Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Volkswagen enjoy a strong start to their WRC adventure

Volkswagen may have described 2013 as 'a learning year' for their new factory effort, but few were surprised to see Sebastien Ogier finish second in the season opening Monte Carlo Rally last weekend, the German manufacturer's first event as a full factory World Rally Championship team.
The Wolfsburg outfit went into the legendary Monte Carlo Rally with a full year of extensive testing behind them. Whilst the team kept expectations fairly quiet, lead driver Sebastien Ogier made it clear that in 2013 the target would be podiums, wins in 2014 and a World Championship challenge in 2015. It didn't take long for the former Citroen star to achieve his aims as he took second place straight away being beaten only by Sebstien Loeb, his former Citroen team mate who is only contesting 4 rallies this season. Without the 9 time champion taking part, it's not ludicrous to assume that the Volkswagen Polo R WRC would have achieved a debut win on the snowy French mountain roads. Ogier achieved a time of 27:31.8 on the opening stage, meaning that the Volkswagen Polo WRC won the first ever stage it competed on. The results were an even bigger achievement for the team given the tough conditions that they faced, with many stages subject to the heaviest snowfalls in over a decade. The weather in fact resulted in the cancellation of the final 2 stages of the event on safety grounds. Ogier later described the conditions as 'unbelievably difficult'.

The perilous conditions may have been tamed by Ogier but his team mate, Finnish star Jari-Matti Latvala, was not as fortunate. The former Ford factory driver came off the road on Special Stage 14, Moulinet - La Bollen Vesubie. Regulations specific to the Monte Carlo rally meant that Latvala was not allowed to restart, therefore bringing an end to his event. Latvala, who unlike Ogier (who had all of 2012 to test the Polo R WRC), only began testing his new car in November 2012, was running fifth before his retirement. He was apparently suffering from problems at the start of the stage, before he lost control later on.

Nevertheless, it was still a positive weekend for Volkswagen Motorsport. Despite this being only the first event of a 13 rally calendar, it is already starting to look like their extensive testing throughout 2013 and their vast investment ( a reported €30 million - More than both Citroen and Ford factory efforts of 2012) is already paying off. Sebastien Ogier described his podium finish as 'like a victory', but the 29 year old dismissed talk that the result was a perfect indication of what was to come. Speaking about the upcoming Rally Sweden, the Gap native stated 'The Rally Monte Carlo and the forthcoming Rally Sweden are so unique that neither really give a very accurate indication of our performance.' whilst also quashing title expectation 'The title is not our goal this year. Our initial priority is to gain as much experience as possible at all the rallies.' he explained.

Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen is set to campaign a third car for the team later on in the season. the two time IRC champion is set to compete in 10 events, starting with April's Rally Portugal.

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