Audi quits Formula E for new projects in Le Mans LMDh and Dakar Rally

Audi will quit Formula E following the 2020-21 season ahead of a return to topflight sportscar racing with a new LMDh programme, in addition to a 2022 Dakar Rally assault

The German manufacturer offered technical support to the privateer Abt team during the first three seasons of the all-electric FE championship before taking full control prior to the 2017-18 campaign.

In the six years to date, the team has scored 12 victories - 10 for Lucas di Grassi, two for Daniel Abt - and won the 2017-18 teams' championship in the final season of the Gen1 cars.

However, the manufacturer will depart at the end of the 2020-21 season, despite the team developing a new powertrain for the latest e-tron FE07 car, the first time it has been designed in-house, as part of a ground-up two-year programme.

However, Audi will continue to operate in FE as a supplier of powertrains and uphold its deal to customer team Envision Virgin Racing until at least the end of 2022.

Audi FE team principal Allan McNish told Autosport: "At the end of season seven [2020-21], as an official Audi entry, we will stop our works involvement in Formula E.

"We will continue to support customer teams through season eight as well.

"For season seven, we still have maximum focus and maximum attack. There's no change to that at all. It's just that our official factory team will stop this particular part at the end of 2021."

Its FE exit will pave the way for a return to Le Mans 24 Hours competition - having exited the World Endurance Championship LMP1 class in 2016 with the conclusion of its R18 e-tron programme.

Audi is the second most successful manufacturer in Le Mans history, racking up 13 wins between 2000 and 2014.

From 2023, cars built to LMDh rules will be able to enter the WEC and IMSA SportsCar Championship as a cost-effective alternative to the Le Mans Hypercar rules being introduced to the WEC next year.

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Effectively a replacement for IMSA's current Daytona Prototype international regulations, the LMP2-based LMDh cars will feature manufacturer-produced bodykits and drivetrains, along with a standard hybrid system featuring a Williams Advanced Engineering battery and Bosch electric motor.

"We are intensively preparing to enter the new sports prototype category LMDh with its highlight races, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours," said Julius Seebach, managing director of Audi Sport GmbH.

"The most important message for our fans is that motorsport will continue to play an important role at Audi."

Audi's new Dakar project marks its return to rallying - a discipline in which it enjoyed great success with the Quattro in the early years of Group B.

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An Audi statement said that "an innovative prototype", which is expected to be based around its all-electric e-tron SUV, will tackle the Dakar in 2022.

"The Dakar Rally will replace Audi's factory involvement in Formula E," it said.

The Volkswagen Group, of which Audi falls under the umbrella, has massively expanded its all-electric motorsport operations in recent seasons.

In addition to the Audi FE team, this includes the VW ID.R prototype that holds the outright Pikes Peak and Goodwood hillclimb plus electric Nurburgring Nordschleife lap records.

This comes in tandem with the axing of the Audi DTM, VW World Rally, Audi World Endurance LMP1, Audi World Rallycross and factory Audi and Volkswagen World Touring Car programmes.

For the 2019-20 FE season, sister VW Group company Porsche joined the championship with drivers Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani and finished eighth in the standings - two places behind Audi.

Both FE teams' operations and powertrain technology are totally independent, with the Porsche set-up utilising the learnings of the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car - a project killed off at the end of the 2017 WEC season.

This news of Audi's decision to leave FE comes just a day after the Mahindra Racing team became the first FE outfit to commit to the championship for at least the next three seasons by signing up to the incoming Gen3 regulations.

With the FE grid at the maximum 24-car capacity, Audi's exit will afford space for a new two-car entry.

This is unlikely to be Honda, despite its F1 exit, and although Aston Martin executive chairman Lawrence Stroll held talks about a potential buyout of an FE team, the manufacturer has shelved plans for its all-electric Lagonda sub-brand in recent days.

Audi head of motorsport Dieter Gass (pictured) will also be vacating his position, with Seebach set to assume responsibility for the company's international motorsport activities.

"The DTM has shaped my life over the past eight years," said Gass, who succeeded Dr Wolfgang Ullrich in 2017.

"It was an incredibly intense time during which my family didn't see me very often on weekends.

"That's why the end of the DTM era, as we all know it, is a good opportunity for me to also start something new, especially since 2020 was a particularly intense year due to the integration of factory racing into Audi Sport GmbH."

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