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Volkswagen departs the WRC with victory in Australia
VW's Andreas Mikkelsen and Sebastien Ogier trounce the rest of the field
They came, they saw, they conquered: after four years of utter domination in the World Rally Championship, Volkswagen left its rivals for dust one last time by surging to victory in the final round of the 2016 season on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Although Sebastien Ogier – who sealed his fourth consecutive drivers’ title last month – was looking to end his hugely successful stint at VW on yet another high, a costly spin ensured that it was teammate Andreas Mikkelsen who prevailed with a 15-second advantage in the other Polo R.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville finished almost a minute further back in a distant third.
“What a fantastic weekend, and what a wonderful result at the end of our season,” observed Mikkelsen. “Today has been a very special day, as it was our last appearance as a team.
“I was so desperate to win this rally for Volkswagen. It is fantastic to have achieved that. Everything came together at the final rally. Everything, absolutely everything, worked perfectly – it was simply the optimum of what we have achieved together in four years in the World Rally Championship.”
Ogier was similarly made up, saying: “The most important thing is that our fantastic team bids farewell to the World Rally Championship with a victory. This is a very emotional moment for me.
“I have made a lot of friends and will never forget the wonderful moments we have had together over the past few years. A fantastic journey is coming to an end, and I am proud to have been a part of it.”
The triumph is Volkswagen’s 43rd from 52 rallies since re-entering the sport in 2013, giving it a win ratio that almost equals that of Mercedes’ F1 operation since the beginning of the V6 hybrid era.
However, just days after it was announced that VW Group was pulling Audi out of the World Endurance Championship, it also confirmed that Volkswagen would be withdrawing from the WRC, despite having gone to great lengths to prepare an all-new car for 2017.
VW appears to have ruled out any possibility of this model being passed on to customer teams, although there’s still a chance that the 2016 car could race for privateer entries next season.
But given the regulation changes that are set to come in for 2017, don’t expect it to match the achievements of the previous four years.
Volkswagen’s departure from the WRC is seen by many as part of a wider cost-cutting exercise designed to absorb the financial penalties inflicted by ‘dieselgate’, although impending electrification within VW’s vehicle range has also been a factor.
According to board member Frank Welsch, the German carmaker will have to focus all its “efforts on important future technologies”, something Motorsport Director Sven Smeets believes will be key if his division is “to contribute to the success of the Volkswagen brand.”
In other words, VW needs to invest in developing electric tech and rallying doesn’t give it the platform to do that. Boo.
Still, as VW Group explores Formula E through Audi, the remaining WRC field will have more power, more aero, and indeed more car to play with in 2017; a combination which promises to make each stage even more spectacular. It ain’t all bad.