2012, marked another milestone for Volkswagen on the way to the World Rally Championship. With his co-driver Julien Ingrassia, Sébastien Ogier contested his first rally for Volkswagen – at none less than the legendary Monte Carlo Rally. The outing at this classic also marked the opening of a WRC season under real conditions. Although the French duo was not driving the Polo R WRC, the findings that the pilots and team glean from contesting these events are an important part of the meticulous preparation work for the 2013 debut.
Škoda Fabia S2000 instead of the Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Whilst the preparations and the running are undertaken entirely by Volkswagen Motorsport, in 2012 a Fabia S2000 vehicle of the Group’s Škoda brand is fielded. It runs in the SWRC class for slightly less powerful cars. Due to their lower performance compared to the more powerful WRC models, cars can only gain achievement recognition. But that is not what Volkswagen is aiming for: The main priority is that the seasoned “Dakar” squad from Wolfsburg can familiarise themselves with the sometimes complex procedures of a WRC weekend in order to launch straight into the 2013 season in an organised and experienced manner.
Two stars and chances for youngsters
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia share one of the two Fabia S2000 cars for the entire 2012 season. In the cockpit of the second car, Volkswagen gives youngsters a chance to show what they can do and earn themselves a seat in the Polo R WRC. Kevin Abbring from the Netherlands and his Belgian co-driver Frédéric Miclotte as well as the Norwegian pair Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene take turns over the course of the season.
Journey once around the world
There are 13 rounds on the World Rally Championship calendar in 2012. Eight of these are on gravel, two are on tarmac or mixed surfaces, one is on snow and ice. Monte Carlo opened the season in January, at the end of August Volkswagen contests its home event around Trier, with the Spanish round in mid November marking the end of the season. The longest journeys go to destinations like South America.
First successes boost excitement and motivation
Not necessarily intentional but certainly very welcome: Volkswagen tackled the new WRC challenge with early successes. Class victories and even world championship points regularly go to Volkswagen Motorsport. A pleasant side effect: Pilots and teams don’t just learn about procedures during rallies, but they also know how it feels to climb the podium
Victory on ice and snow: the Volkswagen factory team successfully concluded the test outing in the Rally Sweden, round two of the FIA World Rally Championship 2012, and collected valuable experience for the future rallies with the Polo R WRC. Sébastien Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia (F/F) took class victory with their Škoda Fabia, their team mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene (N/N) clinched third place. With more than 200,000 spectators looking on they regularly left more powerful WRC cars trailing in their wake on the way to eleventh and 14th in the overall standings.
“The Rally Sweden is one of the real highlights of the World Championship season since it is only here that spiked tyres are used on snow and ice throughout the entire event. The character is unique and it was equally important for our team to collect experience in order to be as well prepared as possible next year with the Polo R WRC,” explained Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. “Sébastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen effectively controlled the Super 2000 class and were not only fast in the process, but also drove very reliably and within their limits – our two Fabias ran without problems, so many thanks to our team also for the excellent work.”
The Rally Sweden, which consisted of over 350 kilometres run against the clock on 24 special stages in the Swedish province Värmlands Län and in neighbouring Norway, provided spectators with rallying in its most spectacular form. The high speeds, long drifts and big jumps on the icy tracks set the hearts racing of the many rally fans lining the stages. Compact special stages close to the service park in Hagfors and head-to-head duels around the floodlit horse racing course in the start and finish area in Karlstad also inspired the spectators. The two Fabias of group brand Škoda fielded by Volkswagen Motorsport numbered among the crowd’s favourites from the very beginning. Sébastien Ogier took the S2000 class lead on the opening stage. With eight top-ten results and much to the enjoyment of the many fans he repeatedly moved into the leading group of the more powerful WRC. “That was a very good rally for us. I’m very happy with our class win. The conditions on the stages were better than expected and it was great fun to drive here. Our pace was very good and because our team mates were also very fast the rally was interesting and informative for the entire team. After all is said and done and it was also the first rally on snow and ice with spiked tyres for our team,” said the 28-year old Frenchman. Not even a puncture on the twelfth stage or changing the fuel filter after the 18th stage could slow Ogier/Ingrassia.
The 22-year old current Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) Champion Andreas Mikkelsen enjoyed the stages through his homeland Norway on Friday was able to match his team mate’s pace throughout, before losing valuable time and a near certain second position in the class after suffering a puncture on the 22nd special stage. “My second rally with Volkswagen was a very, very good experience – it was obviously a great shame to lose second place within sight of the finish. Our first event together last year was the first WRC rally for the team. It was great to see just how much the team has developed since then. The teamwork is fabulous,” said the Škoda UK driver who, together with co-driver Ola Fløene, contests selected rounds of the WRC for Volkswagen this year and otherwise aims to defend his IRC title. “When compared with the IRC events you must change your approach a little in the WRC. The rallies are longer, but at the same time you have fewer opportunities during the service breaks. You can’t drive so uncompromisingly, but want to be just as fast.”
Volkswagen Junior Kevin Abbring (23) and his codriver Lara Vanneste (21) produced a fantastic performance on their way to taking victory in the S2000 class for Volkswagen in the 80th Rally Monte Carlo. The rally classic in the principality on the Cote d’Azur is part of the FIA World Championship for the first time since 2008.
Kevin Abbring and Lara Vanneste were awarded the winner’s trophy in the square overshadowed by the Royal Palace in Monaco after a total of 1772 kilometres and 18 demanding special stages, which included the infamous run to Col de Turini. For the young Dutchman and his Belgian co-driver it is the second S2000 class victory after taking the spoils at the Rally Great Britain in November 2011. At the same time Abbring, who celebrated his 23rd birthday in the cockpit on Friday, gave himself his favourite present. “I’m delighted. To win the ‘Monte’ is simply an indescribable feeling. Lara and I are very proud,” beamed Abbring during the victory ceremony at the Royal Palace. “We improved from stage to stage and implemented the team’s instructions. My heartfelt thanks to the entire Volkswagen team for the support, we worked perfectly together.”
“A big complement to our driver teams and the entire team because in rallying a win is always a win for the complete team,” emphasised a satisfied Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen (51). “Kevin put in a fantastic performance, we are proud of him and his co-driver Lara. He impressively demonstrated what a huge talent he is and why we support him as Volkswagen Junior.”
New Volkswagen factory driver Sébastien Ogier (28) and co-driver Julien Ingrassia (32) had already attracted a great deal of attention beforehand. The two Frenchmen held fourth place overall on occasion in the less powerful S2000 car – before an accident meant an early end for the two. Nissen: “Sébastiens Speed was incredible on the opening stages. This proves that we have signed a driver with great potential. I’m convinced that he’ll be good for one or the other big surprise during the World Championship rallies this year.” The Frenchman also looks forward optimistically to his next outing during the Rally Sweden (9 to 12 February). “I feel very comfortable on the car and team. We were extremely competitive before the accident,” said Ogier, who was third in the WRC in 2011. “The difficult conditions at the start of the rally were an advantage for us because the difference in power between the Fabia S2000 and the WRC class didn’t have such a big effect. We aim to maintain our pace in Sweden and I’m confident that we will also be fast there.”
In 2012 Volkswagen contests rounds of the World Rally Championship with two Fabia S2000 cars from the group brand Škoda. The rallies act as preparation for the 2013 season in which Volkswagen will compete with the Polo R WRC in rallying’s top-flight.