VW Motorsport has ended their WRC campaign this weekend at Rally Australia 2016 on a high note, claiming their 43rd win in just four years. Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Anders Jaeger dominated the rally from day 1, before finishing first in their VW Polo R WRC. Teammates, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the other Polo R came home second to give VW the best possible farewell with a 1-2 finish. Hyundai claimed the final spot on the podium thanks to Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in the i20 WRC.
VW is not the only team that marks the end of an era after this season. The entire WRC will see a drastic change in both rules and cars. Current cars will now retire as the teams prepare to usher in a new breed of challengers, coined as the ‘return of Group B’. The cars will feature huge aerodynamic aids affecting both the speed and power output. Four manufacturers are currently winding up testing on their cars ahead of the 2017 season premiere in Monte Carlo, they include Citroen, Hyundai, Ford and the returning Toyota.
However, the new cars will only be used by manufacturer backed teams, private entries will stick to the current cars. Since the new cars will be much faster, FIA has created a privateer class solely for non-manufacturer backed teams using the older cars.
For VW, Rally Australia 2016 was the end of the road, and despite having tested their 2017 WRC challenger, the rally team was among the brands affected in a series of radical changes within VW Group. Cost cutting measures brought about by the diesel gate have seen Audi quit WEC, VW quit WRC and 30,000 people lose their jobs just to name a few.
Ogier and the VW rally fraternity have racked up 12 WRC titles in just four years, a record in the modern day World Rally Championship. The Frenchman needed a few more titles in order to match his countryman, Sebastien Loeb who currently holds the most number of WRC titles at nine (all in a row).
Moving on, Hyundai witnessed their most successful season this year, finishing second on the manufacturers’ standings while Neuville and Gilsoul ended the year in second place as well on the drivers’ standings.
Neuville got lucky at Rally Australia after his teammate Hayden Paddon lost a tire in his Hyundai i20 WRC. Paddon was running third behind Ogier on the final day, coming down to stage 2, Ogier was the first to spin and lose time allowing Mikkelsen to edge away. But Paddon ran wide too on that same stage, he hit a bank and damaged his tire losing over a minute during repairs. Neuville thus moved into third with only three stages left.
Paddon would eventually finish fourth leading the other Hyundai of Dani Sordo. Sixth place went to Mads Østberg in the M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC. For M-Sport, their long term relationship with Ford continues to thrive in the world rally series, the current Fiesta RS has now been retired as the team prepares to launch next year’s challenger. During its career, the Fiesta has been entered 531 times in 78 different events, winning 50 podium finishes and 3 full podium lockouts.
Ott Tanak placed the other Fiesta RS in seventh leading Esapekka Lappi in the Skoda Fabia R5. The WRC2 competitor went ahead to claim the WRC2 title at Rally Australia after winning all but one stage. Ninth place went to Jari-Matti Latvala in the Polo R WRC leading Lorenzo Bertelli in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
The 2017 season kicks off in Monte-Carlo on 19-22 January.
[Photos by @World, J.Ree Photography, Daniel Roeseler, Helena El Mokni, Toni Welam]