According to Motorsport.com’s sister website Motorsport-Total.com, there are plans to close Audi Sport Customer Racing at the end of the current season to allow the marque to prioritise its upcoming entry into Formula 1 in 2026.
This would make customer racing the latest programme to be scuppered by the Audi board in recent years following its factory exits from DTM in 2020 and Formula E in 2021, and its decision to stop its LMDh project in 2022.
Audi CEO Markus Duesmann had been keen on taking the brand to F1 ever since he took over the reins of the company in 2020, having previously headed the engine programmes of both Mercedes and BMW.
His dream of Audi joining F1 was finally realised in August last year when the German marque was formally able to confirm an entry for the 2026 season that will see it construct its own engines and partner with Sauber on the chassis side.
According to multiple sources, Audi’s board of directors led by Duesmann decided to put all its weight behind the F1 project already in 2021, long before even its grand prix entry was finalised.
It is understood that the board finally issued instructions towards the end of last year to close its customer racing division following the conclusion of the 2023 season. Audi Sport Customer Racing includes the GT2, GT3 and GT4 variants of the R8 LMS as well as the TCR programme with the RS 3 LMS.
It is believed that Audi’s Dakar Rally programme will continue in 2024 despite the board deciding in 2021 that it wants its motorsport department focus entirely on F1. In fact, Audi is even planning to contest the full World Rally-Raid Championship season next year in addition to Dakar.
That is despite the German manufacturer not achieving the kind of success it had hoped for in Dakar and costs escalating beyond what was expected also due to the work required on building a new RS Q e-tron for 2023. That was necessary because the dimensions of the first car didn’t comply with the original specifications.
By contrast, Julius Seebach, who headed the Audi Sport department from December 2020 to August 2022, had already cut the budget for Audi’s customer racing programmes in 2022 and ‘23.
Rolf Michl, Audi Sport GmbH
Photo by: DTM
When Rolf Michl took over from Seebach as the head of Audi Sport, there was hope that he would be able to safeguard the future of its customer racing activities.
But Michl appears to have been unsuccessful in his efforts and only a reassessment of the situation by the board could save the future of Audi’s customer programme.
The production of the Audi R8 road car is already set to end in early 2024, dampening hopes further, although there have been talks of a GT3-compatible successor based on a Lamborghini model.
The future of Audi’s customer division remains under threat despite a successful 2022 season in which it achieved 290 individual victories and 76 titles. The very same year, Audi produced the 300th R8 LMS GT3, which remains one of the most successful GT3 cars ever made.
When asked for a comment about the future of Audi Sport Customer Racing, a spokesman said in a statement: “The motorsport program in customer racing for 2023 has been decided and will also be carried out as follows: 24 Hours of Nürburgring, 24 Hours of Spa, GT World Challenge, TCR World Tour, DTM.
“We are currently discussing the further development of customer racing and the Dakar project. As soon as decisions have been made, we will inform our teams and partners.”
If Audi’s customer racing division is indeed discontinued, it could mean all 14 factory drivers will likely lose their place at the marque. This includes ex-Formula 1 driver Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Mies, Christopher Haase and DTM driver Ricardo Feller. Kelvin van der Linde and Robin Frijns had both announced their departures earlier this year. Moreover, the customer sport division employs nearly 80 people within the larger Audi Sport GmbH department.
That said, such an announcement won’t necessarily mean Audi will not be represented in GT3 racing in coming years. In theory, it would be possible to outsource the production of spare parts and service of engine and transmission components to another company.
However, the days of manufacturer support in the DTM and major endurance races will be over. Audi will also not be supplying teams with factory drivers or bringing new updates to the car, which could mean the brand will eventually disappear from the scene entirely.
Rene Rast, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
Source : Motorsport.com