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VW plots Polo R for race – and road

VWRCar: All-wheel drive Polo R racecar's 1.6-litre turbo four could deliver up to 225kW.

German giant’s grand 2013 WRC plan could see VW produce a road-going Polo R

9 May 2011

VOLKSWAGEN’S ambitious World Rally Championship bid has raised hopes of a showroom version of the Polo ‘R’ with which it will launch its assault on the 2013 WRC title.

The German giant, which has staked its claim to be the world’s largest auto-maker by 2018 and is also believed to be eying Formula One, last week announced it will join Mini, Citroen and Ford as the WRC’s fourth manufacturer in a three-year program that runs until 2015.

VW’s first fully fledged WRC effort, which had been rumoured for several months, was announced on the eve of last weekend’s Rally of Italy in Sardinia – the same event at which BMW’s Mini Countryman made its WRC debut.

It will see a new R-badged Polo racer, which is already in development at VW’s German motorsport HQ, take on the Countryman, which went on sale in Australia in February, Ford’s Fiesta and the replacement for Citroen’s WRC title-winning C4, last year’s new DS3 hatchback.

The DS3 WRC car, which like the Mini Countryman WRC was unveiled at last September’s Paris motor show, made its WRC debut at the Rally of Sweden in February in the hands of French rally legend Sebastien Loeb, who will attempt to win a record eighth consecutive WRC drivers’ title in 2011.

The all-wheel drive Polo R WRC, as it will be known, will be powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine as per this year’s new WRC technical regulations, which effectively see Super 2000 cars become world rally cars, paving the way for smaller models in the world’s top off-road racing championship.

3 center imageLeft: Volkswagen Polo WRC. Below: Mini Countryman WRC.

From 2011, instead of being powered by 2.0-litre turbo engines, WRC cars will add a supplementary kit to the current S2000 formula, including turbo and rear wing additions that must be able to be fitted or removed within a defined time limit.

If VW does produce a road-going version of its Polo R - which seems likely given the R nameplate is already seen on the top-shelf Golf R, Passat R36 and, previously, Touareg R50 models – the AWD 1.6 turbo hatch would sit above the GTI at the top of the Polo range.

Powered by a turbocharged and supercharged 132kW/250Nm 1.4-litre petrol engine, the Polo GTI has been a sell-out success in Australia in both three-door ($27,790) and five-door ($28,990) guises.

A more powerful 136kW 1.4 TFSI version of Audi’s similarly new three-door A1 hatch, to be known as the A1 Sport, will crown the Volkswagen luxury brand’s smallest model here in June.

Both the Polo and A1, which are based on the same compact VW platform, are so far available exclusively in front-wheel drive form and VW has previously ruled out an R version of its latest Polo.

However, Audi has since begun working on an AWD version of the A1, the engineering for which could easily be adapted to a street-legal Polo R hot-hatch.

While the race version is expected to deliver up to 225kW or 300hp, any potential road car would be limited to less than the 188kW/330Nm outputs of the current Golf R AWD's 2.0-litre turbo four.

First official images of the Polo R WRC reveal a three-door hatch that adds significantly to the Polo GTI menu with super-wide wheel tracks, massive wheel-arch extensions, bonnet and roof air-intakes and a massive double-deck rear wing.

VW has competed in the WRC before with front-drive Golf GTIs in the mid-1980s, but the 2013 season will mark the German brand’s first full factory assault on the WRC title.

VW says the Polo R WRC – development of which began in February – will be ready for intensive testing by the end of this year, before its employs Skoda’s Fabia S2000 rally car in selected 2012 events to provide the VW team with vital experience before its 2013 WRC debut.

Ironically, the Czech VW brand’s own WRC campaign plans – again based on the Fabia, which goes on sale here later this year and is also based on the Polo/A1 platform – are reported to have been replaced by the VW WRC plan.

VW’s WRC campaign also comes at the expense of a factory-backed defence of its Dakar Rally title, the gruelling cross-country gong it has won for the past three years in South America with highly modified versions of its Touareg luxury SUV.

The second-generation Touareg goes on sale in Australia in July and VW has indicated it will lease its well-worn Race Touareg fleet to a customer team.

VW’s Dakar departure leaves it free to enlist the testing services of WRC legend and VW Dakar team leader Carlos Sainz, who is expected to lead development of the all-new racecar.

While no WRC drivers have been signed, a number of qualified candidates have been linked to the Polo R WRC hot seat, including another WRC regular and Dakar winner for VW, Qatar’s Nassar Al-Attiyah and former WRC champ Petter Solberg.

Also reported to remain in the picture, however, is reigning champ Loeb himself, who won his 60th world rally and seventh straight title (as well as Citroen’s sixth) last year in emotional scenes during the Rally of France on a stage in Haguenau – the town in which he was born.

Volkswagen is also believed to be keen to sign a German driver to guide home its first fully fledged WRC attack, but appears to be in no hurry.

“We have plenty of time and I am sure we will find a driver whose ambitions and values match those of Volkswagen,” said VW board member Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, who added that the new down-sized WRC rules were a perfect fit for the force-fed smaller-displacement formula of VW’s production models.

“The new technical regulations of the World Rally Championship are an ideal fit for Volkswagen’s philosophy with respect to the development of production vehicles. Downsizing, high efficiency and reliability are top priorities for our customers.

“The timing of the WRC debut is optimal for Volkswagen. The big task of engineering a vehicle that is competitive and capable of winning at a large number of challenges holds great appeal for us.”

Organisers of the Australian round of the 2011 WRC on the Coffs Coast in September welcomed VW’s WRC entry.

“This is great news for us, as Volkswagen is one of the fastest-growing brands in Australia and has a strong following for the sporting models in its line-up,” said Rally Australia general manager Michael Masi.

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