The Polo WRC had covered more test kilometres than anyone else before making its debut, but the Hanoverians lacked the practical experience that is so important in top-line rallying. Nearly all the pundits expected the Germans to have to pay their dues before they could be successful.
But it did not turn out that way. At 37.1 kilometres, the first Rallye Monte-Carlo stage from Le Moulinon to Antraigues was the longest of the rally, and Sébastien Ogier set the fastest time in the Polo WRC.
The car had been designed by the new technical director François-Xavier Demaison with the active help of ex-Sauber technical director Willy Ramp.
Previously Demaison had worked for Citroën and then the Solberg team, but in his early Subaru years, the Frenchman frequently copied Christian Loriaux's fetishism for both saving weight and lowering the centre of gravity. Sébastien Loeb, contesting a part-time programme for Citroën, won the rally in the end, but it had been a much harder job than expected.
The tit-for-tat followed just three weeks later in Sweden. In the style of a champion, Ogier took the lead and fended off all attempts at attack with aplomb, while in Mexico and Portugal the opposition was less anyway.
If Mikko Hirvonen thought that with the retirement of the Loeb his path to the title was finally clear, Citroën's new number one was in for a bitter disappointment.
Instead of eating dust, these Germans were rapidly consuming the buffet of the other teams. What played into Ogier's hands were the new rules in which the starting position of the first day was no longer determined by the championship standings but was determined in a qualifying shakedown before the rally started.
Instead of slowing down the best driver in terms of points, the best driver of the new regime could regularly reward themselves before the start. VW took ten victories in the first season, nine of them by Ogier.
When Ogier stumbled with an electrical breakdown in Greece, his new teammate Jari-Matti Latvala was on the spot. This was a 4-2 lead in the battle against Citroën, and the French team's sporting director Yves Matton's attempt to equalise the score by protesting came close to being an act of desperation.
Firstly, the additional batteries that were packed into the Polos in the parc fermé overnight for safety were by no means forbidden but were legitimate spare parts. Secondly, in their haste the Citroën strategists had formulated the protest incorrectly. The protest was rejected because of the formal error.
Jost Capito, VW's head of sport, grim-faced despite the victory, had small AA Mignon cells handed out among his colleagues for the victory party, which his mechanics tauntingly gave away to Citroën employees.
While everyone was amazed at the new VW Polo manufacturer being world champion, at the time engineer Demaison emphasised: 'We owe this title more to Ogier than to the car.’
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Sections of this story are excerpts from 'WRC 50, The Story of the World Rally Championship 1973-2022', written by Markus Stier. Purchase your copy here.
Cover Photo: © McKlein