Volkswagen celebrated a strong rally debut with the Polo GTI R5. At the Rally Spain, the new customer sport car made a good impression with best times on both gravel and tarmac – and in doing so proved its competitiveness at the highest level from the word go in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Petter Solberg/Veronica Engan celebrated a podium finish in third place, Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas led for much of the rally. At the only works appearance, Volkswagen achieved their self-defined objective of demonstrating the performance of the latest customer sport car. After its sporting debut, the next phase gets underway for the 200 kW (272 PS) Polo GTI R5. In the coming weeks, the first cars will go to international customers – in South America and throughout Europe.
“I think that we have completed our mission,” said Sven Smeets, Volkswagen Motorsport Director. “Petter and Eric delivered top performances in very difficult conditions and helped the Polo GTI R5 make a strong debut, with both drivers getting best times. Leading the first rally ahead of strong competition and winning special stages on different surfaces is a clear sign that the Polo GTI R5 is extremely competitive. At the same time, we know that the car has even more potential.”
Successful test in competitive conditions – Polo GTI R5 great from the start
The best time on the first special stage – what its “big brother”, the Polo R WRC, achieved on its WRC debut in 2013, the Polo GTI R5 can now also claim. Volkswagen duo Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas initially took the lead in the WRC-2 category during the test in competitive conditions. Their team-mates at the first outing for the Polo GTI R5, Petter Solberg/Veronica Engan, caused a stir with the best time on the most challenging and longest gravel stage of the rally on their return to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), and finished the rally in a strong third position in their class. And that was despite the weather and tyre choice making things tricky for drivers and teams. In such conditions experiences with the car and good connections between drivers and engineers are an advantage.
And the Polo GTI R5 demonstrated its pace on asphalt on day two and three as well
While making too conservative a tyre choice and opting for too hard a setup saw Camilli/Veillas forfeit their lead in the first section on Saturday, they were already snatching at first place again in the afternoon – with just three tenths of a second between them and the eventual winners Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda). However, a defect in the shift linkage cost Camilli/Veillas their hope of victory. On their return under Rally 2 regulations on Sunday, the French duo secured more best times, including on the special stage on the famous “Riudecanyes” section.
“The pace of the Polo GTI R5 was good from the start,” said Gerard-Jan de Jongh, Technical Project Lead for the Polo GTI R5. “Eric Camilli and Petter Solberg demonstrated that the car is competitive and fast in all conditions and with both drivers. However, a competition like the Rally Spain is always different from testing – which is why a minor defect had a major impact. But the problem with the shift linkage is easy to solve and eliminate before the car is delivered to customers. All in all, we are extremely pleased with the debut.”
Solberg was really happy with his performance after six years away from the WRC
“It was not an easy task with just two days of testing and totally new pace notes. Which is why I am very proud of what Veronica and I achieved here. A podium result on the debut – things couldn’t have gone much better. We avoided all risks at the rally, always looked for a clean line. With a little bit more of an attack, no doubt we could have come away with more. But the most important thing is that I had an incredible amount of fun in the car, and when you finish on the podium with champagne, you start to mull things over. A quick word about Sébastien Loeb to finish: it was simply fantastic what he did here. Congratulations on his exceptional win!”, he said.
Camilli was also content with his performance.
“There’s one thing I’d like to say first, because it’s very important to me. I enjoyed every single minute in the Polo GTI R5 this weekend, it’s so much fun driving the car. We wanted to show that the Polo is fast in all conditions. I think that we demonstrated that with best times on gravel and tarmac. With a little bit more luck Benjamin and I could have celebrated a better result, possibly even the class win. All in all, I am very pleased with our performance. And I am very proud that I was privileged to be part of this special debut”, the Frenchman explained.
Next phase in customer rally sport: Delivery of the first Polo GTI R5s will commence shortly
The completion of the Polo GTI R5’s successful debut at the Rally Spain sees the next phase in Volkswagen’s new customer sport project get underway. Eight customer teams bought the first 15 models. First deliveries will happen before the end of 2018. And the Rally Spain showed signs that sales won’t remain at 15 Polo GTI R5 for the markets of Paraguay, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Finland, Austria and Portugal. Prospective buyers were beating down Volkswagen’s proverbial door in the Service Park.
Manufacturing of the customer cars is now underway in Hannover – which sees a transformation for Volkswagen finally take place in motorsport since the end of 2016. The Polo GTI R5 is the first customer sport car coming from the motorsport location in Ikarusallee. That goes both for production and deliveries.
Volkswagen have set themselves the goal of delivering an additional 30 to 40 Polo GTI R5 to customers next year.
One of the best things about my @OfficialWRC return at the weekend was being able to meet so many old friends and fans – and of course putting on a show for the fans 😉 check out these cool angles from the Riudecanyes ‘donut’ yesterday! 🍩 pic.twitter.com/6xnDIlplzh
— Petter Solberg RX (@Petter_Solberg) October 29, 2018