Audi was “ready to go” testing with its LMDh car when the decision was made to scrap its high-profile return to the top echelon of sportscar racing, key people working at the German manufacturer have revealed.
Audi was due to compete in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next year after signing up for the new cost-effective LMDh formula at the end of 2020.
It had already recruited DTM stars Rene Rast and Nico Muller to lead the development of the project, while a deal was also struck with long-time GT partner WRT to become its official factory team, although it was never announced.
The car was being developed in parallel with Porsche around Multimatic’s next-gen LMP2 chassis and both Volkswagen Group brands were also going to use the same twin-turbo V8 engine along with the spec hybrid system.
But while Porsche became the first manufacturer to roll out its LMDh car in the middle of January, Audi soon axed the programme that would have allowed it to add to its 13 wins at Le Mans 24 Hours.
Initially, Audi only went as far as saying the project has been “paused” to allow it to deploy its capacity elsewhere, and official confirmation of the programme being canned did not arrive until August when it announced its plan to join Formula 1 in 2026.
Now it has emerged that Audi was at such an advanced stage with the successor to the R18 that the car would have completed its first test had the call to abandon the project came a few weeks later.
“At the end the car was ready to go,” Muller revealed to Motorsport.com. “We worked a lot on the sim, everything was ready to go into proper on-track testing.
“It had been developed together with Porsche; it is no secret that they shared the same platform with Multimatic.
“Would I have loved to drive it? It was very close, but the call came a few weeks too early.”
Audi’s customer racing chief Chris Reinke stated that the two VW marques were nearly neck-and-neck with the progress of their cars at the start of the year, hinting just how close the Audi LMDh was to getting its first on-track test.
“We were obviously in partnership with Porsche developing the car and therefore you can read where Porsche was - it's publicly accessible where the status of the car was,” Reinke, who previously headed Audi's LMP1 programme, told Motorsport.com.
“Internally at Audi it has been decided to focus on Formula 1 and therefore for everybody who had maybe an emotional link or a commitment to LMDh, that possibility was shortened.”
Audi last raced in the WEC during the peak of the series’ LMP1 era in 2016 with the diesel-powered R18.
Its decision to cancel its LMDh programme has led to Muller joining Peugeot’s hypercar team, while both Rast and WRT have jumped ship to rival German marque BMW.