VW’S FUTURE IN THE WRC HANGS IN THE BALANCE
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.