As far as bombshells go, this was a 12,000-pounder of an announcement.
Sure, there had been whisperings about cutbacks at Peugeot Sport, but for every rumour suggesting that it would run just two cars at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours, there was another hinting at four. Few of us doubted that the French manufacturer was going to build on its 2011 successes with the second-generation 908 and once again lock horns with Audi in the new FIA World Endurance Championship.
The surprise nature of Wednesday's revelation that Peugeot is ending its sportscar programme after five years only half explains why the news is best described as a bombshell. The other is the repercussions it is going to have on the WEC.
The withdrawal is a direct hit to the aspirations of the FIA and the series promoter, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, to draw in the fans and TV viewers.
Peugeot's absence will affect each and every one of the races on its schedule, even Le Mans. And that includes the season-opening Sebring 12 Hours, despite what American Le Mans Series boss Scott Atherton has to say on the matter.
For him to stand up and say that the French manufacturer's absence will take "little - if any - shine" off the 60th anniversary running of the Sebring is not just crass, it is downright wrong. Regular visitors to the US will know that as a country it has an inherent problem distinguishing between quantity and quality. That confusion, once again, appears to be amplified in the mind of a series organiser.
The on-going Peugeot versus Audi battle would have been the main attraction of the new championship. Or perhaps more correctly, the battle for a world crown would have added an extra frisson of excitement to a rivalry that reached a new intensity during the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in 2011.
With Peugeot's withdrawal, Audi has no natural rival in the 2012 WEC © LAT
The problem now is that the WEC only has one full-time manufacturer competing in LMP1. Audi will only have factory opposition when the stunning new Toyota petrol-electric hybrid turns up for selected appearances around Le Mans.
The success of the WEC hangs on factory participation in the top division, but we all know that a single manufacturer racing against itself is bad news for any series.
Not that I'm saying it would be better if Audi was not present in 2012, because we know that Toyota is likely to be racing full time in 2013 and more manufacturers, Porsche included, are on their way for '14. It's more that I fear that a series dominated by Audi won't give the WEC the buzz it needs in its inaugural season.
That's not to take anything away from the privateers in LMP1, and there are some strong contenders. (I, for one, can't wait to see what JRM and Strakka can do with the new Honda Performance Development ARX-03a).
But they remain independent teams, which in this day age are rarely able to challenge the factories.
What we also shouldn't forget is that Peugeot's decision to call time on its LMP1 programme also marks an end, let's hope temporary, to a continuous involvement by the French manufacturer in top-level motorsport stretching back more than a quarter of a century.
Think about it, the Peugeot Sport facility has been home to one major programme after the other since the days of the 205 T16 Group B World Rally Championship contender. That was followed by a move into the rally-raid arena and then programmes in Group C and Formula 1 (combined with an involvement in Super Touring). Then rallying again, first back in the WRC and then in Super 2000 while it geared up for its return to sportscars in 2007.
The company is at pains to stress that the Velizy motorsport facility isn't closing and I have no doubt that the Peugeot lion will one day roar again in top-line motorsport. But that doesn't make this week's decision any easier to take.
It draws a line under nearly 30 years of history and puts a black mark against the future of the motorsporting discipline I love.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.
Gary Watkins has, for reasons best known to himself, devoted all his working life to covering sportscar racing. This season is his 25th as a motorsport journalist, during which time he has reported on major long-distance events on four continents and approaching 60 24-hour races. He reckons a degree in political philosophy makes him well qualified for covering the sometimes Machiavellian world of international sportscars.
Gary, who also writes for RACER, Autoweek, Motor Sport, Autocourse and others, lives in Surbiton but spends more time on the road than at home for most of the year.