Audi has announced that it is preparing to re-enter top-level prototype endurance racing, with a surprise return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The German brand is among the most successful ever to compete in the famous endurance race. Despite only entering Le Mans for the first time in 1999, Audi racked up 13 outright victories before it decided to shutter its LMP1 program after the 2016 season. That included twice securing five wins in a row, with only Peugeot’s 908 spoiling the party in 2009.
In the aftermath of the infamous Dieselgate scandal, Volkswagen group companies faced shifting priorities, and Audi’s World Endurance Championship participation looked to be a casualty. Following two less successful races in 2015 and 2016, Audi announced its withdrawal. Instead, it said, it would focus on Formula E.
This is a decision which now seems set to be reversed. Audi has issued a statement to say that it will conclude its Formula E participation as a factory team at the end of the 2021 season — though it will continue to supply its powertrain to customer teams.
Instead, Audi will compete in the Dakar Rally for the first time in 2022. The brand intends to enter an “innovative prototype” in the grueling endurance rally in January 2022, which it’s teased in the image above. It appears to use the Audi AI:Trail 2019 concept as a basis, at least in design terms.
In addition, Audi is also “intensively preparing” its return to Le Mans. It won’t be creating its own hypercar for the purpose however, rather it’ll focus on the LMDh category.
This is a class for LMP2-based sports prototypes with theoretically equalized performance to the hypercars. Each uses a standard hybrid system installed in one of four standard chassis, with the manufacturers’ own external visual branding.
As an equivalence category, LMDh will compete on equal footing to the hypercars, thus Audi will once again be competing for the overall World Endurance Championship title and Le Mans victory.
Markus Duesmann, chairman of the board of management at Audi, commented:
“A multifaceted commitment to motorsport is and will remain an integral part of Audi’s strategy. We want to continue demonstrating the brand’s slogan ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ in international top-level motorsport in the future and develop innovative technologies for our road cars.”