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For those who’ve been following along, Wolfgang Durheimer likely needs no introduction. As a refresher then for those who may not be up to speed, the one time Porsche executive who will be jumping this summer from the top job at Bentley/Bugatti to replace Michael Dick as head of R&D at Audi made news well before his new post had even been announced while commenting on Volkswagen Group motorsport objectives and specifically how this could include F1… and maybe Audi.
There’s been more evidence that has made us wonder if Audi’s days in Le Mans may be numbered. VAG sibling Porsche is due for its own return to Le Mans at the top LMP1 level with a gasoline-powered hybrid. Rumors from our sources have suggested that Audi Sport’s Dr. Ullrich, a long-time vocal critic of an Audi move to F1, may not be that far from retirement. Ullrich’s heir apparent Dieter Gass has a clear history with Formula 1 and came over from the German-based Toyota effort. Add all of these pieces together plus a few more we’d not care to divulge and this all made us fairly certain that the question of F1 was one of “when” and not “if” for Audi.
Looking back on it, Audi has never stayed in any one form of motorsport very long. Rally and Touring Car are the most notable eras for the brand aside from its most recent decade plus of endurance racing, and no stint in any other form of racing has gone as long as the 13-year run at Le Mans. Still, key contributors to change in those other series hindered Audi’s technological development. At Le Mans Audi has not really met such barriers.
Still, Durheimer’s earlier comments plus his move had us concerned when it came to Audi at Le Mans. A move to F1 may be one very sweet consolation prize, but it seems that most Audi enthusiasts who’ve opined to us following that piece in January believe that Audi belongs in sportscar and endurance racing. Even better for the ardent, recent comments by Durheimer to British-based EVO magazine suggest he’s of like mind… maybe even anti-F1 for now.
Regarding Audi at Le Mans, Ingolstadt’s new R&D Boss stated to EVO, “Audi have won Le Mans 11 times but Porsche have won it 16 times, so Audi will keep coming back until it has broken Porsche’s record.”
Of course this sets the stage for a serious Le Mans rivalry, particularly between Audi and Porsche. Many fans we’ve spoken to have questioned whether this made sense. EVO posed the same question to Durheimer and was met with this answer.
“Magazines are always comparing Volkswagen Group cars with each other, so why shouldn’t we compare our race cars within the same group? Competition is good for Volkswagen and it will not be a straightforward fight anyway, because there will be a technology battle going on too. Porsche will be racing using a petrol engine, Audi will be using diesel power.”
After covering a few more subjects including the Volkswagen brand’s assault on the WRC (pp. 14-15 of the September 2012 issue), the conversation turned to Durheimer’s outlook on F1. Interestingly, he seems to have changed his mind on the value of F1, at least under current conditions.
“This year’s F1 season is exciting for fans, but all the uncertainty as to who will win is making it hard for me to recommend to the VW board we should enter the sport. It’s too unpredictable – if you put the effort in, you should have a good chance of winning. But at the moment it’s too random who wins, so I am not interested.”
An interesting side not on F1: though this year seems even more chaotic than most in regard to team dominance, even more “stable” previous years have seen motorsport giants and chief Audi rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz invest large fortunes in Formula 1 for little or no gain. Choosing to back Le Mans and presumably the WEC through ongoing top tier participation by Audi and Porsche should prove very valuable both for the Volkswagen Group and sports car racing as a whole. Audi enthusiasts with a fetish for F1 may not find this to be good news though we suspect the overwhelming majority of four-ring fans out there will be happy at this news.
Make sure to check out EVO Magazine for more on this story.