Archive | WRC

08 November 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Comment: Volkswagen exits the World Rally Championship

After the 2016 running of Rally Australia, the Polo R WRC will be no more. editor Rich Gooding celebrates the Polo R WRC’s rallying success and analyses what Volkswagen’s withdrawal from the World Rally Championship means for the series in 2017, and what motorsport arena the company could have success in next

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Portugal: Latvala/Anttila

Even though Volkswagen’s exit from the World Rally Championship (WRC) from 2016 was officially confirmed last Wednesday, the shock announcement is still sinking in. Four-wheel drive, 318bhp rallying Polos have been part of my life for the past five years, since VW’s top-flight participation in one of the most exciting areas of motorsport was announced in Sardinia. It was then that the Polo R WRC concept car was also unveiled, signalling Volkswagen’s intent and desire to win.

Four-year dominance
And win it has. Massively so. It describes its four-year dominance of the sport as ‘four historically successful years’, and with twelve titles (Drivers’, Co-drivers’, and Manufacturers’ Championships) to its name since 2013, that’s quite a fitting description. Of the 51 international gravel and asphalt rallies the Polo R WRC had competed in, it took an amazing 42 wins with 621 best times from over 900 special stages. It remains the most successful car ever in the World Rally Championship.

Which makes the blow that there will not be a four-wheel drive super-Polo howling though the forests, sliding on the mud and dust-lined gravel tracks, and skimming across asphalt roads all the harder to take. It’s made all the regretful due to the fact that – at last – there may have been some road car correlation, too: the 2017 rally Polo was due to be badged ‘GTI’ or at least have the iconic three letters in its name.

Bulked-up looks, faster pace
With Audi’s withdrawal from the World Endurance Championship (WEC) racing series, the first seeds were planted for the cancellation of the WRC programme. But I for one, refused to believe it. The new Polo R WRC developed for 2017’s more exciting WRC regulations was far down the development road, even having been tested ahead of the 2016 Wales Rally GB just last month. Wrapped in its distinctive ‘zebra’ camouflage, its bulked-up looks, larger spoilers and faster pace promised so, so much.

2017 Volkswagen Polo R WRC

Criminally, that car will now (or at least for the foreseeable future) never be seen and never turn a wheel in anger in public. At least two prototypes had been built. I would guess that they are now either due to be destroyed, or, I hope, tucked away for posterity. Decades later they may be re-discovered as a ‘what might have been’ car, just as has been the case with Audi’s Group S prototype this year. Rumour has it that nine complete 2017-specification machines were in the pipeline for next year.

It’s not known what will happen to the ‘series’ Polo R WRCs, too, although as they have been seen balletically dancing through global rally stages in front of fans, I’m more confident in their hideaway and keepsake fate being safe. Sources state that around 34 cars have been built, along with three ‘mock-ups’ for motor show appearances: that’s a lot of metal and composite to destroy.

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02 November 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Polo R WRC is dead: Volkswagen exits the World Rally Championship

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC

In a shock move, Volkswagen has ‘reliagned’ its motorsport programme and pulled out of all future commitment to the World Rally Championship (WRC). Rumours started to circulate at the start of the week, ahead of a company board meeting yesterday. And today came the official announcement of the news we’d been dreading. After the final round of the 2016 season – Rally Australia – later this month, the Polo R WRC is no more.

‘Four historically successful years’
The company states that, ‘From 2017, Volkswagen will focus on new technologies and customer sport’, and that its involvement with top-level rallying will come to an end after ‘four historically successful years’. And what a ‘historical successful’ quartet of years it was: Volkswagen Motorsport and the Polo R WRC won twelve titles (Drivers’, Co-drivers’, and Manufacturers’ Championships) from 2013 to 2016, and have dominated the sport since the super-Polo first turned a wheel in anger at the 2013 Monte-Carlo Rally.

Talk about leaving on a high, though. The 318bhp four-wheel drive version of the German supermini competed in 51 international gravel and asphalt rallies and had an amazing 42 wins with 621 best times from over 900 special stages – a truly impressive feat making it the most successful car ever in the World Rally Championship. Just last weekend Volkswagen Motorsport scooped its fourth manufacturers’ title* at the 2016 running of Wales Rally GB.

