‘Dieselgate’ is finally taking its toll.
Ever since the VW emissions scandal became public knowledge, the racing community has had little choice but to question the future of Volkswagen Group (VAG) brands in our sport. Sure enough, long-standing rumours became reality as Audi’s imminent WEC departure was announced last week. This led many to suggest that it would be the first of many cutbacks in the wake of billions of dollars in fines. Now, VAG has dealt another blow to global motorsport with the news that the Volkswagen factory team will not return to the World Rally Championship in 2017.
The VAG Group is an integral part of motorsport – the list below shows just how much impact and influence their brands have.
- Volkswagen: TCR, Global Rallycross, Formula 3, R5 Rally Car (Due 2018)
- Porsche: WEC (LMP1 & GTE), IMSA GTLM, GT3, GT4, Carerra Cup
- Audi: GT3, TCR, TT Cup, World Rallycross, Formula E, DTM, R8 LMS Cup
- Lamborghini: GT3, Super Trofeo
- Seat: TCR
- Skoda: R5 Rally Car
- Bentley: GT3
- Ducati: MotoGP, Superbikes
Even with the WRC and Audi WEC efforts neutralised, there is a lot of VAG money tied into motorsport, and right now, the people paying the bills will be looking to put that line-up on a severe diet. With the greatest will in the world, I completely understand why the decision makers are making the tough calls. The list above proves one thing – VW and the Volkswagen Group have a deep-rooted passion for the sport, and these moves are as hard to make for them as they are to hear for everyone affected.
I don’t want to speculate on the future of these programmes too much, but you have to wonder if the directors who sign the cheques are going to look at the customer programs in GT3, where four VAG brands are represented, and TCR, where Audi are set to join Seat and VW, and say “enough is enough”.
While I fear we haven’t heard the last of the bad news for VAG’s motorsport endeavours, let’s focus on what we know so far.
As of now, Audi Sport Team Joest are readying the R18 e-tron Quattro for its final WEC outings, and the Volkswagen Motorsport Rally Team are mournfully mothballing the 2017-spec Polo R WRC, which has clocked thousands of test miles in readiness for Mr. Ogier.
In the case of the Audi, their current car has one more year of eligibility left before the ACO enforce new regulations for LMP1 in 2018. The question is, if Joest Racing can find the budget and the sponsorship, would it be possible for them to use the R18 for 2017? It has been done before. The R8 LMP saw use from several teams with varying manufacturer support, and the R10 had its life extended, ironically, in the hands of Kolles outfit, who are currently the only privateer team set to take on LMP1 in 2017.
While it would certainly be quite the ordeal to make it happen, it would be nice to see an Audi LMP1 car at Le Mans one more time under the Joest banner.
2017 Polo R WRC: The rally car that never will be?
While it is a shame that VAG couldn’t allow Audi to extend their WEC tenure for one more year, it would be an absolute tragedy if the 2017 Polo R WRC never gets to tear up stages alongside Hyundai, Toyota and M-Sport Ford. The development money has been spent, and while I’m sure it exceeds the sale value of the cars themselves, if they were to be sold to privateers, at least the brand is getting something back from the effort put into them before they even got the chance to compete.
Perhaps the thought of Joest continuing with the R18 is unrealistic – the Audi is an incredibly advanced machine that is certainly not a textbook customer racing car, and by equal measure, maybe there aren’t any privateer rally teams out there that want to tackle the WRC; however, if there are, I sincerely hope VW consider taking their money. If a privateer can run the car, and secure any of the three driver/co-driver combinations that made the VW brand so successful since 2013, they’d be unlikely to put on a bad showing in 2017 and – potentially – beyond.
Ultimately, I don’t see the R18 back on the WEC grid with the hybrid system, or indeed without it as an LMP1-L entry. However, the 2017-spec Polo R WRC could and should be present come the first stage of Monte Carlo in January, even if the factory themselves can’t take it there.
VAG; for the good of motorsport, please allow us to see your handiwork on the world stage in 2017. #SaveThePolo.
Will we see the R18 or the Polo R WRC in privateer hands next year? Let us know what you think in the comments below.