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Volkswagen’s domination of the World Rally Championship is over, as technical director Francois-xavier Demaison fears its competitors are set to rebound in 2017.
Since the German firm arrived in the series at the start of 2013, it has enjoyed previously unrivalled success, winning 38 of the 46 rallies the Polo R WRC has started. In its last two complete seasons, Volkswagen won all but one event. This year, however, looks like it could be heading towards being its least successful so far.
Already the Polo has been beaten on three of the seven rallies run so far in 2016. In its debut 2013 season, the Hannoverbuilt World Rally Car was only defeated three times all-year.
While this year’s inability to match the last two is partly due to an increase in pace from Hyundai, the regulations forcing the championship leader to open the road has hit Sebastien Ogier and VW harder than anybody.
Next year, Demaison says the competition will make it harder than ever and winning all-but one rally in a season will be a thing of the past.
“This is not the normal situation for one team to win so much,” said Demaison. “Last year Citroen was involved in WTCC and WRC was the second project, Hyundai was starting out and Malcolm [Wilson, M-sport] didn’t have the budget and driver.
“Next year, Citroen is at full speed and with a good driver, Hyundai has good experience and they will be strong, Toyota’s coming back and M-sport has the new car. The competition will be back where it should be and when it’s like this, it’s not so easy to win the rally.”
Demaison added that, unlike its rivals, Volkswagen is limited to just 42 days of testing because the 2017 Polo is underpinned by the same car which is being used in competition this year. Only a new car permits unrestricted testing.
“This is the reason why we are doing all of the pre-event tests for this year with the 2017 car,” said Demaison. “For sure, this penalises us this year – we saw that a little bit in Poland. All the time, the drivers are coming to me and saying I want to test the 2016 car, but I say to them: ‘No, I am a b*stard and you know it!’ I have to tell them this otherwise it will be so much more difficult for us next year. It’s more important for us to focus on 2017. This year there aren’t so many runners [in competition] and at the moment what we have is just about enough, but next year it’s going to be more [competition] and we have to be ready.”
Demaison refused to criticise the 42-day test rule, adding: “I won’t use this as an excuse. We know the rule and we use it to our