My first Le Mans coincided with the first time Audi brought a diesel car to the race. I was working at Zytek at the time (now Gibson) and we went with high hopes having qualified 3rd in the previous outing and sat on pole until a few minutes from the end of the session. 2006 was a bit different. Audi essentially wrote the regulations for the diesel engine and it was in a completely different league to every other car on the grid. It was a heavy car with a heavy engine and didn’t handle particularly well but the speed differential between the Audis and the rest on the straights was astonishing.
There was a bit more competition in 2007 when Peugeot joined the fray and the Lola Aston Martins (with massive restrictor breaks due to their road-car derived engine) came a bit closer in terms of straight-line speed but never challenged over a lap. Peugeot dropped out a few years later and Toyota took its place, again providing a test for Audi but unable to stop the German marque’s domination. Ironically, the only sustained challenge came from a sister VAG brand Porsche who consistently proved to be a first class outfit.
Audi’s decision to stop its LMP1 programme at the end of 2016 is, in my opinion, down to the fact that diesel and Audi are two words that do not currently sit well together – for well documented reasons. This completely unexpected development has left Audi Sport with nowhere to go. Ultimately, vehicle manufacturers’ motorsport programmes exist to sell road cars and if Audi don’t see any value in pushing diesel road cars then a diesel racing car is redundant. VAG made it clear when Porsche entered that they didn’t mind two marques racing each other as long as they had different technology. Porsche run a petrol-hybrid so it has left Audi with nowhere to go. There are other questions around the continued performance viability of a diesel compared to an optimised petrol, but unfortunately it is a question that we will not see answered any time soon.
What Audi do next is unclear, but they have certainly contributed a huge amount to endurance racing since the arrived with the R8C and R8R 18 years ago…