Though a winning sight on the first three rallies of the year, forget the fearsome Polo R WRC for a moment. Last week we heard news of a second Group N Polo 6R rally car being prepared, following the sighting of one in South Africa on the Total Rally a couple of weeks ago. This new car was in India, and as it turns out, forms one of a pair run by Team Slideways Industries, an outfit based in Pune, not far from the Volkswagen factory which makes the Polo (and its Vento sister) for the local market. We’ll be following the team’s progress throughout 2013, and spoke to Aniruddha Rangnekar who looks after press and PR to find out more.
Set to debut the Group N Polo 1.6 at the AVT Premium South India Rally this weekend in Chennai, the Slideways Industries team will contest the six-round 2013 Indian National Rally Championship (INRC), which runs until December. The Polo is the first all-new car to debut in the INRC in over six years and the first hatchback in the rally championship in over a decade. Team Slideways Industries, backed by Pune-based Pinnacle Group, will enter two Polos in the South India Rally driven by Sirish Chandran (with co-driver Nikhil Pai) in the 1600cc class and Rohan Pawar (with co-driver Nitin Jacob) in the Junior INRC class.
Rangnekar tells us that the cars have been built to FIA Group N regulations by Chettinad Sporting in Coimbatore under the guidance of Team Slideways Industries technical director Byram Godrej: ‘The car is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that develops over 110bhp thanks to revised ECU mapping and a modified intake and exhaust and drives the front wheels via the standard five-speed gearbox. The only change permitted to the transmission as per regulations is the inclusion of a limited slip front differential. The suspension retains the standard layout and geometry but the dampers are high-spec three-way adjustable units made by European manufacturers Öhlins and Reiger.’
‘An exhaustive test session in Coimbatore last week helped to fine tune the suspension and check reliability. As expected, the car ran well, is a testiment to how well built and incredibly tough the standard road-going Polo is. It’s a very encouraging sign for a car that hasn’t been rallied till now,’ said Chandran. Seven-time Indian National Rally champion Kumar was brought in to fine tune the set-up and declared himself happy with the performance and setup. ‘On the handling and reliability front the car is now sorted – what we need to work on is the engine, but we will do that after the first rally in Chennai. Inherently the standard engine is very torquey and that will help us immensely in tight stages, particularly the hairpins where the Polo is sure to make up time over the other cars,’ said Godrej.
The Team Slideways Industries’ Polos run on 195/60 R15 ZDM2 rally tyres made by MRF Tyres which have been developed in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship where MRF Tyres won the title last year, and are a big contributor to the performance and handling of the car, both on tarmac and gravel. Team Slideways Industries has received extensive support from Volkswagen Motorsport India (who administer the local one-make Polo R-Cup India circuit racing championship) in terms of spares, technical know-how, performance parts and logistics support. Volkswagen Motorsport India has in fact dispatched a truck-load of spares including a spare engine and gearboxes to the South India Rally to support not just Slideways Industries, but also any competitor who runs a Polo in the INRC.
‘We are hugely excited to debut the Polo in the INRC’, says Team Principal Pawar. ‘The car is fast, reliable and, crucially, exciting to watch. You cant expect rally fans to come out and watch cars which have long since ceased production in India; they have nothing to relate to. With the Polo, rally enthusiasts can now look forward to a contemporary car which looks great while being driven fast and I am sure it will be a game changer for the INRC, especially with the factory support of Volkswagen Motorsport.’
The team will also run two Balenos, for Byram Godrej (with co-driver Prajval Pai) and Aniruddha Rangnekar (with co-driver Harrish Kumar) in the 1600 class. ‘We have concentrated our resources on running two Polos and making sure both are reliable; after all to win you have to first finish,’ says Aniruddha who was instrumental in forming the team. By round three we hope to have our Polos ready and by the time we get to our home rally in Nashik I am sure the car will have made the headlines everywhere.’
2013 INDIAN NATIONAL RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
Round 1: 22-24 March: MMSC, Chennai (Gravel)
Round 2: 12-14 April: Northern Motorsports, Bhuj (Gravel)
Round 3: 17-19 May: Kolkata, RRPM (Gravel)
Round 4: 07-09 June: WISA, Nashik (Tarmac)
Round 5: 25-27 October: K1000, KMSC Bangalore (Gravel)
Round 6: 29 November -01 December: MSCC, Chikmagalur (Gravel)