OGIER, LATVALA CLOSE TO DEALS; COULD VW RETURN?

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OGIER, LATVALA CLOSE TO DEALS; COULD VW RETURN?

THE futures of two of the WRC’s biggest names are expected to be secured in the coming days when Volkswagen’s former drivers Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala announce new deals for 2017.

And despite the Volkswagen factory team withdrawing from the WRC after the recent Kennards Hire Rally Australia, its new-spec 20-16 Polos could yet be seen competing in private hands.

According to reports in the Finnish media, Latvala has signed for Tommi Makinen’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team.

The deal, which is expected to be confirmed at the team’s launch event in Finland on 13 December, will mean Jari-Matti will join the team’s only other confirmed driver, Juho Hänninen, in a Yaris WRC, WRC.com reports.

Toyota won’t comment on the speculation, but if Latvala ends up in a Yaris next year, it suggests that Ogier, who tested the car himself in Spain last month, has ruled out this option.

Ogier is yet to declare his hand but is thought to be considering an offer from M-Sport – after he tested the Ford Fiesta RS last month – and hasn’t yet ruled out a switch to Citroën.

And in a unexpected late twist, there’s a chance Ogier could stay at the wheel of a Polo R next year after all.

Although four-time champion Volkswagen ended its manufacturer involvement this year, there is a new push from the VW board to get the all-new 2017-spec Polo R on the WRC stages with a privately-funded team.

Volkswagen Group motorsport chief Wolfgang Durheimer told Autocar magazine he had always been supportive of having the cars competing, despite the German manufacturers’ withdrawal as a factory team, and he is now in talks with interested parties.

He said that as long as it did not cost the firm any money, and the right deal could be found, VW Motorsport team staff could be sub-contracted to run and develop the cars.

“Whatever they want, our expertise will be available to hire,” he told Autocar.

“I hope the deal will be done to have a team in Monte-Carlo in January and competing in the entire championship. If that happens, it will be a wonderful story – the team will be considered the underdogs and will be welcomed by fans.

“If they do it right, it could be an incredible story.”

Unconfirmed reports suggest that long-time WRC competitor Nasser Al-Attiyah is leading one of the bids to run the Polo Rs in 2017. Al-Attiyah has long-established financial backing from Qatar, which is also one of Volkswagen’s largest shareholders.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.