There were some hopes that a privateer would pick up Audi’s R18 Le Mans prototype program where Audi left off, but that won’t be happening now. Team Penske owner Roger Penske asked Audi about running the R18 at Le Mans, but Audi won’t let be letting him or anyone else do it.
Penske told Motorsport.com, crushing the hopes and dreams of Audi LMP1 fans everywhere:
I talked about if we could get a privateer [effort] with some of those cars. But under the current situation with Audi, all the things they’re going through, they just said they’ve got enough eyeballs on them, they don’t need to be showing up at Le Mans.
I’d love to run at Le Mans, but if I did I’d love to run at the front.
The R18 would have been a plausible contender for running at the front of Le Mans, having won its final race in the World Endurance Championship. Penske would have been just the kind of competent outfit Audi was allegedly looking for to run the R18 program as a privateer as well, having over 50 years of morotsport experience with countless race wins to their name.
Sadly, with such scrutiny on Audi and the rest of the Volkswagen Group after Dieselgate, the company obviously feels that allowing its showiest piece of diesel performance technology in any year’s spec to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans isn’t a good look.
It would most likely have to be the 2016-spec R18 this late in the game, too, as there isn’t a fully-built 2017 car for anyone to just hop into a drive, either. Before he retired as Audi’s head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich told Motorsport.com that the 2017 car was only built as a 1:8 model and that no “historic” Audis would be making an appearance at Le Mans. Sad!
While this is about like hearing that the Easter Bunny isn’t real to many Audi fans who hoped that someone would bring the R18 back to Le Mans, we may still see Penske back in endurance racing yet. He’s currently seeking a manufacturer partner to field an IMSA DPi for the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s top Prototype class, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves at the top of the short list for potential drivers.