Rally

Volkswagen hints at more WRC2 or ERC factory outings in 2019

Volkswagen has hinted it could field a factory Polo GTI R5 on more WRC2 events or European Rally Championship rounds in 2019.

VW was initially adamant it would only enter “one or two rallies in key markets” with its own works team before the car became a purely customer project.

But after a successful debut for the R5 with Eric Camilli and Petter Solberg on the World Rally Championship’s Rally Spain last month, VW has intimated that its works team will make more appearances.

Camilli and Solberg were first and second in WRC2 mid-way through the opening day in Catalunya.

A broken selector rod in the gearbox later ended Camilli’s rally, and Solberg finished third in class behind factory Skoda drivers Kalle Rovanpera and Jan Kopecky.

VW motorsport director Sven Smeets declared himself “very, very happy” with the car’s debut and said entering the rally had been much more useful than testing.

“We have learned so much more than we would on a test and that’s what we were here for,” Smeets told Autosport.

“We have a list of places where we know we can get quicker.

“We faced a steep learning curve on gravel and especially on Tarmac in the rain – Petter had never tested the car in these conditions and we don’t have so much experience.

“We’ve made changes to the car where we wouldn’t [normally] have in competition.

“Petter wanted to make changes to find out how the car would react so we could learn more than in the test.

“On the test you quickly learn the road and then you set the car up for that one road. Here it’s a compromise, but we learned a lot.

“We had a small problem, but the selector rod’s a standard part and something we can easily sort.”

Smeets made clear the door was open for future factory entries, hinting at mid-season European WRC rounds or ERC events in 2019.

“It won’t be this year and it won’t be Monte Carlo [next year],” he said.

“We have customers going to Sweden so there’s no point in us going there and we won’t go to the overseas events [outside Europe].

“We might go to some nice European [championship] events, maybe we’ll do an Ypres or Barum [Rally Zlin] or something like that.”

He confirmed he wanted to continue working with Camilli and Solberg in the test programme, with both drivers potentially in line for rally outings too.

The Catalunya entry was VW’s first factory rally appearance since it pulled out of the WRC at the end of 2016, when it scrapped its multiple-title-winning programme in the wake of its road car arm’s emissions scandal.

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