23 November 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Volkswagen bids farewell to Polo R WRC with Rally Australia win

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Australia: Mikkelsen

Volkswagen Motorsport waved goodbye to four years of World Rally Championship domination with a final one-two victory at Rally Australia, the final round of the 2016 series. Volkswagen young-guns Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jæger lifted the trophy in Coffs Harbour, with four-time and 2016 World Champions* Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in second place. The end-of-era win was the 43rd victory for the German team from Hannover which also tops the Manufacturers’ Championship* for 2016.

Exciting in-house battle
The Norwegians really did deserve the prize, as the pair led for over 94 per cent of the event’s 283.36kms of dusty and loose gravel stages. An exciting and closely-fought in-house battle with Ogier and Ingrassia proved a fitting send off for the record-breaking 318bhp four-wheel drive Polo R WRC, and ensured the car finished its service in the top-flight motorsport series on a high. Both Polo R WRC crews had unfavourable starting positions, too, given the ‘sweeping’ of the loose surface which was needed to clear a path through it.

Ogier and Ingrassia came top of the Shakedown pile, with their Norwegian team-mates close behind them. Mikkelsen and Jæger won five of the opening day’s eleven special stages to take an early lead, and finished in the top three on every stage to take a lead of 15.4 seconds. Ogier and Ingrassia produced a performance worthy of their world champion status to win four special stages, ending day one in second place overall.

Mikkelsen went on only to lose his lead once during the whole rally, when a bizarre incident almost cost him the event. His Polo R WRC’s clutch pedal bent and held down his brake pedal after the floor of his car was dented. A water bottle also wedged itself in the pedal area of his car, but the Norwegian solved these ‘interesting’ setbacks and claimed the third of his career wins and his first since Rally Poland back in July.

As magnificent as it was, Mikkelsen and Jæger’s final performance in the Polo R WRC sadly wasn’t enough to achieve second place in the 2016 Drivers’ Championship. Mikkelsen’s friend and rival Thierry Neuville finished the Australian event in third place, leap-frogging the second-placed Norwegian in the overall standings, finishing runner-up behind world champion Ogier. In the end, Neuville’s jump over his friend was narrow – just six points separated him and Mikkelsen – but for a driver who started his international WRC career at Volkswagen, it didn’t seem to matter.

‘Wonderful result’
Mikkelsen was, understandably, emotionally jubilant: ‘What a fantastic weekend, and what a wonderful result at the end of our season. 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. Volkswagen is the team that gave me the opportunity to step up into the top class of the WRC. It put a lot of faith in me and made so much possible for me. It will always have a special place in my heart.

‘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. On the one hand, it is a bit of a shame that we just missed out on second place in the championship. On the other hand, that is not so important. If I had been given the choice of winning our final rally together or finishing runner-up in the world championship, I would always have chosen the win.’

‘A fantastic journey’
Ogier meanwhile once again proved his dominance with another Power Stage victory. His and Ingrassia’s 33rd win on the bonus points stage, it takes the total number of Polo R WRC Power Stage scores to 92.

The Frenchman rued an early mistake, but said an emotional ‘au revoir’ to his and Ingrassia’s Volkswagen family: ‘I was a bit wide exiting a left-hander at the end of the “Wedding Bells” stage and spun. In the huge dust cloud, it took me a few moments to work out where the road was. We lost almost 20 seconds as a result. However, I have no regrets. Julien and I were really going for it all weekend, and had had a great battle with Andreas up to that point. He deserved the win.

‘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 so much to thank the team for. Volkswagen Motorsport has been like a family to Julien and 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.”

‘Fitting leaving present’
The third Polo R WRC of Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila was sadly denied a happy
ending at the final rally of 2016. The Finns damaged their suspension when they brushed a
barrier on a bridge at the very start of the event, but celebrated two best times on day two of the rally. Even though the pair lost over seven minutes, 2015’s runners-up in the World Rally Championship fought their way back into the points and ended Rally Australia in ninth place, and round out the year in sixth position in the overall drivers’ standings.

