Thank you, Audi

Dear Audi,

We’re very much looking forward to welcoming you to the Formula E paddock as a full works team, although the world of racing will indeed be a poorer place without your marvellous prototype machines.

Since 1999, you have pushed the boundaries of what we believed to be possible when it came to motor racing. You bucked the trend by switching to diesel power at Le Mans in 2006 – and won. You did it again by becoming the first manufacturer to win Le Mans with a hybrid in 2012. Since the dawn of the new millennium, you’ve won Le Mans 13 times out a possible 17; you’ve won the WEC title twice since its formation (in 2012 and 2013).

You haven’t just thought outside the box. You’ve deconstructred it, redesigned it, and repackaged our expectactions and our emotions in a way not seen since a Swedish company decided to get into shelves and wardrobes.

I’m 21 years old: to me, Audi hasn’t just raced at Le Mans: Audi has been Le Mans. To me, Le Mans without Audi is like F1 without Bernie (it’ll happen one day but not today, never today).

One of my most memorable experiences in racing came in 2013, when I first ventured to the Circuit de la Sarthe. My friends and I climbed up the bank so we were overlooking the straight following the Porsche Curves. We watched the cars stream past. The one that really stood out to me was the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. “It sounds like a spaceship,” I said, breathtaken. It looked like one, too. And it travelled just as fast. In fact, take that vehicle to some of the less-trod places of this world (or Chatham) and people really would think it’s from another planet.

It is sensory experiences such as these that stick with motorsport fans; it isn’t just me whose adulthood and career will be shaped by the experience of witnessing that clever creation for the first time. The WEC landscape without you will be like Egypt short of the pyramids, China without its great wall and London without its most famous clocktower chiming throughout the day.

Through all of your success, you have acted with dignity, courage and grace. Everything about your racing involvement at Le Mans and in WEC has exuded class and excellence. To have bowed out of the top tier of sportscar racing with a one-two finish in Bahrain, executed crisply and commandingly, was no less than you deserved.

With the weight of recent history in mind, we’re proud that you will be moving forwards in Formula E. The all-electric series has been the epitome of alternative thinking when it comes to motorsport and automotive development through its infancy, so we think you might quite like it here. It is our hope that your legions of WEC fans may do too. Sure, you’ve dipped your toes in the water with your connections with the ABT Schaeffler team, but the new commitment you’re making is a game changer. You’ve already thrived in the sphere of competition against other mighty manufacturers; taking on the likes of Renault, Jaguar, BMW and maybe even Mercedes in Formula E is a challenge we know you will relish.

In the early days of Formula E, a recurring question at press conferences was: “Do you think Formula E will overtake F1 or WEC?” (or similar). But that question betrays a significant degree of ignorance about people in general and about racing fans in particular. Variety is good, as a rule of thumb. When it comes to motor racing fans, it’s simple: if you love racing, you love racing, in whatever form it may take. A fan may follow one category more than another but, essentially, we want all motorsport to flourish so that we have as diverse a palette of racing as the diverse nature of the audiences eagerly watching. Your move from WEC to Formula E is not a sign of times shifting. Instead, it’s proof of your raison d’être: to innovate. If all you wanted to do was win, you’d remain in your comfort zone in the WEC but that’s not the Audi way.

A team may be referred to as a single entity but it is not, of course. It is a collection of people, and those people have invested years of time, emotion and effort into your WEC adventure. Some of them we know through our Formula E work, gents such as Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Allan McNish. We know they’ll miss the furnace of endurace racing with you; we’re confident that, as Formula E matures and moves forward, its own special brand of spectacle, technical innovation and down-to-the-wire racing will create many more storylines for you and those who, together, form the broader Audi identity.

Thank you for so many wonderful years of thinking differently. We sincerely hope that Le Mans has not lost the magnificence of four rings whistling around its hallowed paths forever. In the meantime, we stand ready and waiting to welcome you to a new racing chapter, and we look forward to travelling the world with you as part of Formula E.

Luke Smith

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