VW’S FU­TURE IN THE WRC HANGS IN THE BAL­ANCE

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - David Evans

Volk­swa­gen will quit the World Rally Cham­pi­onship at the end of this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to sources close to the Ger­man firm.

The de­ci­sion was ex­pected to be taken at a board meet­ing on Tues­day. While some sources in­sist the de­ci­sion is made, others are talk­ing about the po­ten­tial for one more sea­son and one more ti­tle de­fence with the Polo R WRC.

Volk­swa­gen was con­firmed as man­u­fac­turer cham­pion for a fourth-straight sea­son af­ter Se­bastien Ogier’s vic­tory on last week’s Wales Rally GB.

Audi’s de­par­ture from the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship caused im­me­di­ate spec­u­la­tion about Volk­swa­gen’s con­tin­ued pres­ence in ral­ly­ing in the af­ter­math of last year’s diesel emis­sions cri­sis.

Volk­swa­gen team prin­ci­pal Sven Smeets de­clined to com­ment on spec­u­la­tion, but told MN: “The news of Audi, of course I haven’t been in­volved. I also got the news like every­body else – I don’t know what is hap­pen­ing in Audi. But then the ru­mours [about Volk­swa­gen] started straight away in Ger­many. This is one, not re­ally mo­tor­sport per­son, who asked the ques­tion, but put in his story that Wolfs­burg is in ques­tion. I don’t want to talk about these ru­mours or this spec­u­la­tion.”

Volk­swa­gen’s cur­rent com­mit­ment to the WRC stretches to the end of 2019. Asked if he stood by that com­mit­ment, Smeets said: “I told you be­fore that, when you work for the big com­pany they have to look into the fu­ture. Our group is go­ing into elec­tric tech­nolo­gies and we have to ex­plore the fu­ture. It’s very nor­mal, I’m sure Citroen is still do­ing the same. The ho­molo­ga­tion for the 2020 World Rally Cars, for ex­am­ple, is not some­thing we can start the year be­fore – we worked on the 2017 car for two years al­ready.”

There’s no doubt VW’S con­tin­ued par­tic­i­pa­tion in a global mo­tor­sport pro­gramme has been called into ques­tion since diesel­gate and the po­ten­tial multi-bil­lion-pound fall-out.

Sources close to the team ad­mit a de­ci­sion to quit the se­ries came close 12 months ago, but was de­ferred when then team prin­ci­pal Jost Capito found a way to slash the bud­get by cut­ting back on what had been an ex­trav­a­gant hospi­tal­ity ac­ti­va­tion.

Some point to the mil­lions al­ready spent on de­vel­op­ing the all-new 2017 Polo R WRC as a po­ten­tial rea­son for VW to re­main in the world cham­pi­onship. But one se­nior source said: “The bud­get for the WRC is a drop in the ocean in terms of the num­bers in­volved in diesel­gate. It’s not about the bud­get, it’s about public per­cep­tion and it’s about peo­ple in the street see­ing Volk­swa­gen par­tic­i­pat­ing in some­thing which looks ex­pen­sive. That’s pos­si­bly not what’s needed right now.”

Gaug­ing opin­ion across the ser­vice park, the most likely out­come for the Han­nover-based team is that the squad will re­main in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship for one fur­ther sea­son, ter­mi­nat­ing its com­mit­ment to ral­ly­ing at the end of 2017 af­ter what would be five years at the top of the sport.

Volk­swa­gen could re­verse out of World ral­ly­ing

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