Thursday, March 10, 2011

Volkswagen’s WRC entry gets closer

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VW is set to mint its arrival on the World Rally Championship by the end of the month. The team is expected to confirm that it will enter a car based on the current Polo either at an event to celebrate its hat trick of wins in the Dakar rally on March 22, or at the start of Rally Portugal, which runs from 24-27 March.

Originally, the team had intended to enter a car based on the Scirocco, but it doesn’t fit within the WRC’s maximum allowed width dimensions. A Polo is now being readied with a direct injection 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that’s based on the unit that will power the forthcoming Polo R.

Volkswagen will join Citroen, Ford and series newcomers MINI, who will compete in a limited campaign this year, followed by a full entry in the 2012 season. VW is expected to do the same, with a limited entry in 2012, followed by a full assault on the championship in 2013.

The German firm has been working quietly to hire some of the best brains in the WRC business, including VW Dakar driver and rally legend Carlos Sainz, who’s tipped to be heavily involved with the project, and renowned ex-Citroen and Subaru man Francois-Xavier Demaison hired to be the team’s chief engineer.

Demaison has worked closely with Petter Solberg in the past, who is likely to lead the team after VW failed to persuade seven-time champion Sebastian Loeb away from Citroen when his contract ends at the end of this year.

VW is also expected to sign fast Finn and current IRC series champion Juho Hanninen, who has been entered in the SWRC this year to gain experience of World Rally Championship rounds. Hanninen has been driving a Skoda with the latest Reiger dampers, which may be being evaluated for use on the Polo.

The move also signals the end of Volkswagen’s Dakar campaign, which it has dominated in recent years. Interestingly, the Race Touareg is sponsored by Red Bull and Castrol, which are among the lead backers of the Citroen and Ford WRC teams respectively.

Skoda will remain in rallying in the IRC and SWRC championships, and is developing its own turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with a larger restrictor, which meets the FIA’s latest SWRC regulations.



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