Volkswagen is to withdraw from the FIA World Rally Championship at the end of the current season and turn its rallying focus on the development of a Polo R5 car for customer use.
The German manufacturer confirmed its withdrawal on Wednesday morning following a board meeting 24 hours earlier.
Rather than competing in the WRC next season with its all-new Polo R World Rally Car, Volkswagen will start development of a new car based on the next-generation Polo. It will be eligible for the WRC 2 category and will be available for customers to buy from 2018.
Frank Welsch, Volkswagen’s board member responsible for technical development, said the company faced enormous challenges.
“With the upcoming expansion in electrification of our vehicle range we must focus all our efforts on important future technologies. We far exceeded our sporting goals in the WRC, now we are realigning Volkswagen Motorsport and moving the vehicle technology of the future more starkly into focus,” he said.
Since entering WRC in 2013, Volkswagen has won the drivers’ and manufacturers’ title in all four seasons. Sébastien Ogier clinched his fourth consecutive title in Spain last month and he and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen have scored 42 wins from 51 rallies.
“I want to give our heartfelt thanks to our drivers and co-drivers for their outstanding achievements,” said Welsch, who added there was a guarantee of employment for the 200 Volkswagen Motorsport staff.
Team director Sven Smeets, who replaced Jost Capito at the helm in September, will oversee the team’s final appearance at Kennards Hire Rally Australia (17 - 20 November).
“Of course, we regret the departure from the WRC very much as this was the most successful chapter in the Volkswagen brand’s motorsport history. The team has done great things,” said Smeets.
“At the same time, our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the great challenges facing the entire company. We want our realignment to contribute to the success of the Volkswagen brand.
“From now on, the focus is on upcoming technologies in motorsport and on our customer sports range, where we will position ourselves more broadly and attractively.”