Hawkins to VW Cup
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