New WRC technical regulations
Why a shock move? The motorsport outfit from Hannover had been quite far down the development road of the 2017 Polo R WRC, which would have been more powerful and more wildly-styled than the current car due to new technical regulations in the championship which come into force next year. Rumour has it that car will now be mothballed or crushed – we hope some examples of both it and the 2013 to 2016 machine are kept for historical purposes.

In front of 200 Volkswagen Motorsport employees in Hannover, Frank Welsch, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Technical Development said: ‘The Volkswagen brand is facing enormous challenges. With the upcoming expansion in electrification of our vehicle range we must focus all our efforts on important future technologies. We far exceeded our sporting goals in the WRC, now we are realigning Volkswagen Motorsport and moving the vehicle technology of the future more starkly into focus’. All employees’ jobs are guaranteed to be safe.

‘R5’-specification Polo in 2018
However, while the Polo R WRC is a sad and unfortunate casualty of today’s announcement, there is hope. Volkswagen Motorsport will refocus on customer racing, primarily with the Golf GTI TCR touring car racer and the Global Rallycross Championship Beetle. But, a new, less powerful, customer-focused rallying Polo is on the cards, too. The ‘R5’-specification Polo will be available for teams to buy in 2018 and will be based on the new sixth-generation car expected to be launched next year. It is said that the new car will benefit from the experience gained by the Polo R WRC’s dominance.

Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets commented: ‘Of course, we regret the departure from the WRC very much – as this was the most successful chapter in the Volkswagen brand’s motorsport history. The team has done great things. At the same time, our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the challenges facing the entire company. We want our realignment to contribute to the success of the Volkswagen brand. From now on, the focus is on upcoming technologies in motorsport and on our customer sports range, where we will position ourselves more broadly and attractively.’

*Subject to ratification of the results by the FIA.

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31 October 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Volkswagen claims its twelfth WRC title in four years at 2016 Rally Great Britain

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Great Britain: Ogier/Ingrassia

Newly-crowned World Rally Champions* Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia ensured Volkswagen Motorsport claimed its twelfth FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) title in four years, as the pair clinched victory at the 2016 Rally Great Britain. Round 12 of the 13-event 2016 series took place in Wales, the 330.21kms run from 28-30 October. The win in and around the muddy forest tracks means that Volkswagen Motorsport has lifted the Drivers’, Co-drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championship trophies in every year it has taken part in the WRC since 2013.

Fourth consecutive win
The Welsh victory was the fourth consecutive win for Ogier and Ingrassia – and their sixth of the season – and gives Volkswagen an unassailable lead in the 2016 Manufacturers’ Championship, with one round still to play out in Australia next month. The German outfit now joins Citroën as only the second manufacturer to win all three titles four years in a row. Only Peugeot, Citroën and Lancia have more titles to their name, with five, eight and ten wins respectively. Even all-conquering Audi only won two.

Ogier and Ingrassia continued their Rally Great Britain winning streak which they demonstrated in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and came hot on the heels of wins in Germany, Franc and Spain. It also marked the first time the Frenchmen have won the same event four consecutive times. Held two weeks earlier than usual, the typical Rally Great Britain fog, rain and mud appeared to prove little challenge for Ogier and Ingrassia, who slid into the lead from the opening stage.

For once, running first – thanks to drivers’ standings starting positions – on the stages played into the French duo’s favour, but from then on, the pair were embroiled in a close battle with DMACK’s Ott Tänak and Raigo Mōlder, who put up the toughest fight to win the British stages. By the end of the first day, Ogier and Ingrassia had won five of the eight stages and set a lead of 37.3 seconds. By the end of day three, Tänak and Mōlder had narrowed it down to 10.2s.

‘An incredible journey’
Ogier was excited about the British win: ‘This victory is fantastic. I am so delighted that we have wrapped up the manufacturers’ title for our fantastic team. It was hard work hanging onto our lead in the extremely slippery conditions. Ott Tänak put us under a lot of pressure, so Julien and I had to push ourselves to the limit all weekend. But we did it.

‘Looking back, we have all been on an incredible journey over the past four years. To have such a run of success is definitely something very special – particularly in motorsport, where so many different factors come into play. I am very happy that I opted for Volkswagen before anyone knew where this WRC adventure would take us,’ the champion-elect* enthused.

