a crisis with its marquee class,
the ACO is left with Porsche and Toyota to
stabilize P1’s shaky foundation and a
narrow window to keep it from collapsing.
If the tech escalation continues, Formula
E could have two more brands to welcome.
With Audi out, the brutal cost of high-tech LMP1 racing makes finding an imminent replacement unlikely.
Toyota (ABOVE) and Porsche are the
remaining hybrid LMP1 manufacturers.
With nobody else on the horizon, losing
either would be catastrophic for the WEC.
lesson here is simple: spend everything or
spend nothing. Don’t bother with in between.
To reach the Le Mans grid, request a
three- to five-year program from the board,
put the estimated price tag at well over
$1billion, and get started on a frightfully
expensive foray into the world of LMP1
Hybrid competition. Porsche’s 919 Hybrid
Incorporating learnings from its WEC program, Porsche’s
all-electric Mission E concept is a potential Tesla-beater. But do
such projects justify the enormous cost of going LMP1 racing?