The confetti cannons have already gone off once. But now Volkswagen could pull off its next coup in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Having won the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championships in France, the factory team from Wolfsburg could now also clinch the manufacturers’ title at the forthcoming Rally Spain (24–27 October). The maths is simple: if either the new World Champions Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) or their Volkswagen team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) finish the Rally Spain in at least seventh place, Volkswagen will lift the manufacturers’ trophy. Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN) will also be competing in the third Volkswagen Polo R WRC again at the only rally of the year to be held on both asphalt and gravel.
Volkswagen to make a final spurt in the WRC
It would be a crowning achievement: Volkswagen originally set out aiming for podium finishes in its first year, wins in its second, and titles in its third. However, the team – which is not relying on any external assistance – has had a dream of a debut season. Milestone one: Volkswagen made it onto the podium in the very first race of the season, the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo. Milestone two: they bagged their first win at the next rally in Sweden. This was followed by another seven Volkswagen victories before Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia secured the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ World Championship titles* at 18:47 hrs on 03 October 2013 during the French rally.
A thoroughly self-made team
Volkswagen’s surprise success during the 2013 motorsport year is 100% a home-grown achievement. Only a few of manufacturers experienced comparable success in their debut year – and none of them did it on their own. Volkswagen’s success story centres on Hanover, the car maker’s motorsport base, and began back in 2004. Ever since it started competing in the Dakar Rally, Volkswagen has been pursuing a clear philosophy. While most other car makers enlist the help of external, experienced development and race support teams for their motorsport commitments, Volkswagen consistently uses its own people to design vehicles and assist on site at motorsport events. From the cars’ construction to the complex logistics and from quality control to accounting – Volkswagen Motorsport GmbH manages everything independently, only sourcing a handful of vehicle components from service providers.
The Rally Spain: two rallies rolled into one
The penultimate round of the World Rally Championship 2013 is truly unique – and a rally of contrasts. After starting out as a classic asphalt rally on the first two days, it turns into a thoroughbred gravel event on the Sunday. It would be an understatement to say that this changeover is stressful for the engineers and mechanics from the Volkswagen Motorsport team. On the Saturday evening, they have just 75 minutes to change the set-up of three Polo R WRCs from asphalt to gravel. This doesn’t just been swapping the shock absorbers and springs – the adjustments also include changing the vehicle height and fitting a thick underbody protector. On top of all that, they have to replace parts of the suspension, the differential and the gearbox. Instead of asphalt tyres weighing in at 21 kilos per wheel (including the rim), four-kilo open-tread gravel tyres are also used for the last six Special Stages.
“El Priorat”: loved and feared by drivers and fans alike
These contrasts pose a massive challenge for the drivers too. At the start of the rally on the Friday evening, the drivers have to complete the first three Special Stages in utter darkness en route from the opening ceremony in Barcelona to the rally’s base in the seaside resort of Salou. On the Saturday, they face another six Special Stages on asphalt in the mountains inland from the Costa Dorada. This includes tackling “El Priorat” twice – loved by fans for its spectacular hairpin bends. At 42.04 kilometres, it is also the longest SS of the rally.
All change on Sunday – asphalt replaced by gravel
After 217.38 stage kilometres comes an abrupt change. On the Sunday, the teams face a totally different challenge: the face of the rally changes completely overnight. Three final gravel stages completed twice in the course of the day take the competitors to the westernmost edge of Catalonia. More so than on days one and two, the teams’ starting positions could then go a long way towards deciding who will win the rally. If it is dry, the dust thrown up by the first World Rally Cars to tackle the course will not settle in the valleys of this hilly landscape. This means that even during broad daylight, the drivers cannot rely on good visibility.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7 “Following on from Séb and Julien winning the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championships in France, our next goal as a team is to clinch the manufacturers’ title too at the Rally Spain. I’d be delighted if I could contribute to that with a good result. Aside from that, I’ve also set myself a personal target this season: I’d like to fight for second place in the Drivers’ Championship. I’m up against tough competition though: Dani Sordo has performed very well recently – he’ll definitely be a force to reckon with at his home event. He’s one of the strongest drivers around on asphalt. But we’ll be competing on gravel during the last day in Spain, which makes the whole thing pretty interesting.”
Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8
“I’m really looking forward to the Rally Spain. It goes without saying that it’s a great feeling for me to start a rally as World Champion now. Perhaps that will make me a bit more relaxed behind the wheel and allow me to drive faster. In any case, I intend to enjoy it. At the same time, it’s important for us to claim the manufacturers’ title in Spain as well. Winning both trophies in one year would make it the perfect season for Volkswagen. I really like the Spanish rally. It’s very challenging because you have to drive on two different surfaces. The fans in Spain are always very enthusiastic and it will be fun to drive in front of them.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Polo R WRC #9
“The Rally Spain is really interesting because it covers both asphalt and gravel. Most of the Special Stages are on asphalt though. It was definitely very helpful for me to be able to drive the Polo R WRC on asphalt for a few kilometres in France, even though I had problems with the car’s set-up. I’ve competed in Spain twice so far. I really like the rally and hope we’ll do better there than we have recently. Switching from asphalt to gravel isn’t easy. It’s very important to get used to this transition quickly and cope with it. But all the drivers have to make the same adjustment.”