Skoda Motorsport team principal Michal Hrabánek bid an emotional farewell to WRC 2 Pro champion Kalle Rovanperä at the firm’s annual motorsport conference in Prague on Wednesday evening.
Rovanperä completed his duties for the Czech manufacturer and will now move to Toyota Gazoo Racing for next year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
Reflecting on the 19-year-old’s two years in a factory Fabia R5, Hrabánek said: “Now we say goodbye to Kalle and Jonne (Halttunen, co-driver). It’s been two years of good co-operation and a pleasure to have them in the team.
“When we signed Kalle, he was a young boy and it’s been amazing to see the progress he’s made. Not only is he fast and successful but he’s a great ambassador for Škoda and we thank him for that.
Rovanperä added: “It’s been a really nice two years. Thanks to the team for giving us a really fast and reliable car – this was the best team and without them we wouldn’t have been able to do the results we did. As well as that success, we have met and worked with some really great people.”
Hrabánek confirmed Škoda will refocus its WRC commitment in 2020, with more emphasis on helping private teams and customers.
“After one of our most successful years in the WRC,” he said, “there is no reason to come back again and show the car is reliable and competitive again – we know the team is capable to win. Now it’s the (private) teams’ chance to win the championship with our support.
“But we are not stepping back, we stay in the championship and look for some improvements with Fabia R5 – they will be coming. Don’t worry Skoda is not leaving motorsport.
“The challenge for next year is different. We will not have the proper works team in the World Rally Championship, but we will support the customers. We have sold more than 300 cars and the customers expect the special level of service, of spare parts and consultation for the set-up, the rebuild for the transmission and the engines.
“Selling this number of cars brings a huge commitment and we wouldn’t like to disappoint our customers,” he added.