Unknown territory for the Volkswagen Polo R WRC

Volkswagen duos line up for WRC rally number seven in overall positions first, second and fourthCareful preparations: three days of test-driving for Ogier, Latvala and MikkelsenRally Poland back in WRC calendar for the first time since 2009

The world champions will be venturing into terra incognita from 26 to 29 June 2014 when the team’s three Polo R WRC vehicles traverse Poland at a rallying pace and with spectacular drifts for the first time. The defending champions and current leaders Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), the second-placed duo Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) and Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) can look forward to high-speed action, smooth gravel tracks, hilltops followed by lengthy jumps, and the rally with the longest history after the legendary ‘Monte’. While this will be the first rally in Poland for the 315 hp World Rally Car made in Wolfsburg, the three Volkswagen teams already have experience of driving in Poland – and all of them have a score to settle there.

Ahead of the seventh event in the current FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), which sees Poland return to the fold of host nations for the first time since 2009, and with one rally still to go before the summer break, Ogier/Ingrassia and Volkswagen Motorsport are already the ‘half-time champions’ of the WRC. And while Ogier/Ingrassia will do everything they can to extend their lead, Latvala/Anttila have their sights set firmly on closing the gap and reducing the front-runners’ current 33-point lead. The Ogier vs. Latvala duel recently delighted the spectators in Argentina and Italy. And thousands of fans are expected to turn up to see not only the 24 special stages over 362.48 kilometres that make up Rally Poland, but also the service park in Mikołajki. In addition, the rally will feature a foray into Lithuania on Saturday for several special stages.

“Rally Poland is the only event in the WRC calendar that we have never before tackled under competition conditions with the Polo R WRC,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “But that doesn’t make any difference to the goal we have set ourselves of winning in Poland too. We have prepared ourselves for this challenge with a compact, intensive three-day test and we have the vehicle that everyone currently needs to beat – the Polo R WRC. Ten wins in a row speak for themselves. As do the achievements of our three drivers in the rallies that have already taken place. I firmly believe that Ogier versus Latvala has the potential to become this season’s ongoing thriller. And let’s not forget Andreas Mikkelsen, who has had some fantastic rallies so far this season and who is already one of the world’s best drivers at the age of 24. Our opponents will do everything they can to beat us. In a nutshell, we are very much looking forward to Rally Poland.”Three days of testing – Volkswagen team engages in intensive preparations for Rally Poland

Two weeks prior to the start of Rally Poland, Volkswagen carefully prepared for the task ahead with tests. The factory-backed duos Ogier/Ingrassia, Latvala/Anttila and Mikkelsen/Fløene each had a day in which to familiarise themselves with the conditions in and around Mikołajki. Rally Poland is characterised by fast stretches on sandy gravel with lots of hilltops – it occasionally has similarities with Finland, but there are fewer forest-based stages and more turn-offs. The rally is also extremely changeable in terms of the weather – for example, last year’s entrants in what’s now the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) found themselves stuck in the mud during the pre-rally recce.

Goldap, Kapciamiestis and Mikołajki Arena – the highlights

Polish premiere: the 35.17-kilometre Goldap special stage features for the first time in 2014 and is enough to set rally fans’ hearts racing. This event highlight is characterised by spectacular hilltops and long jumps, and also long bends to really test the drivers’ courage. SS Kapciamiestis is likewise new to everyone and is one of four stages being held across the border in Lithuania. Here, too, there are fast, uninterrupted stretches on hard gravel. However, the absolute highlight promises to be the shortest stage in Rally Poland – the circuit in front of spectators in Mikołajki Arena. The 2.5-kilometre super special stage is just a stone’s throw from the service park and features in the rally a total of four times.

Rally number 20 for the Polo R WRC, or: The story so far in figures

19 rallies, 16 wins and 28 podium finishes – the track record of the Polo R WRC in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) is something of a motorsport dream come true. The 315 hp four-wheel drive vehicle has so far taken part in 343 special stages – and has clinched victory in 226 of them. And in the Power Stages where there are bonus points up for grabs for the top three teams, the Volkswagen drivers have struck it lucky no less than 32 times. A Polo R WRC finished up front 13 times in the 18 Power Stages held thus far, giving Volkswagen a Power Stage victory rate of 84 per cent since January 2013. And in terms of podium spots, it boasts a victory rate of 53 per cent: out of 19 rallies with Volkswagen, Sébastien Ogier has made it onto the winners’ rostrum 16 times, while his team rival Jari-Matti Latvala has notched up a tally of eleven. Rally Poland will be the 20th rally contested by the Polo R WRC.

2009 and three scores to settle for the Volkswagen duos

Three drivers, three different teams and three early exits: Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen all have something to prove in Poland. The defending champion and current overall leader Sébastien Ogier had to pull out of the rally early in 2009 due to a technical malfunction, having been comfortably on course for third place with Citroën. Jari-Matti Latvala, who was with Ford at the time, had an accident a few hundred metres from the finishing line at the spectator stage in Mikołajki, which took him out of the running having been in second place. And Andreas Mikkelsen likewise had to abandon the rally early in his Škoda Fabia WRC.

