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Analysis

Is Audi's long-term future in customer racing now secure?

Audi’s potential exit from customer racing appears to have been averted and several signs now point towards the German marque continuing its presence in GT cars for the foreseeable future.

Rene Rast, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3, Kelvin van der Linde, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

There had been plenty of speculation regarding Audi Sport in 2022, with many citing the impending end of the R8 supercar’s production as an indication that its customer division would be wound up in the coming years.

The rumours came against the backdrop of other changes in Audi’s motorsport portfolio, with the under-development LMDh project being axed and a new programme in Formula 1 beginning in 2026 being announced alongside its existing factory commitments in the Dakar Rally.

However, there appears to be increasing optimism within the Audi stable that it will remain in GT racing, fuelled by the appointment of Rolf Michl as the head of Audi Sport on September 1.

Michl has previous experience within the same department as well as at Abt Sportsline, and is considered by many to be more fit for a motorsport role than his predecessor Julius Seedbach, who has since switched to Audi’s technical department.

In an interview with Motorsport.com’s sister website Motorsport-Total.com, Attempto team boss Arkin Aka said: “Audi has now created facts. The key message at the [Hockenheim DTM] meeting was that Audi is committed to customer sport. That's why everything is clear for us now."

It is understood that Audi’s long-time customer racing head Chris Reinke came under pressure during Seedbach’s leadership, but has regained full control over the division following his departure.

Reinke is highly regarded by teams and carries plenty of experience, having previously headed its highly-successful LMP1 programme under the stewardship of then-motorsport chief Wolfgang Ullrich. 

Successor to the Audi R8

Audi recently unveiled the final V10-powered version of its R8 supercar as it begins to switch focus to electrifying its fleet.

The R8 has formed the basis of its GT3 contender since 2009 and the marque recently gave the car a facelift in 2022, with the updated version given the moniker Audi R8 GT3 Evo II.

While there is still some uncertainty about how Audi will deal with the situation, the German manufacturer insists it has several options on the table beyond 2024, with or without the R8.

“We have to define a clear perspective [on] the car we want to compete with,” Reinke told Motorsport.com.

“For the moment we are very fortunate and have been for 15 years that we have the R8 as a base, our iconic sportscar out of the Audi Sport production line. 

“We would obviously be very fortunate if the successor of whatever kind would carry similar DNA to enable us to build a super strong race car. On the other hand, there are various possibilities to tackle this situation if in the future there might be no R8 anymore.”

Chris Reinke, Head of Audi Sport Customer Racing

Chris Reinke, Head of Audi Sport Customer Racing

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

In theory, Audi could extend the homologation of the R8 beyond 2024, but it is unlikely that a manufacturer of that scale would like to compete with an out-of-production car.

“I can homologate a GT car eight years after the end of production,” explained Reinke. “The end of production is not finally communicated and decided yet, but for sure it won't be this or next year. So, in theory, we could race a car until the beginning of the 2030s. 

“I know that there is a lot of talk about it, but yes, we always want to be close to an authentic product, we always want it to be the authentic top level of a current product. 

“Therefore, we will look at what the production line-up is going to bring, and what we can adopt. But the lifeline of the R8 LMS version for us in racing categories is almost infinite.”

Audi doesn’t need to necessarily build its next GT3 car around a thoroughbred racer and can instead opt for a sedan as a base model, similar to rival manufacturer BMW’s M4 GT3.

However, if Audi decides to take this route and develop an all-new GT3 contender, it could take until 2026 until the car is ready for sale to customers.

Reinke insists that Audi doesn’t have to make a quick decision regarding the long-term future of its GT programme. But equally, he feels Audi has a responsibility towards its customers in providing some clarity over what direction the marque will take in the coming years.

“At the moment we feel there is a lot of discussion about Audi's customer racing future in the public,” he said.

“We launched two very strong models with the Evo II on the GT3 side and the Gen2 on the TCR side, which are selling overwhelmingly well and performing overwhelmingly well.

“Therefore, it's not as high on our priority list as it might be from the outside.

“On the other hand, customer racing means catering the customers and if the customers ask for answers beyond 2025 it is on us to deliver, so we will try our very best to do that as soon as possible.” 

#22 Audi Sport Team Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo 2: Christopher Haase, Nico Müller, Patric Niederhauser, René Rast

#22 Audi Sport Team Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo 2: Christopher Haase, Nico Müller, Patric Niederhauser, René Rast

Photo by: Andreas Beil

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