Yep, it’s Dieselgate’s fault again

The motor racing world is still reeling from Audi’s decision to leave endurance racing at the conclusion of the 2016 season and now, it appears that the bad breaks aren’t over yet. Volkswagen has also announced plans to exit the World Rally Championship after the 2016 season.

The revelation is no less shocking than Audi’s departure from endurance racing, including Le Mans, because of Volkswagen’s outright dominance in the WRC ever since it entered the rally series in 2013. In fact, since it’s arrival, Volkswagen has yet to lose a driver’s or manufacturer’s title, having won both championships for four consecutive years.

But apparently, even outright dominance in the WRC is no match from the debilitating fallout of the diesel emissions scandal, which the German automaker admitted as being one of the primary reasons behind its exit from the WRC. The departure is even more upsetting when you consider that Volkswagen won’t get to line up in the same grid as Toyota, which announced its return to the world’s premier rally series in 2017.

The good news is that Volkswagen’s involvements in the WRC and rally racing altogether aren’t going to be shut down completely. The company still plans to develop new rally cars, including the new Polo rally race that’s being developed to R5 specifications. But instead of having an actual team like it has done during its short-lived, four-year dominance, the German automaker will develop these rally cars for customer teams. In addition, the company said that its involvement in the Global Rallycross program will remain intact with the possibility of the program even expanding past its current capacity.

So that’s the good news here. The bad news is that we won’t get to see Volkswagen compete in the WRC as its own team anymore, leaving behind the possibilities of what a Volkswagen-Toyota rally battle could have become.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Expected, but still surprising

I will attest that I’m not as big of a fan of the World Rally Championship as I am of Formula One or Formula E, but I have kept tabs in the series long enough to know Volkswagen’s four-year run of dominance. From a competitive balance point of view, not having Volkswagen in the picture could be seen as a positive thing given that the rest of the field would have a more even playing field to compete in. But still, that doesn’t erase the fact that not having the four-time defending champion in the grid next season is going to be a tough sell to fans of the series.

It’s unfortunate but it’s the reality of what Volkswagen is going through right now. The company also said that in addition to the diesel emissions scandal, it’s shift towards new technologies, including electrification, is another reason behind the decision to drop out of the WRC. There’s also the belief that from marketing and promotional perspectives, Volkswagen doesn’t really need the WRC to increase its exposure in Europe where the series is most popular. People already know about Volkswagen there and other markets like the U.S. and China where the company needs more brand-building, the WRC isn’t that big of a deal so the exposure on that front is minimal.

Whatever the company’s reasons are, I’m sure it was well thought-out given what it was dealing with. It sucks if you’re a fan of Volkswagen’s WRC racing team, but sometimes, bigger and more important things take precedence over motor sports.

Read our full review on the Volkswagen Polo WRC here.

Press Release

The Volkswagen brand realigns its motorsport programme. From 2017, Volkswagen will focus on new technologies and customer sport. The commitment to the FIA World Rally Championship is coming to an end after four historically successful years, in which Volkswagen won WRC titles in the driver, co-driver and manufacturer rankings in a row with the Polo R.

"The Volkswagen brand is facing enormous challenges. With the upcoming expansion in electrification of our vehicle range we must focus all our efforts on important future technologies. We far exceeded our sporting goals in the WRC, now we are realigning Volkswagen Motorsport and moving the vehicle technology of the future more starkly into focus," said Frank Welsch, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Technical Development, to about 200 motorsport employees in Hannover. "At the same time, Volkswagen is going to focus more on customer racing. As well as the Golf GTI TCR on the circuit track and the Beetle GRC in rallycross, we also want to offer customers top products and will develop a new Polo according to R5 regulations."

Started with the 2016 season, the Golf GTI TCR prepared by Volkswagen Motorsport offers a production-derived customer sport vehicle for ambitious drivers and teams committed on global and national levels in the fast growing TCR touring car category. In the USA, Volkswagen of America has successfully entered two Beetle vehicles, developed by Volkswagen Motorsport in Hannover, into the Global Rallycross series and has already prepared them for the 2017 season. Scott Speed won the drivers’ title in the popular US series in both 2015 and 2016, and this season the manufacturer’s title also went to Volkswagen. The brand will investigate the expansion of these activities on the strength of their existing experience in rallycross. Moreover, in 2017 Volkswagen will begin development of a new rally vehicle in the R5-category based on the next generation Polo and will offer the car to customers to buy from 2018 onwards.

The new vehicle, the Polo, will reap the benefit of the entire experience from the successful WRC commitment, where the factory teams of Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia, Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila and Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jæger competed in 51 rallies with 42 wins and 621 best times in the special stages – no other car in the history of the World Rally Championship has a better success rate. Last weekend, Volkswagen won their fourth manufacturer’s title* in a row in the UK World Rally Championship.

"I want to give our heartfelt thanks to our drivers and co-drivers for their outstanding achievements. They are not only unbelievably quick, but also extremely effective ambassadors for the Volkswagen brand. The whole team built around Motorsport Director Sven Smeets has created the basis for this success with the enormous commitment of each individual. We want to continue working with this excellent team and bring about the realignment. In the same way, we will expand the close cooperation between production development and motorsport, which has always shown benefits to both sides in recent years. There is a guarantee of employment for the Volkswagen Motorsport employees," said Frank Welsch.

Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets explained: "Of course, we regret the departure from the WRC very much – as this was the most successful chapter in the Volkswagen brand’s motorsport history. The team has done great things. At the same time, our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the great challenges facing the entire company. We want our realignment to contribute to the success of the Volkswagen brand. From now on, the focus is on upcoming technologies in motorsport and on our customer sports range, where we will position ourselves more broadly and attractively."

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