VOLKSWAGENS are expected to contest the WRC2 category of the FIA World Rally Championship from 2018 as R5-specification Polo models driven by customers after the manufacturer today announced its current WRC program will end at Kennards Hire Rally Australia this month.
The company confirmed its change of direction on Wednesday morning following a board meeting 24 hours earlier, meaning Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 17-20 November will be fans’ last chance to see the Volkswagen Motorsport team in action.
Volkswagen’s current drivers, four-time champion Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, are expected to keep competing at the elite level, but there has been no mention yet about their plans.
After winning 12 WRC titles between 2013 and 2016, Volkswagen rather than continuing next season with an all-new Polo R World Rally Car will start development of its first R5 based on the next-generation Polo road car, WRC.com reported.
It will be eligible for the WRC2 category and other championships and will be available for customers to buy from 2018.
Volkswagen will boost a WRC2 field crowded with contenders representing major car brands.
Its WRC rivals Hyundai, Citroen and M-Sport (Ford) already have R5 cars, while the Peugeot 208 and Mitsubishi Mirage also compete in R5 form. Toyota, the world’s number one auto maker, which will join the WRC next year, is said to have expressed interest in an R5 program after it beds down its Yaris WRC.
WRC2 has provided some of the closest competition during this season.
Volkswagen’s sister company Skoda is bidding to clinch the WRC2 title with its Fabia R5 and Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi at Rally Australia.
Frank Welsch, Volkswagen’s board member responsible for technical development, said the company faced 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,” Welsch said.
Since entering WRC in 2013, Volkswagen has won the drivers’ and manufacturers’ title in all four seasons. Sébastien Ogier clinched his fourth consecutive title in Spain last month and he and teammates Latvala and Mikkelsen have scored 42 wins from 51 rallies.
“I want to give our heartfelt thanks to our drivers and co-drivers for their outstanding achievements,” said Welsch, who added there was a guarantee of employment for the 200 Volkswagen Motorsport staff.
Team director Sven Smeets, who replaced Jost Capito at the helm in September, will oversee Volkswagen’s finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
“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,” Smeets said.
“At the same time, our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the great 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.”