Companies do not talk officially about the costs of taking part in racing but insiders estimate that a season of F1 costs about 400 million euros and an endurance race like Le Mans about a tenth of that, so 40 million euros, although the costs decrease because you don't have to develop a car each season from the scratch. Audi employs about 250 people in its motor sports department, not just for Le Mans, but also for other endurance races such as Belgium's Spa endurance race or Germany's DTM touring car series.
Le Mans takes place over a single weekend, attracting not just 250,000 spectators at the track but also millions of TV and Internet viewers, according to Audi. Formula One's 19 races attract a huge global audience, especially in emerging markets that are growing in importance for automakers. Last year, an average of more than 96 million spectators globally watched every F1 race, according to internal data of a F1 team. The last F1 race attracted almost 7 million TV viewers in Germany alone. A DTM race is seen by about 2.2 million German TV viewers on average. Le Mans has smaller viewing figures, with an average of 200,000 viewers in Audi's home market of Germany.
Audi r&d boss Michael Dick said Audi's Le Mans win this year was the toughest to achieve, which perhaps also made it the most valuable one. "At the same time, albeit involuntarily, we proved that our engineers design very safe cars." He said Le Mans has always been a perfect testing ground for Audi's innovative technology, for example in aerodynamics, engine performance or LED lighting. "It was a fantastic triumph of Audi's ultra-lightweight technology in extreme conditions," said CEO Rupert Stadler, who watched the thrilling race from the pits with other Audi board members and VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn.
Audi invited 1,200 guests from 25 countries including key customers and top-performing dealers. And Le Mans could gain in importance and other factory teams that once took part but quit, such as Porsche and Toyota. Audi will have the advantage of having gained lots of experience.
An Audi manager defended the brand's participation in Le Mans, saying the race covered 5,400 km in one weekend, "more than a Formula One car in a year." And only the winner enjoys the spotlight in Formula One, which is currently dominated not by an automaker, but by the energy drinks company Red Bull. Mercedes last won the F1 title in 2008. BMW quit the race in 2009 and concentrates on DTM.
In this year's Le Mans race Audi was on the brink of disaster when two of its cars crashed, although both drivers survived. The first accident almost killed some photographers. If someone had died or the third car had also crashed instead of winning, the negative media coverage would have been disastrous for Audi. Everyone knows motor sports is not pony trekking, but the risks at Le Mans are especially high. And there is only one race, not 19 like in F1, so there is little room for error.
In a nutshell: Le Mans is definitely a very expensive and risky race for a brand like Audi, but it is also very prestigious. And sometimes you have to invest in areas where your fiercest rivals are absent to boost your brand's profile. In Le Mans, Audi might have reached fewer people than Formula One does, but those who followed the race will stay deeply impressed for a long time.