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Audi quits Le Mans and WEC for Formula E electric racing

Audi's Le Mans prototypes scored 106 victories, 80 pole positions and 94 fastest race laps.

The most dominant endurance racing team of all time will call it quits at the end of 2017 and head to Formula E.

After months of speculation, Audi has announced that it’s pulling out of endurance racing, after an 18-year stint that netted the company an unprecedented 13 victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The company is responsible for a number of racing firsts; it was the first company to win the 24-hour race with a diesel, then with a diesel-electric hybrid.

It first took victory with the R8 in 2000, with its first diesel win coming in 2006 and its first hybrid win in 2012. Its last win came in 2014 with the R18 e-tron quattro.

It’s also claimed driver and manufacturer titles in the World Endurance Championship and American Le Mans Series; its Le Mans prototypes scored 106 victories, 80 pole positions and 94 fastest race laps from 185 starts across both series.

We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power.

The WEC/Le Mans program has been under scrutiny for 12 months, as its parent company Volkswagen scrambles to cut costs across its empire to cover losses incurred by its diesel emissions scandal.

It races head to head with another Volkswagen brand, Porsche, which has won the last two Le Mans, along with the 2015 WEC title.

While the company suggests it will save up to A$180 million a year by culling Audi’s two-car program, reports suggest the figure could be closer to A$500 million.

Audi’s chairman of the board of management Rupert Stadler referenced the “current burdens of the brand” when breaking the news to the 300 employees of Audi’s motorsport department.

Some of the race team’s resources will be directed towards road car development, while others will be drafted in to run Audi’s newest race program, Formula E, which begins next year.

“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” said Stadler. “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”

The Volkswagen Group has announced that it will have 30 electric cars across its brands by 2025, and Formula E will provide an avenue to accelerate development in battery and motor technology.

While Formula E is in its infancy, and currently draws only a small worldwide audience, it will be vastly cheaper to run multiple cars in the open-wheel championship – despite the fact that drivers must pit during a race to change not the batteries, but the entire car.

All Formula E teams are required to use the same carbon fibre chassis, but motor and battery technology is open to development. Other manufacturers including Jaguar, Mahindra and Renault will field teams for 2017.

The Formula E championship will be run over eight rounds on temporary tracks in some of the world’s biggest cities, including Paris, London, Marakesh and Mexico City.

Audi also indicated that it would continue its presence in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) series, as well considering a push into the FIA Global Rallycross championship with an electric version of its S1 rallycross car.

Is Audi right to leave Le Mans now? Tell us what you think in the comments below.