VW's plan of attack

A lot of my life goes by while on the highways of Britain. Sometimes I pass the time by betting myself a fiver that in the next 30 seconds I will see a Volkswagen. I am still in profit. So, to curry favour with all you VW drivers, this month’s column is about the maker of these ubiquitous cars. I’m not daft; I know how to drum up a few more readers.

If Volkswagen made alarm clocks I would buy one. This is because people keep telling me the cars are so reliable. Maybe they are, but aside from the venerable Golf GTi they are not exactly sexy. But this may be about to change with what VW calls ‘the hottest Polo ever’.

Volkswagen has begun to test its Polo R WRC in preparation for the 2013 World Rally Championship, the company finally deciding to expose its cars at the highest level. There is, quite rightly, much excitement at the prospect of another make joining the WRC.

The manufacturer has signed up Sébastien Ogier, who won five rounds of the WRC in 2011. The highly rated Frenchman has clearly decided that the potential of the Polo is a better bet than another season alongside his nemesis, Sébastien Loeb at Citroën. No sooner had Ogier zipped up his new VW overalls than he went out and won the Race of Champions in Düsseldorf, beating Tom Kristensen in the final and showcasing the new Polo (above).

“Sébastien really impressed me,” said Tom afterwards, “and he certainly has a big future ahead of him in rallying with Volkswagen.” High praise indeed from the eight-time winner of Le Mans.

Double world champion Carlos Sainz, who won the Dakar Rally for VW in 2010, is also on board in an advisory capacity. He has done some initial shakedowns with a prototype car and will continue to act as a management consultant for the WRC team.

“It’s an interesting challenge; we start from zero,” Sainz tells me. “The prototype is only 60 per cent of what will come later in the development, but it is promising and has a good balance. The first indications are good, but we are too far away from the final car to make a proper judgement. On a modern rally car the most important factors are weight distribution and suspension setup – that’s where the speed and driveability comes from in the beginning. You don’t slide cars like in the old days; it’s important now to drive the modern cars as straight as possible.”

The Polo will need to be good. Loeb says he will continue to compete until the end of 2013 and Sainz is acutely aware of the strength in depth at Citroën. “They have so much managerial experience, but it’s not only Citroën, there is also Ford and Mini. But Loeb is an outstanding driver, an extraordinary talent – to win eight titles, this is only for a mega driver. But we intend to make it more difficult for Citroën in 2013.”

Former German F3 champion Kris Nissen, now VW’s director of motor sport, is also upbeat about its high-profile move to the WRC.

“After our success on the Dakar we needed to find other high-level things to do and the WRC gives us global exposure,” he says. “But it needs more TV coverage and we are working on that with the FIA. More manufacturers are coming in now and the WRC gives us bigger opportunities for our dealers and sponsors. Also the sporting image of our cars will be improved by success in the WRC and we will be working with the same passion with which we won the Dakar Rally for the past three years.” No surprises there.

Nissen is clearly enthused by the signing of Ogier from Citroën ahead of a demanding test and development programme on all surfaces mixed with a WRC campaign in a Škoda Fabia S2000.

“I’m really proud that Sébastien chose to come to us now. He can test the car all through 2012 and that will put him in a good position for 2013. I don’t believe he was in the shadow of Loeb, no way, and remember that they both won five rallies last year.”

I’d have another fiver on there being plenty of hot Polos on the roads before too long.