Volkswagen to leave WRC after season finale
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Volkswagen pull pin on World Rally Championship in wake of ‘dieselgate’
The reigning four-time World Rally Championship (WRC) Volkswagen Team will leave the sport at the end of the 2016 season in Australia this month.
Autocar UK have revealed a meeting held at Volkswagen headquarters overnight resulted in the German car maker vowing to retain the 200 employees in its Motorsports division – planning to move their efforts to their TCR International Touring Car program and possibly Skoda’s rally program.
An official statement confirming the end of Volkswagen’s WRC involvement is expected to be made overnight, after the company have informed affected staff of the decision.
The decision by the Volkswagen board to cease its WRC program comes as a direct result of the diesel emissions scandal that has hurt the brand’s image globally. More importantly for their WRC team, ‘dieselgate’ hit their back pocket even harder — a pretty 7.3 billion spent to cover the cost of the scandal.
This announcement comes a week after the Volkswagen Group also confirmed an end to Audi’s World Endurance Championship LMP1 program that ran for 18 seasons.
Although understandable, what really makes Volkswagen’s decision to leave WRC saddening is how successful the program has been — it’s been truly difficult to poke holes in.
The Polo R made its WRC debut in 2013 and straight off the transporter was extremely competitive in the hands of Sebastian Ogier – with the French ace winning nine of the 13 rounds.
This story of success for Volkswagen and Ogier would only continue in the following years, culminating in the pairings fourth consecutive manufacture and drivers’ championship last month.
With such success, inevitably the focus will now turn to where Volkswagen drivers end up. There is a feeling among today’s reports Ogier could see this news as a natural conclusion to a hugely successful career.
He’s always maintained he never intended to star forever and his dissatisfaction with the rules and regulations already have taken him to the brink of retirement.
Volkswagen's two other drivers Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala will now become hot property as well. This could possibly create competition for Hayden Paddon’s teammate Thierry Neuville's seat at Hyundai. Paddon [pictured above] is currently involved in a battle with Mikkelsen for third in this year’s drivers’ championship while Neuville sits in second.
The end of VW could also clear the way for Hyundai Motorsport to become a dominant party in the championship, further elevating the value of Paddon's existing three-year contract and helping open the door to more wins for the Korean marque.
Citroen have already confirmed a three driver lineup for 2017 in Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Stephane Lefebvre.
Ford has yet to commit to any drivers beyond driver Eric Camilli.
Toyota are also making their return to the championship have announced the signing of Juho Hanninen but have spaces available for any of the departing Volkswagen drivers.
With promising Estonian Ott Tanak and veteran Mads Ostberg without confirmed drives there will be serious competition all of a sudden for the remaining seats at Ford and Toyota.