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22 October 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Ogier and Ingrassia claim fourth WRC drivers’ championship title at Rally Spain

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Spain: Ogier/Ingrassia

Volkswagen Motorsport’s Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have been crowned 2016 World Rally Championship (WRC) drivers’ champions*, after taking victory at Rally Spain. The Polo R WRC-driving duo were awarded their fourth Drivers’ Championship after just 11 events from the 2016 series, with two rounds still to go. The 321.08km-long Rally Spain took place around Barcelona and the Costa Daurada region of the country from 14-16 October.

Quartet of titles
The Spanish podium was Ogier’s and Ingrassia’s fifth win of the season, and their ninth in 11 events. The quartet of titles lifts the French pair alongside other multiple champions Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Mäkinen, with only compatriot Sébastien Loeb having more wins to his name. Ogier has spent a total of 952 days at the top of the drivers’ standings, and with each title the dominant Frenchman has gained the championship with events to spare.

The 2016 Rally Spain win was the gallic duo’s 37th victory and their 30th with Volkswagen Motorsport since the German manufacturer’s WRC campaign began in 2013. However, the mixed surface gravel and asphalt event wasn’t an easy fight. Local driver Dani Sordo led the way in his Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC, with Ogier and Ingrassia losing 17 seconds on day one to the Spaniard thanks to wet weather and mud-covered routes.

Cool determination
Day two saw the French pair claw back precious time, though. The rest of the stages were run on asphalt, and Ogier turned his time deficit into a 5.8-second lead, and won five of the eight special stages. On Sunday, day three, that lead was extended still further thanks to the Gap-born driver’s cool determination and he and Ingrassia finished a whole 15.6 seconds ahead of Sordo and Marc Marti, while Belgian Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC crew Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul were behind their team-mates in third.

Ogier was enthusiastically upbeat: ’I feel fantastic! The fourth world championship title for Julien and me, it is impossible to describe how this feels. It is an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as such big names as Kankkunen and Mäkinen. I would like to say a huge thank you to our team at Volkswagen. Without them, Julien and I would not be here today. They do a fantastic job all year and we have had a perfect car all season. I had great fun at the wheel of the Polo R WRC once again this weekend.

‘The tension ahead of the closing Power Stage was obviously greater than usual, given the fact that we were within touching distance of the title, and bearing in mind the mistake we made last year. But we’ve done it. Despite the more difficult regulations, and despite the strong opposition. I am extremely proud of this title. It is now time to celebrate in style with my team and my wife – and when I get home I can show my young son Tim the trophy that daddy won. I dedicate this world championship title to him.’

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04 October 2016 ~ 0 Comments

In front at Rally France: Ogier and Volkswagen victorious in Corsica

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally France: Ogier/Ingrassia

Three-time world rally champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are one step nearer to claiming a fourth consecutive drivers’ title in the World Rally Championship (WRC) after claiming a debut victory at Rally France, held on the island of Corsica from 29 September to 2 October.

Fortieth Polo R WRC win
The French duo awarded the 318bhp all-wheel drive Polo R WRC its 40th victory on the asphalt roads through the mountains and the 390.92kms of stages on the event known as the ‘Rally of 10,000 Corners’ (there are in fact just 659 ‘real turns’). They themselves scored the 36th win of their career and dominated the Corsican stages from the word go.

The reigning champions won half of the ten special stages, and set all the best times of the first day – a first since Volkswagen Motorsport entered the WRC in 2013. Ogier and Ingrassia were back on home turf and back on an asphalt surface, and they took full advantage. The smooth surface needed no ‘sweeping’ unlike the gravel tracks of the mid-season events where the pair have posted slower stage times, due to their first place starting positions.

Early dominance
Ogier and Ingrassia’s early dominance showed world champion skills and through a blend of a powerful performance, the right tyre choices for the mixed dry and damp stage conditions, and a cool determination, the Frenchmen set the pace and kept it there, right until the end of the event. Team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jæger were chasing hard, along with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in their i20 WRC.

Coincidentally, the French pair’s leading chasers were also the crews which could deny them a fourth consecutive WRC title. Ogier and Ingrassia’s win meant that their lead in the Drivers’ Championship is now 68 points: a third place and a point on the Power Stage at Rally Spain would see them crowned champions for the fourth time.

That’s regardless of other results, with only Mikkelsen/Jæger and Neuville/Gilsoul able to stop the current champions taking another trophy: the other Volkswagen Motorsport crew of Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished fourth in France and are sadly now out of title contention.

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