Just days after winning its fourth consecutive WRC manufacturers title, Volkswagen Motorsport has announced it will be withdrawing from the series at the end of the 2016 season. The German firm’s statement comes as a shock to the WRC world and the wider motorsport community and brings the curtain down on the most successful chapter in VW’s motorsport history.
Addressing 200 VW Motorsport team members in Hannover on Wednesday, Technical Development chief Frank Welsch outlined the rationale behind the team’s sudden departure from the world’s top rallying series. “The Volkswagen brand is facing 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.”
The so-called “realignment” of Volkswagen Motorsport activities comes in the wake of the well-publicised diesel emissions scandal that has dogged the German brand since it erupted in September last year. The aftermath has already seen VW profits tumble by nearly 20 per cent in the first half of 2016 as the company pledged over £10 billion in compensation to affected customers in the US alone.
Whilst acknowledging the “great challenges facing the entire company”, Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets nevertheless expressed his disappointment with the decision. “Of course, we regret the departure from the WRC very much – the team has done great things.”
That it most certainly has. Over a total of 51 rallies since its debut season in 2013, the Polo R WRC has amassed an outstanding total of 42 wins and 621 best times in the special stages; a success rate unrivalled by any other car in the 43-year history of the championship.
But what of VW’s freshly-developed 2017 WRC challenger? With the withdrawal of the factory outfit from the series, the Polo GTi WRC will only see service with customer teams in the reformatted WRC championship. To be based on the upcoming sixth-generation Polo, an R5 spec version is planned to be available to customers from 2018 onwards.
Bosses at the German firm have moved quickly to clarify that other arms of the Volkswagen Motorsport empire will not be affected by the termination of its WRC programme, meaning that its participation in the Global Rallycross series as well as the TCR Touring Car category will continue uninterrupted.
VW Motorsport’s decision to cease rallying operations comes just a week after sister company Audi announced its intention to bring an end to its 18-year World Endurance Championship programme.
The final round of the 2016 WRC season, and the Volkswagen World Rally Team’s very last outing, comes at Coffs Harbour, Australia on 18 November.