Just last week, the Volkswagen Group pulled the plug on Audi‘s Le Mans racing program. But that may not be the end of it. Reports are now circulating that the German automaker could pull its own brand out of the World Rally Championship as well.
According to Autosport, the board is set to meet in Wolfsburg today to decide on the fate of VW’s victorious WRC program. This despite utter domination of the top-tier rally series for four years running now.
VW pivoted into the WRC in 2013, building on its own success in the Dakar rally and that of its sister brand Skoda in the alternative, lower-level Intercontinental Rally Challenge. In the four season since, it has won 39 rallies and four consecutive championships – dominating the standings for manufacturers, drivers, and co-drivers – having just locked up all three titles again.
The team lost its experienced director recently when Jost Capito departed for McLaren, leaving its operation to deputy Sven Smeets. That may have little to do with the decision, however. The impetus for Wolfsburg’s apparent loss of appetite for motorsport comes down to the diesel emissions scandal from which the company is still recovering. Though the announcement on Audi’s WEC program cited a preference towards Formula E as part of the decision, it also referenced “the context of the current burdens on the brand” as one of the reasons for its “strategic decision.”
While the group’s various brands are present in a wide array of motorsport disciplines, the withdrawal of both Volkswagen and Audi from their respective fields would leave Porsche as the only brand under the umbrella competing in a top-tier international racing series.
Audi remains involved in DTM and Formula E, and joins Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini in constructing GT racing cars for customer teams. Skoda remains present in lower-tier rallying, Seat withdrew from the World Touring Car Championship years ago, and it would appear that plans for Bentley to launch an LMP2 endurance racing prototype are now unlikely to get off the ground.
The board could, however, grant VW’s motorsport program a stay of execution for one more year, which it is already believed to have done last year. The WRC is implementing a new set of regulations for next season into which VW (and its competitors) would already have prepared for at considerable cost.