The most successful manufacturer in American Le Mans Series history has scrapped its factory participation. Come 2009, Audi's works entries will not be on the grid on a full-time basis, ending the German manufacturer's tenure in the series that dates back to 2000. Audi's factory squad, Audi Sport North America, will not run in the ALMS for the foreseeable future.
Audi has also shelved plans of returning to the European-based Le Mans Series next year to defend its title. The automaker's refocused motorsports program was confirmed Friday, combining with last week's announcement that will build a new LM P1 machine, the R15 TDI. Plans are still in place to debut the next generation diesel-powered prototype at the ALMS season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring in March before a full assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
"The decision to withdraw from the American Le Mans Series was a very difficult one," said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. "Furthermore, with the Champion Racing team, we also had a partner that operates at the highest level. The extraordinary dedication and precision of Team Champion was the key to Audi's victories over the last few years in America. We achieved an unprecedented winning series together. Our brand dominated proceedings last season by taking seven wins in 11 races. TDI-Technology supported perfectly the launch of Audi-TDI Technology in the USA."
The Audi brand has been synonymous with the ALMS since the series' inception. Through models such as the legendary R8, which carried the marque from the starting point in 2000, the R10 TDI diesel that premiered in 2006, and next year's R15 TDI which is still a work in progress, Audi has carved up all comers in the P1 class en route to winning every class championship since its debut.
"I cannot say enough about how great a partner, competitor and participant Audi has been since it first competed in the Series in 1999," said ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton. "We understand that the economic climate is forcing many companies to make very difficult decisions. We will welcome Audi back to the American Le Mans Series stage at the appropriate time to compete against our world-class group of race teams and manufacturers."
To date, Audi has claimed 55 class victories, including 30 consecutive wins that spanned from Sebring 2006 to Detroit 2008. Much of the recent success could be credited to Dave Maraj's Champion Racing outfit, which started as a privateer team, and eventually ramped up to become Audi Sport North America.
"Audi, along with Dave Maraj and his Champion Racing organization, have established the benchmark for how a motorsports organization should be run," Atherton added. "They raised the game for all our competitors with their innovation, work ethic, professionalism and accomplishments, which are major reasons why the American Le Mans Series enjoyed its most successful season ever this year."
Competition was lacking in P1 the last two years but increased as of late. Acura has announced its P1 program for 2009 with the intentions of challenging Audi, and in the Le Mans Series, Audi battled Peugeot and its 908 HDi-FAP diesel coupe last year, eventually winning the drivers' championship with Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat at the last round, in spite of Peugeot winning the year's first four events.
The possibility could not be ruled out of a privateer team campaigning the current R10 TDI in the ALMS next year, but factory involvement will shift mainly towards Europe. After the planned debut of the new R15 TDI at Sebring, Audi Sport Team Joest will campaign three of the new diesel-powered prototypes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Those are the only two planned races for the next-generation P1 machine.
In addition to its downsized sports car program, Audi will continue its involvement in the DTM touring car series and also launch the production-based Audi R8 LMS for customers in the GT3 ranks in Europe. Both programs were confirmed at last week's Essen Motor Show in Germany.