As a Rally enthusiast I from time to time try to persuade others that there is no better branch of motor sport. Driving as it should be and far more exciting a spectacle than the tedium that is Formula One. Although there are many diehard fans (see Rally Wales) for some odd reason this sport has failed to ignite the public as it once did in the deadly days of the old Group B cars. It doesn’t help when the most successful team ups and quits without a word of warning.
After yet another season of success at the top level of World Rally, Volkswagen have announced that they plan to ‘realign’ their motor sport programme with immediate effect. Rather than competing in the WRC next season with its all-new Polo R World Rally Car, Volkswagen will instead start development of a new car based on the next-generation Polo. The new car will be eligible for the WRC2 category and will be available for privateer customers to buy from 2018.
This was a bolt from the blue for fans. With four-times World Champion Sebastien Ogier at the helm, the team seemed unbeatable across the breadth of a full season. It is especially galling as new manufacturer teams are joining for what is shaping up to be a great season in 2107. Although he must have had some pre-knowledge, Ogier will likely have manufacturers lining up to get him to sign on the dotted line.
For next year the German company will instead focus on new technologies and customer sport. The commitment to the FIA World Rally Championship has suddenly come to an end after four historically successful years, in which Volkswagen won WRC titles in the driver, co-driver and manufacturer rankings in a row with the Polo R. Obviously they have their reasons and it is easiest to assume that their recent ‘history of shame’ might well have something to do with it.
The Volkswagen brand is facing enormous challenges. Money comes first. A spokesman said, “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. At the same time, Volkswagen is going to focus more on customer racing. As well as the Golf GTI TCR on the circuit track and the Beetle GRC in rally cross, we also want to offer customers top products and will develop a new Polo according to R5 regulations.” This should at least ensure that the 200 employees involved will keep their jobs.
Started in the 2016 season, the Golf GTI TCR prepared by Volkswagen Motorsport offers a production-derived customer sport vehicle for ambitious drivers and teams committed on global and national levels in the fast growing TCR touring car category.
In the USA, Volkswagen of America has successfully entered two Beetle vehicles, developed by Volkswagen Motorsport in Hanover, into the Global Rally cross series and has already prepared them for the 2017 season.
Scott Speed won the drivers’ title in the popular US series in both 2015 and 2016, and this season the manufacturer’s title also went to Volkswagen. The brand will investigate the expansion of these activities on the strength of their existing experience in rally cross.
Moreover, in 2017 Volkswagen will begin development of a new rally vehicle in the R5 category based on the next generation Polo and will offer the car to customers to buy from 2018 onward. This new vehicle will reap the benefit of the entire experience from the successful WRC commitment, where the factory teams competed in 51 rallies with 42 wins and 621 best times in the special stages – no other car in the history of the World Rally Championship has a better success rate. Then they jack it in. What a pity.
Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets explained: “Of course, we regret the departure from the WRC very much – as this was the most successful chapter in the Volkswagen brand’s motor sport history. The team has done great things. At the same time, our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the great challenges facing the entire company”. This suggests that accountants rule, as ever. Geoff Maxted