The news was confirmed overnight that Volkswagen’s undefeated World Rally Championship effort has followed in the wheel tracks of the Audi Le Mans/FIA WEC programme and will be axed at the end of the 2016 season.
The 2016 season finale in Australia later this month will be the farewell outing for Volkswagen Motorsport, which has claimed four consecutive Manufacturers’, Driver’s and Co-driver’s title since joining the championship in 2013.
The decision is the latest fallout from the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” emissions scandal and means the new specification Polo WRC built to 2017 rules looks set to become a museum piece.
As with last weeks Audi announcement, Volkswagen says it will re-focus on electric vehicle development.
“The Volkswagen brand is facing enormous challenges,” said Frank Welsch, member of the Board of Management responsible for Technical Development.
“With the upcoming expansion in electrification of our vehicle range we must focus all our efforts on important future technologies. We far exceeded our sporting goals in the WRC, now we are realigning Volkswagen Motorsport and moving the vehicle technology of the future more starkly into focus.”
Volkswagen confirmed it will continue with its Global Rallycross and Golf GTI TCR touring car programmes and may look to expand those activities.
And Volkswagen Motorsport will remain in rallying to develop an R5 version of the next generation Polo which will be offered as a customer car from 2018.
In the wider Volkswagen Group brand structure no mention has been made of potential cuts to the highly successful Skoda Fabia R5 rally programme — which has achieved both WRC2 success and significant sales to private teams — or the Bentley Continental GT3 campaign.
The Volkswagen decision opens up the possibility of drivers Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen moving onto the rival Citroen, M-Sport (Ford) or Toyota teams in 2017. 2016 Manufacturers’’s title runner-up Hyundai Motorsport had already confirmed contracts with Thierry Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo.
Toyota rejoins the WRC in 2017 with a new Yaris-based contender and its effort has strong Finnish connections — the team being headed by four-time world champion Tommi Makinen — which perhaps points to Latvala being the favourite to lead the team.
Other news to watch as the 2017 season takes shape include if — and where — Volkswagen Motorsport sponsors Red Bull and Castrol might move.