Hawkins to VW Cup

Motor Sport News - - Racing News - DEPUTY ED­I­TOR ROB LAD­BROOK

Jes­sica Hawkins, 21-year-old for­mer kart and sin­gle-seater racer, made her Volk­swa­gen Rac­ing Cup de­but with Team Hard at Brands Hatch last week­end. She achieved two top 10 fin­ishes in prepa­ra­tion for a full as­sault on the cham­pi­onship in 2017.

This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all. But, cru­cially, it isn’t the end of the world.

Since its ar­rival into the sport in the late 1990s, Audi has grown into per­haps the most iconic sportscar rac­ing brand of the mod­ern era. It was a pi­o­neer, both in terms of rac­ing car de­sign and en­gine tech­nol­ogy.

Audi pretty much sin­gle-hand­edly made the world sit up and take no­tice of diesel tech­nol­ogy. In fact be­fore 2006 you’d strug­gle to buy a diesel car in Amer­ica. All that changed af­ter Audi’s win at Sebring that year with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary R10.

But now we’ve come to this. Eigh­teen years and 13 Le Mans wins later and the dream is over. Audi has con­tested its last Le Mans al­ready, well, its last for the fore­see­able fu­ture any­way.

Ques­tions had been raised about the fu­ture of the pro­gramme, with the Volk­swa­gen-audi Group not keen on bankrolling two of its brands against each other in the same arena, es­pe­cially when suf­fer­ing the fall­out from the ‘diesel­gate’ emis­sions scan­dal.

For a firm al­ready with rocked cred­i­bil­ity over its diesel en­gines, a rac­ing pro­gramme cen­tring on one doesn’t re­ally add up.

Audi’s with­drawal will be keenly felt in both the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship and the Le Mans 24 Hours. It re­duces the ranks of the LMP1 divi­sion by ef­fec­tively 30 per cent, and leaves just Porsche and Toy­ota to bat­tle it out.

But is that such a bad thing? Re­mem­ber, when the WEC was re­born in 2012 it fea­tured just two brands – Audi and Toy­ota. Ad­mit­tedly it should have been three, but Peu­geot opted to pull the plug a few months be­fore­hand, forc­ing Toy­ota to step in swiftly. But be­fore that Le Mans was al­most ex­clu­sively Audi v Peu­geot for five years, and no­body was cry­ing out des­per­ately for a third fac­tory team then.

The WEC, and Le Mans, will sur­vive. Granted, man­u­fac­tur­ers bring a lot of cred­i­bil­ity and mar­ket­ing power to a cham­pi­onship, but that cham­pi­onship can­not be dic­tated by or overly de­pen­dant on them.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers come and go, and WEC boss Ger­ard Neveu has al­ready said that while Audi will be missed, its ab­sence won’t de­value the cham­pi­onship.

“One man­u­fac­turer is leav­ing, others will soon be ar­riv­ing, and we have a 32 car grid for next year. This is the life of a cham­pi­onship,” he said.

So chin up, and in­stead of be­ing sad Audi is gone, in­stead be thank­ful its 18-year pro­gramme hap­pened at all.

Le Mans 24 Hours was Audi v Peu­geot for years

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