Volkswagen and the World Rally Championship: A potent force
Before their recent withdrawal from the sport, Volkswagen had established themselves as a formidable player on the World Rally Championship stage sweeping to dominant and consecutive World Titles. Here’s a look back over the recent history of a rallying heavyweight.
Cast your mind back to the autumn of 2015. The automotive world has just been rocked by the emissions scandal that implicates Volkswagen of employing cheat devices in its road cars to get around Government emissions targets. It’s huge news and is an event that has far-reaching consequences for not only VW but the automotive industry as a whole. Multiple road cars globally are recalled as the manufacturer faces legal action from numerous government bodies around the world.
Given that this event is a public relations disaster for one of the worlds largest automotive makers, Volkswagen faced some stark choices. Faced with cleaning up its act and budgeting for inevitable fines and compensation payments, there were a number of high profile victims as a result of the scandal and one major consequence was the closure of the rally team.
Fresh off the back of 4 consecutive driver and constructors crowns, one of the WRC’s unstoppable forces ceased to exist.
Developing the Volkswagen Polo WRC, Volkswagen had immediate success with the machine. Win’s and podiums came relentlessly inflicting a devasting blow on rival teams ambitions. Employing the services of World Rallying heavyweight Sebastien Ogier, car and driver worked together beautifully to string together campaign after campaign of dominance from 2013 through to 2016.
Alongside Ogier during this time were Finlands Jari-Matti Latvala and Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen as the Polo WRC entered 52 rallies. Of those, it won 43 of them and also collected 87 podiums along the way with the ultimate prize of 12 overall titles by the time the project came to a close.
At the time of the cancellation of Volkswagens WRC project, the 2017 WRC challenger was already well advanced. Looking to capitalise on a major rules change for the 2017 season Volkswagen poured in a vast amount of resources to ensure it kept its stranglehold at the top of the WRC pecking order.
Alas, the 2017 challenger would never see the light of day. Despite numerous attempts by privateers to run the machines as independents, FIA legislation and the lack of time available to turn the cars around ultimately meant these thoroughbred machines never turned a wheel in competition anger.
Ogier left without a drive for 2017, sought refuge at M-Sport behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta WRC car and went on to add to his 4 Volkswagen drivers titles by winning the 2017 and 2018 World Drivers Championship.
Whether Volkswagen will return to the rally stages in future remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, they’ve left an indelible mark on the pages of the World Rally Championship history books.