Latvala was disappointed but upbeat: ‘I enjoyed the final few kilometres in the Polo R WRC on today’s Power Stage. We had some good special stages today and yesterday, and made good progress through the field. We can be happy with our performance over the past few days. Unfortunately, we made light contact with a wall on a bridge on the opening stage, and destroyed the rear suspension in the process.

‘We lost a lot of time as a result, and had no chance of challenging for either the podium or the win. I would have liked to have done that – primarily to give our team a fitting leaving present. Our team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Sébastien Ogier claimed a deserved one-two. Congratulations to them both. We will celebrate as a team again this evening, before our time together in the World Rally Championship comes to an end. It is sure to be very emotional,’ the Finn concluded.

‘Emotional goodbye’
Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets was proud of the success his team has achieved since the Polo R WRC first turned a wheel on a WRC event in 2013: ‘Today is a very successful day for Volkswagen on the one hand, and an emotional goodbye to the world rally championship on the other. To bid farewell with a one-two is simply fantastic.

‘Despite the difficult situation, the entire team gave their all and was thoroughly professional right down to the final metre. I am incredibly proud of our performance here at the Rally Australia – and over the past few years. I would like to thank everyone in Hannover, Wolfsburg and at the rallies, as well as our partners, who have all contributed to our success. We have achieved a lot and head into our future in motorsport full of confidence.’

Impressive record
After four years at the top of the pinnacle of rallying, Volkswagen Motorsport bids farewell to the most prestigious motorsport world championship outside Formula 1 with a truly impressive record. The Polo R WRC maintains it position as the most successful WRC car ever, winning 640 stages from the 958 it has contested, a win rate of 82.7 per cent. From 52 rallies it was finished on the podium 87 times, taking victory on 43 occasions.

The three-car squad from Hannover has driven 48,732.52 special stage kilometres – almost exactly three times the distance between Ikarusallee 7a in Hannover (where the team is based) and the Volkswagen service area in Coffs Harbour, Australia. Volkswagen’s reign over the WRC lasted a total of 200 weeks, 3 days, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 41 seconds, measured from the moment Jari-Matti Latvala left the start ramp at the 2013 Rally Monte-Carlo to when Andreas Mikkelsen crossed the finish line at the 2016 Rally Australia.

Other stats? Volkswagen drivers finished inside the top three 1,570 times and finished one-two-three 109 times. The team also scored 26 second and 18 third places. During the 51 Power Stages, 39 have been won by Volkswagen drivers, who also took 27 second places, 26 third places and four 1-2-3s. There have been 152 official Polo R WRC entries for the three-car squad, and Volkswagen has topped the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship for an uninterrupted 986 days with Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and the manufacturers’ standings for 1,346 consecutive days.

Volkswagen also holds the record for the longest winning run in the WRC. It won 12 rallies in a row on two occasions from the 2013 Rally Australia to the 2014 Rally Finland, and from the 2015 Rally Portugal to the 2016 Rally Mexico. All the remains now is to see where the drivers end up next year. With 2017 shaping up to be a reinvigorating one for the series due to new cars and technical regulations, only an unwise man would bet against Sébastien Ogier ending up as the top driver for another team. He is, after all, with 38 victories, now the second placed driver in the all-time WRC winners’ list.

Read our comment piece on Volkswagen’s shock exit from the World Rally Championship here.

*Subject to confirmation from the FIA.

2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

RALLY AUSTRALIA FINAL RESULTS

1 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen: 2h 46m 05.7s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen: + 14.9s
3 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai: + 1m 12.6s
4 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai: + 1m 26.7s
5 Dani Sordo/Marc Martí (E/E), Hyundai: + 1m 28.3s

2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS

1 Sébastien Ogier, 268
2 Thierry Neuville, 160
3 Andreas Mikkelsen, 154
4 Hayden Paddon, 138
5 Dani Sordo, 130

2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS

1 Volkswagen Motorsport, 377
2 Hyundai Motorsport, 312
3 Volkswagen Motorsport II, 163
4 M-Sport, 162
5 Hyundai Motorsport N, 146

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