Audi e-tron FE04 electric race car represents a new era for the automaker

It’s a brave new world for Audi. The German automaker has moved on from the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans and plans to throw the majority of its motor-sports resources into the Formula E series for electric cars. The shift mirrors Audi’s effort to put more electric cars in showrooms.

The upcoming Formula E season will be the first one in which Audi will run its own team. Whereas Audi previously partnered with the independent Abt Schaeffler team, it will now race under its own banner. Its weapon will be an updated electric race car called the Audi e-tron FE04.

Aside from a new livery, the FE04 looks identical to last season’s Formula E car. That’s because teams are still required to use the same Spark-Renault SRT 01e chassis, and can’t make any changes to the bodywork. Under the skin, though, Audi says the powertrain is all new, including a one-speed transmission meant to improve efficiency. In addition to turning quick lap times, Formula E drivers must meet certain efficiency targets, and make the most of the charge in their cars’ battery packs.

Audi will keep the drivers from the Abt Schaeffler team. Lucas di Grassi is the reigning Formula E champion, so he gets to put the number “1” on his car. Teammate Daniel Abt will race car number 66. Like Formula One, Formula E has championships for both drivers and teams. While di Grassi won the driver championship last season, the Audi-backed Abt Schaeffler team was beaten by Renault E.Dams in the manufacturer contest. Audi has a score to settle this season.

Proving that it is serious about Formula E, Audi also brought in Allan McNish as team principal. The Scotsman’s long resume includes stints in Formula One and sports-car racing, with three Le Mans wins.

The upcoming season will be Formula E’s fourth, and it kicks off December 2 with a pair of races in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Audi is expected to launch its first mass-market electric vehicle — the e-tron SUV — next year. It will be the first of 20 new electric cars and plug-in hybrids Audi plans to place in showrooms by 2025.

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