Ti­tle-win­ning team has sights on a decade of suc­cess in the WRC

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans

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].”

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

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