It’s been awhile since I’ve written a motor sport related post, mostly because I’ve seen so few races live this season. Most of the time my work schedule has prevented me from watching live on TV, so I’ve been watching on DVR or You Tube. That’s been disappointing because watching delayed isn’t nearly as fun as watching live; without the benefit of timing and scoring and information coming in from social media, it’s much harder to keep up with strategy. That said, at least I’ve been able to watch… On to the point of this post, however – recent events have caused me to question my support of a manufacturer I’ve long respected. I’ve been an Audi fan for years because of their sportsmanship and emphasis on engineering. Actions by their motor sports chief in DTM and by their parent company with road cars have brought me to question how much I want to continue cheering for Audi in their motor sports endeavors.
One of the reasons I became a fan of Audi was sportsmanship. Particularly at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they seemed to be the model of sportsmanship in both victory and defeat. When they won, they were gracious to their opponents and invited them to take part in celebrations. In defeat they were also gracious, often the first to congratulate the winning team. Audi gave their drivers second chances, even after making huge mistakes in the biggest of races (Mike Rockenfeller at Le Mans (Mike Rockenfeller at Le Mans in 2007 comes to mind). In today’s world of professional sports, it was an attitude that was refreshing. On 2 August 2015 at the DTM race in Spielberg, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Audi’s Motor Sports chief ordered driver Timo Scheider to “schieb ihn raus” (push him out) during his race with Robert Wickens and Pascal Wehrlein. Scheider punted Wickens’ car which caused Wickens to hit Wehrlein’s car, spinning them both (at the time Wehrlein was leading the DTM championship). Schieder was suspended for one race and Ullrich was banned from DTM for the rest of the season. Needless to say, I found this very disappointing. After thinking about it, however I decided to treat Ullrich’s and Audi’s action at Spielberg as a one off. Compared to previous behavior, it seemed to be a bizarre and unique event and I decided not to let it color my opinion of Audi.
Throughout Audi’s recent motor sports history, I’ve loved how they used technology such as all wheel drive and turbo direct injection (TDI). I loved how they brought diesel engines into the top level of motor sports in Le Mans prototypes. VW and Audi used motor sports to help promote their diesel road cars as fuel efficient and clean. In the past week, it has been revealed that Volkswagen and Audi (VW is Audi’s parent company) have equipped their diesel cars in North America with a “defeat device” that allowed the engines to meet emissions requirements during tests but exceed them during normal driving, circumventing emission regulations while claiming to be environmentally friendly. I love the idea of winning through engineering excellence or technological advancement, but it has to be within the rules. This is a clear example of using technology and engineering to break and circumvent the rules, which brings us back to sportsmanship. While the “defeat device” had nothing to do with their motor sport engines, the device is still a clear attempt at cheating, and they cheated successfully for a good while. Cheating is hardly being sporting. It makes you wonder if the engine seal problem Audi had at Le Mans wasn’t an error, perhaps there was more to it…
After Spielberg, I could reason things away but I can’t do that after the issue with the diesel engine “defeat devices.” I’ve thought long and hard about it and I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to support Audi right now. I can’t support a manufacturer that was party to a cheat on this level. Perhaps one day VW Group and Audi will atone for what they did and I’ll be able to again support them, but for now I just can’t do it with a good conscience.