First work, then play: football fever hits the Volkswagen team

Ecuador versus France, Honduras versus Switzerland, USA versus Germany, Portugal versus Ghana, and Korea versus Belgium – there will be plenty for everyone in the Volkswagen team to talk about other than all the rally action on the Wednesday and Thursday of Rally Poland. The Volkswagen Motorsport team members will be paying extra special attention to the World Cup matches above, as there is someone in the team who will be keeping their fingers crossed in each case, be it the world champion driver and co-driver, the technical director, an engineer, the head mechanic, a mechanic or the motorsport director. Volkswagen will be represented by the following ‘united nations’ in Poland: Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Quotes ahead of Rally Poland

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1“The most important thing is that we are currently in the lead in the WRC and that we even managed to extend our lead in Sardinia recently. Obviously, we want to keep up the good work in Poland. We know we can’t always win, but we have to set ourselves the goal of always scoring as many points as possible in a rally. It’s my aim this year to maintain a 25-point lead – in other words, a full race victory – over the team in second place at all times. Because you never know what might happen. I don’t think we can make much use of our pace notes from 2009 or what we experienced back then, as it’s too long ago. I may take a look at some of the on-board footage we shot back then. On the whole it’s fair to say that this year’s rally is new territory for everyone. We carried out a test in the run-up to the rally, and it went very well. We mainly focused on getting the vehicle set-up right for the conditions in Poland. The track was very fast and it was interesting to familiarise ourselves with the track surface. It’s very sandy and soft, so after a few cars have driven over it, it can quickly break up and become uneven. As a result, we expect the track conditions to be very different when we tackle the special stages for a second time in the afternoon.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2“Rally Poland consists of very fast stretches with lots of jumps, a bit like in Finland. But the difference is that there is less forest in Rally Poland and the special stages are more often held in open country. Also, the surface is sandy, rather than rocky. I already have a rough idea of what to expect in Rally Poland as I competed there in 2009. But the WRC drivers now perform at such a high level – they can very quickly adapt to different conditions, surfaces and grip levels. So it certainly won’t be easy. Some of the special stages are the same as in 2009. Even so, we are writing a completely new set of pace notes and won’t be referring to our old notes at all. The special stages being held in Lithuania are new. So there are a lot of new elements, and we therefore need to prepare very carefully. The fans in Poland are crazy about rallies. That was already the case in 2009, and it will be even more intense this time around because Robert Kubica is now competing in the WRC. There’s bound to be a great atmosphere.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9“After doing well with Ola in Rally Italy, I’m now looking forward to Rally Poland. I picked up some experience there in the Škoda Fabia WRC in 2009 and I really enjoyed that. Rally Poland is very, very fast. The special stages are pretty sandy, so it definitely won’t be easy. There will be a lot of spectators there to support us and, of course, in particular Robert Kubica, who is something of a national hero in Poland. The fans will be treated to some long jumps and a great show. There’s just a great atmosphere there. The route is pretty fast with stretches of uninterrupted driving, which should suit my driving style nicely. I’m confident that we will achieve a good result there. We came fourth for the third time in Italy. So I’d like to improve that by at least one place this time.”

Did you know …

... that Rally Poland has been running since 1921? After Rally Monte Carlo, which started in 1911, it’s the oldest rallying event that’s still going today.

... that although Rally Poland has been going since 1921, it has only been part of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) twice to date? That was in the first year of the world championship in 1973 and in the 2009 season. From 1964, the Polish rally was part of what’s now the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) on 44 occasions.

... that the first winner of Rally Poland was the local hero Tadeusz Heyne in 1921? Driving a Dodge, the Pole came through against six other opponents in the event.

... that a German won the first WRC rally in Poland in 1973? Achim Warmbold won the rally, driving a Fiat. And his co-driver was Jean Todt (F), the current president of the FIA, the world governing body for motorsport.

... that the Ford duo Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN/FIN) clinched victory in Poland’s last guest appearance in the World Rally Championship in 2009?

... that the Volkswagen Group brand Škoda won Rally Poland in the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) in 2012? The duo Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN), who were also in the lead overall in the ERC at the time, won the event with a Škoda Fabia Super 2000.

... that Rally Poland replaces Rally Greece in the 2014 WRC calendar? Last year in Greece, the Volkswagen duo Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) scored their first ever victory in the Polo R WRC.

... that the 2014 competitors can look forward to 24 special stages comprising 362.48 timed kilometres in total? The full distance of the rally is 1,671.34 kilometres. The four special stages being held in Lithuania on the second day are a new addition since the 2009 rally.

... that the 2014 rally headquarters will be in the tourist town of Mikołajki, which has a population of approximately 3,800 and is in the Polish voivodeship (province) of Warmia-Masuria?

... that the 71st Rally Poland is being organised by the Polish Motor Union (PZM) in partnership with the Lithuanian Automobile Sport Federation (LASF)?

... that this will be the first time in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) that a rally is held in two countries in different time zones? Poland is on central European time (UTC +01:00), while Lithuania uses eastern European time (UTC +02:00). However, Rally Poland will use the same time for the whole of the rally – Polish time has been set as the rally time.

... that Rally Poland has been held on gravel roads around the Masurian Lake District since 2005?

... that there will be an evening spectator stage under the floodlights at Mikołajki Arena on four of the rally days?