When Audi Sport UK announced its sudden withdrawal from rallying in July this year, one of the questions which needed answering was whether that decision affected Volkswagen, the other arm of VAG.
Volkswagen has been involved in the sport in Britain for a number of years, both in rallying and racing. The 8-valve 2-litre engine, for instance, has almost been de rigueur in the British Formula Three Championship since Dave Scott scored its maiden win in 1982: Johnny Dumfries (1984), Andy Wallace (1986) and Johnny Herbert (1987) have all won the title with VW Motorsport backing, while the engine scored 63 consecutive single-seater victories in the process.
Not having the money available this year to finance any sort of “works” team in either racing or rallying, Volkswagen’s product manager Nigel Walker hatched up the idea of .the Bonus Programme. Rather than go the route of many other manufacturers and devise and promote the company’s own one-make series (which, when out of fashion, tend to end up as ghetto championships), it was decided that it would be preferable to encourage the use of its cars in existing championships.
The Dunlop British Touring Car, Uniroyal and Monroe Production Car Championships were thus selected for racing Golf GTis, while rallymen had the choice of the Open, the National and the Scottish Rally Championships. Both programmes are managed in the same way, the difference between the two sides of the sport being that only 1987 or 1988 16-valve Golf GTis are eligible for racing, while the rally drivers can choose between campaigning 8- and 16-valve versions from 1986 onwards.
After some deliberation it was decided to exclude Volkswagen users in Formula Three from the bonus programme, the teams concerned being offered a separate financial arrangement instead. The likes of Gary Brabham, Ross Hockenhull, Jason Elliott and Paul Warwick are thus not eligible.
Registration for this, the inaugural year of the bonus programme, was completed by March, with 14 entrants registered for rallying and 20 for racing. Not only was it necessary for all applicants to have some record by which they could be judged before being accepted, but also that they had a viable sponsorship programme for the season. There is no way, therefore, that an unproven person could be accepted.
Designed to help competitors with their cash-flow throughout the year, the programme is organised in three distinct phases.
“Initial” support enables the purchase of a basic parts package, which comprises a Golf three-door bodyshell, 16-valve engine, gearbox and basic competition pack at a preferential price for a Group A car (or a subsidy is offered for the purchase of a Golf GTi 16V at a “rally use only” cost for Group N). “Intermediate” support provides starting-money and prize-money of various amounts, depending on the championship entered, and is payable each month. “Final” support is in effect a results bonus, the size of which depends upon whether it is an overall or class position. All phases are applicable to both the racing and rallying side of the programme, but extra assistance is extended to the rallymen with a parts credit-line of £1000 offered by Volkswagen through nominated dealers.
Finance for this programme has come directly from Volkswagen Motorsport and was originally settled at £100,000, but as soon as it became apparent that the scheme was becoming bigger than had originally been contemplated, the fund had to be boosted by fifty per cent to meet demand.
Additionally there are Top Volkswagen dealer awards in each championship, and £2000 is offered to the Volkswagen Rally Driver Of The Year and £1000 to the Volkswagen Driver Of The Year. The Quantum award will go to the car which most effectively promotes VW’s own parts-supply company, and £2000 is offered by the public relations department for the team which is most proficient at publicising itself and the events it attends.
Andrew Wood and Andy Middlehurst are typical of the drivers Volkswagen is keen to have driving its cars. The Scot has been successfully rallying Astras for the last three years but was encouraged to switch marques by the advent of the bonus programme, while Middlehurst is a young and aggressive competitor with a good record in both rallying and racing who this year is doing well in both the Uniroyal and Monroe championships.
The scheme has also encouraged new sponsors to enter the sport, such as Wagon Finance with Andrew Wood’s Group A Golf, as well as various Volkswagen dealers who enter or look after a car.
It has to be said that this is not the way for new competitors to enter motor racing, however, since the emphasis is very firmly tilted towards those who have a track record, the idea for Volkswagen being that its cars should be seen in the hands of potential front runners. But as a promotional tool for the company there is little doubt that the scheme has been a success in its first year. WPK