DOUBLE IN SIGHT: VOLKSWAGEN COULD CLINCH THE MANUFACTURERS' TITLE IN SPAIN
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.
'Seventh place is all we need to claim the world championship title', said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. 'If things go as normal, we'll manage that in Spain. It really would be the icing on the cake if we were to achieve this in our debut season – we would never even have dreamed of it at the beginning of the season. The whole team will give their all once again to make sure that nothing out of the ordinary happens. There is no weak point in our team, and I'm really proud of that.'
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.
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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.
Quotes prior to the Rally Spain
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.'
* Subject to confirmation by the FIA.
Volkswagen in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC)
Volkswagen is continuing its motorsport success story by competing in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Having achieved three successes with the Race Touareg at the Dakar Rally, the Polo R WRC is the German car maker's first World Rally Car. This season is also the first time Volkswagen has fielded its own factory team in rallying's most prestigious competition. The championship offers Volkswagen an opportunity to enhance its global reputation by going head to head with other manufacturers. No model is better suited to this challenge than the Polo – one of Volkswagen's most widely produced and best-selling cars around the world.
News from the Volkswagen team
+++ Mikko Markkula (FIN) will be back at Andreas Mikkelsen's (N) side in the Volkswagen Polo R WRC in Spain. The 32-year-old fractured two vertebrae in Finland, forcing him to miss the rallies in Germany, Australia and France. The 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion is now back in action in time for the last couple of events this season. +++
+++ With the help of our Facebook friends, Volkswagen will be entering a very special Polo R WRC in the forthcoming British rally. The World Rally Car #9, driven by Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN), will have a special paint job. It will be a colourful affair: almost 4,000 Facebook fans who send in a photo of themselves will be pictured on the 315-horsepower all-wheel drive. One very lucky fan will also win an unforgettable weekend at the Rally Great Britain. Perhaps one of the users of www.facebook.com/volkswagen-motorsport will be the lucky winner. We now have almost 600,000 fans, which means the community is almost ten times the size it was at the beginning of the season. For more info about the fan car, visit: www.rallytheworld.com/fancar +++
'El Priorat': loved and feared by drivers and fans alike