Tuesday | 17 Dec 2019

A warm winter glow at Skoda

Prague in December is a great place to conclude the travelling for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship. Who would miss the chance to combine the winter markets with Skoda Motorsport’s annual end of season conference?

“Don’t worry, we’re not leaving the championship.”

— Michal Hrabánek

The focus was very much on Skoda’s most successful season in its illustrious 118-year history, rather than hot chocolate or a festive Staropramen.

The Czech firm dominated the WRC 2 Pro and WRC 2 series with Kalle Rovanperä and Pierre-Louis Loubet, but that was the tip of the iceberg. There were five FIA titles in total and 23 domestic series wins.

“It’s been a very good year,” said team principal Michal Hrabánek with trademark humility. He wasn’t wrong.

Rovanperä and Hrabánek talked in the warmest possible terms of their two-year association, with the Finn genuinely grateful for the friends he’s made and the form he’s found.

“It’s not so nice to quit with a team where you have met nice people,” said the 19-year-old. “When I came here two years ago, it was quite a step into a factory team, but you know Škoda is like the factory WRC team with the R5 car.

“The two years have been good, I learned a lot and now I take that to World Rally Championship. It’s time for the move, Toyota is the next challenge now.”

As Rovanperä and his former Rally Sweden-winning father Harri posed for a selfie next to the title-winning Fabia R5 for one last time, you got the real feeling of the end of an admittedly short era.

A final Skoda selfie for the Rovanperä family

There were plenty of questions about what would come next for Škoda and when the firm’s head of technical development Christian Strube took to the stage to talk about focusing on helping younger drivers next season, eyes narrowed. What did that mean?

Hrabánek fleshed the statement out, talking of the need to service the 320-plus Fabia R5s sold. There won’t be a factory team next season. But fear not.

“Don’t worry,” Hrabánek said, “we’re not leaving the championship.”

Instead, the good folk in the fabulous Mladá Boleslav facility will focus on further evolutions of the already successful Fabia R5 evo.

Looking around the room at the assembled hardware, it would be impossible to conceive Škoda leaving the sport. The trademark green and white livery was flashed across an assortment of Felicias, Fabias and snorkelled Safari-spec Octavias driven by such greats as Colin McRae, Kenneth Eriksson, Stig Blomqvist and Didier Auriol.

That evening in Prague offered an assortment of historical riches from the last 118 years as well as a glimpse into an exciting future.


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