The end of the 2016 season marks Audi’s withdrawal from endurance racing after 18 years and 13 entries in 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fellow Volkswagen Group brand and main rival Porsche decided to give Audi its own special sendoff.
When Porsche returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014, Audi produced a video showing its R18 e-tron quattro race car doing donuts in front of Porsche’s headquarters, leaving the message “Welcome Back” etched in burned rubber on the pavement. Just over two years later, Porsche created a sequel to that video to say goodbye to Audi.
The original spot featured an old farmer on a diesel Porsche tractor (yes, Porsche really made one of those), and he makes a return for this video. Hearing the news that Audi is withdrawing from endurance racing, he decides to send a message of his own to the carmaker, urging Audi to come back. It’s an unusually candid expression of competitive spirit for a carmaker.
Despite both being controlled by the Volkswagen Group, Audi and Porsche have been fierce rivals since Porsche returned to top-level endurance racing in 2014. Along with Toyota (and, briefly, Nissan) they are the only automakers fielding top LMP1 Hybrid race cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Audi’s departure will make 2017 a duel between Porsche and Toyota.
Audi has dominated the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans for the past decade and a half, but lost to Porsche this year, and in 2015. The automaker has likely lost the competitive advantage to its German cousin, which also won the WEC driver and manufacturer championships this year. Audi’s use of diesel engines is also less compelling from a marketing standpoint in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal.
Now that it’s done with endurance racing, Audi will focus on Formula E, a relatively new race series that features electric cars. The carmaker is already associated with the ABT Schaeffler Formula E team, and has plans to increase its involvement over the next couple of seasons. Formula E will definitely boost Audi’s green credentials, but it won’t bring the glory of those past Le Mans victories.