Car Profile: Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Let's explore what made this rally winner the most successful WRC car of all time.
At the start of the 2013 WRC season, Volkswagen Motorsport were the latest manufacturer to enter the competition. However, the team were not entirely new to the series. They achieved a lone win in 1987 with the talented Finnish driver Kenneth Eriksson in a Volkswagen Golf GTI Mark 2 at Rally Cote d'Ivoire. However, 25 years after their last WRC entry, they decided to make a comeback. The only problem was that the sport had moved on.
In the WRC, it is very unusual for a team to enter the championship and immediately contest for rally wins. When Volkswagen Motorsport entered the sport, they won the championship in their first season. The newly developed Volkswagen Polo R WRC proved to be a competitive car. 4 years later, this very car had won the team 4 constructors titles and 4 drivers titles. Not only did the car defeat the previously unbeatable Citroen Racing, but the car also accumulated 43 WRC wins. This is the highest amount of wins for a single car in WRC history, a record that still stands to this day. The car also laid claim to the fastest rally in the history of the WRC, when Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Finland in 2015.
The newly developed Volkswagen Polo R WRC was almost technically identical to the other WRC cars at that time, such as the Citroen DS3 WRC and the M Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The car was powered by a transversely mounted Volkswagen 1.6 litre straight 4 cylinder engine. The engine featured direct fuel injection and a 33 mm air restrictor.
Like the other WRC cars at the time, the engine was turbocharged and featured an anti-lag system. The engine was connected to a transversely mounted Volkswagen 6 speed sequential gearbox. The car also featured a front and rear limited slip differential and 4 wheel drive.
The chassis of the WRC car featured an integrated FIA specified roll cage and a MacPherson Strut suspension setup. The chassis also benefited from ZF Friedrichshafen dampers. Externally, the car featured a competitive aero package, and it also benefited from a short wheelbase of just 2,480 mm.
When broken down technically, the Volkswagen Polo R WRC was very similar to it's rivals from Citroen Racing and M-Sport Ford. Therefore, when it first came onto the scene in 2013, this made it's highly competitive form even more surprising.
The changing of the guard.
When Volkswagen Motorsport entered the championship with the Polo R WRC, there was a few initial problems with reliability. Understandably, newly engineered parts were prone to break, and refinements to the car needed to be made. This was to be expected, but even with these issues the car began the season competing at the highest level of the championship. Sebastien Ogier immediately drove the car to a 2nd place finish at its debut at Rally Monte Carlo. Although it missed out on the win to Sebastien Loeb's Citroen DS3 WRC, it was evident that the Volkswagen Polo R WRC had the potential to contend for rally wins.
At the end of the season, the team did the unthinkable. They brought an end to Citroen Racing's titanic 9 years of domination. David had finally defeated Goliath. The question was, how did a team do that, in what was only their first full season back in the WRC? Had Volkswagen Motorsport just built the greatest rally car of all time?
A matter of endurance.
Volkswagen Motorsport may have been relatively new to the WRC, but they were in no way inexperienced in rallying. The team had substantial experience in rally raid. They competed in the infamous Dakar Rally for the previous 9 years, and they won the gruelling endurance rally in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The technical knowledge they gained from designing winning rally raid cars was essential in the development of the Volkswagen Polo R WRC.
WRC veteran Carlos Sainz won the Dakar Rally with Volkswagen Motorsport in 2011. Along with Sebastien Ogier and VW test driver Dieter Depping, he was heavily involved in the development of the Volkswagen Polo R WRC from the very beginning. Utilising both his extensive experience as a world championship winning WRC driver, and also his experience from becoming the newly crowned Dakar Rally champion, he worked with Volkswagen Motorsport to develop the best WRC car that they possibly could. He also assisted in the extensive test driving of the car in locations all around the world. This depth of knowledge and technical insight ultimately paid off, resulting in the creation of most successful WRC car in history.
Later on in the Volkswagen Motorsport program, the development of the Volkswagen Polo R WRC was assisted by another veteran of the sport, Marcus Gronholm. The 2 time WRC world champion directed the further technical development of the car, and his experienced input also contributed the car's continued success in the WRC.
The Volkswagen Group.
Roughly a decade earlier, Volkswagen Group sub-brands Skoda Motorsport and SEAT Sport held substantial experience in the WRC. Skoda Motorsport was known for their Skoda Octavia WRC and the Skoda Fabia WRC, and SEAT Sport had previously entered rallies with the SEAT Cordoba WRC. Unfortunately, these cars didn't win rallies. They were frequently let down by reliability issues and some inferior design features, but they still produced impressive results. The bright yellow SEAT Cordoba WRC also proved to be a striking favourite with the fans, and the Skoda Fabia WRC turned out to be the last WRC car that Colin McRae raced in the championship.
It is clear that Volkswagen Motorsport learned from the experiences of their 2 sub-brands when developing the Volkswagen Polo R WRC. Going into the early stages of the development of their car, they already had a great deal of technical knowledge of WRC cars.
Also, in the 2012 season, Volkswagen Motorsport ran a team of Skoda Fabia S2000 cars in the WRC. They used this opportunity to collect data whilst they developed the Volkswagen Polo R WRC. The Skoda Fabia S2000 was also very successful in the hands of private teams in the lower world championship categories and at regional events. As a result of this, many of the technical components and design features of the Skoda Fabia S2000 were carried over and integrated into the Volkswagen Polo R WRC.
Volkswagen Motorsport intended to continue their dominance of the WRC. Leading into the 2017 season, they had the goal of winning more championships. However, after an extensive testing and development program for their car to start it's 5th championship assault, Volkswagen Motorsport unfortunately withdrew from competition.
The aftermath of Volkswagen's notorious emissions scandal forced the company to restructure. The Volkswagen Motorsport team withdrew from the WRC, and they decided to focus on a more customer oriented business strategy, by developing a Volkswagen Polo R5 car.
This ultimately marked the end for the iconic Volkswagen Polo R WRC, although Petter Solberg did use some of the 2013 and 2014 chassis to build winning World Rallycross Championship cars for his PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team. At the time of writing, former PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver Johan Kristoffersson is currently leading the WRX championship in a privately entered Volkswagen Polo R WRX. The legacy of the most successful WRC car in history ultimately lives on.