Monday, October 20, 2014

Audi in WTCC – A fan’s point of view

By Tarek Ramchani

The Audi brand has a long and very successful heritage in touring car racing. It started in early 1990s with the legendary V8 quattro in the demanding DTM. Later the Four Ring dominated the golden Super Touring era with the A4 quattro STW. In 2004 Audi returned in the DTM with a factory effort, scoring no less than six drivers titles in years that followed.

Currently European touring car racing has three major championships, the DTM of course, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC). Audi cars compete in two out of these three series. The DTM, as mentioned earlier, with a factory effort and in the BTCC via two privateer efforts from Rob Austin Racing (Audi A4) and Rotek Racing (Audi S3).

As a long-time Audi motorsport and touring car racing fan, here I will talk about my wish to see Audi entering the FIA World Touring Car Championship. And to makes it clear right from the start, my thoughts and views are my own and DO NOT in any way reflect Audi AG or Audi Motorsport policies or views.

There are no doubts that the WTCC is very popular worldwide. The series is celebrating its tenth season of competition this year. It all started in 2005, when the former FIA European Touring Car Championship was promoted to international level and became a true FIA World Championship. From 2005 to 2013 the WTCC used the S2000 formula with many brands taking part in the championship, with works entries from BMW, Alfa Romeo, SEAT, Chevrolet and Honda.

Starting this year, WTCC officials made a radical move switching from the very production based S2000 formula to a new generation of cars called TC1. The cars are faster, look more aerodynamic  and aggressive, which made them a little bit closer to DTM.

Right now there are no Audi efforts in the WTCC and there is no doubt that many of the brand's fans want to see Audi entries. Who doesn't want to see Audi A4s or Audi A3s racing against some of the best teams like Citroen and Honda? The idea of Audi cars competing around the world is cracking no doubts. The excellent TV coverage has made the series very popular since its first year. The WTCC can be an ideal platform, not only for racing successes, but also for marketing targets.

However, with Audi fully committed to both the FIA World Endurance Championship and the DTM with full factory efforts, it’s nearly impossible to see the brand joining WTCC with a works team. The FIA WEC is vital with Le Mans as a pinnacle and so is the DTM, racing against the two historical premium brands rivals of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

An Audi presence in the WTCC could be done in two ways. The first is to have factory blessed teams, as is the case in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, where Mattias Ekstrom’s team EKSRX is fielding two Audi S1 quattros with slight factory support. The other option is to let independent teams field Audi cars by giving them the green light for the homologation processes. FIA rules are clear, any TC1 car needs a manufacture's approval to be homologated and allowed to compete in WTCC. This is the case this year with Chevrolet, where TC1 Cruze cars are built in house by RML, with no support from the American brand.

Let’s be honest, the media and fans do look at the winning brand when it comes to GT3 racing. When Audi customer teams win the Spa 24 Hours, the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the Blancpain Endurance Series or any other sportscar event around the world, it is seen as an Audi victory. Only a few distinguish the real difference between the various customer teams and the manufacturer, only the brand name matters with less focus on teams’ names. The very same can work in WTCC. Touring car racing is all about production based racing, therefore the brands and models do really matter. Any potential Audi victory in WTCC, even in privateer hands, would be a success for the brand itself.

For all these reasons I really want to see Audi cars racing in WTCC. It won’t be easy to see it happen, however the idea is no doubt a dream for thousands of touring car racing fans and Audi motorsport followers.

Photo credit: WTCC