VW LAYS LONG-TERM PLANS FOR DOMINANCE
Title-winning team has sights on a decade of success in the WRC
Volkswagen is already working on its future in the World Rally Championship beyond the end of 2019.
The German firm is well on its way to winning four manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles in as many years, but could also be eyeing a decade of dominance with a new deal which would keep Volkswagen in the WRC for 10 successive seasons.
New team principal Sven Smeets confirmed to Motorsport News the Hannover-based outfit is already working on plans to remain in the series after 2019 – the end of its current commitment.
Smeets said: “You’re better to start early on these things than late. Jost [Capito, Smeets’ predecessor] had already started this strategy for Volkswagen to remain active in motorsport beyond 2019 before he left.”
Having arrived in the World Rally Championship for a development season in 2012, the Polo R WRC was only in its second full campaign when Capito sought and received board approval for the following five years in June 2014. This commitment remained true throughout the dieselgate scandal.
While talking about future WRC participation, Smeets added a move away from the series remained possible.
“If we are [to stay] in the World Rally Championship after 2019 then it would be for another three years,” he said. “Staying for one more year wouldn’t make any sense when 2020 is the start of a new homologation cycle. But, on the other side, our board is always asking us to look at other possibilities.”
Smeets won’t enjoy the kind of absolute power Capito did as team principal, with technical director Francois-xavier Demaison and director of engine development Donatus Wichelhaus stepping up to join the management board alongside Smeets.
“There will be more discussions about some of these things,” he said, “but, at the end of the day, somebody will still have to make the final decision.”
Smeets, who will retain his former duties as sporting director until a replacement can be found, admitted the task of filling Capito’s shoes was a daunting one.
“It’s always going to be difficult to take over when you’ve won everything,” said Smeets. “Every time we win a rally we are increasing the chance not to win the next one. When Jost arrived, he took on a very big challenge to get the team up and running. We have a very big challenge now, the competition next year will be much harder. We can see from the other teams that they are coming really well prepared for next season. As usual, we must work at 110 or 120 per cent to make a good result in the end.
“This is what I wanted to do though, all the time. When I stopped co-driving in 2005, I became assistant team manager to Yves [Matton] at Citroen, but I always wanted to be a proper team principal.”
Since starting in his new job, Smeets admitted he hadn’t been forced to take any big decision regarding the WRC; Volkswagen’s driver line-up remains unchanged for next season.
Smeets first event in complete charge of the team comes at next week’s Tour of Corsica, where Sebastien Ogier could clinch his fourth straight title. Asked how he felt about his driver taking a world title on his first rally in charge, Smeets said: “This would be the first rally after Jost has left and I think all of that work would be on him, it would still be his world title [as well as Ogier’s].”
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