Monte-Carlo: The new Polo R WRC makes its debut at a rally classic

First big test for the second generation Polo R WRC

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By Olivier Ferret

17 January 2015 - 13:54
Monte-Carlo: The new Polo R WRC (...)

Tough test for the new, second generation of the Polo R WRC: when Volkswagen lines up at the Rally Monte Carlo (22–25 January), it will take on the opposition in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) with a World Rally Car that has been the subject of sweeping modifications. Double world champions Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), runners-up Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), and last year’s third-placed driver Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Ola Fløene (N/N) will take on the legendary “Monte” in the Polo R WRC featuring a new blue, blue and white design. Changes have also been afoot under the bonnet: 75 per cent of the chassis components have been reviewed and many of them modified, while the engine has been made lighter and more powerful. However, the biggest innovation for the drivers is the new gearbox, which, for the first time on the Polo, uses a hydraulic system operated via a shift paddle on the steering column.

“We are looking forward to seeing how the new Polo R WRC fares at the Rally Monte Carlo,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “The predecessor immediately won its first special stage at the first attempt, and then went on to win the second rally of the year. That has obviously set the bar high, but we are confident that the new Polo can follow on from the run of success the old version enjoyed. The Rally Monte Carlo is generally regarded as a form of rally roulette, due to its difficult and varying conditions. However, we have three drivers who are well versed in dealing with these challenges, in the form of Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen. There is no question about it: we cannot wait for the new season.”

High-speed tour from Gap to Monte Carlo – 15 stages and 355.48 kilometres against the clock

The 2015 Rally Monte Carlo will once again be held between the principality of Monaco and Gap in the French Maritime Alps. In keeping with tradition, the rally will end in Monaco, with the final time check taking place in front of the Prince’s Palace. This requires a major relocation: while the drivers make their way south-east on such iconic special stages as “Sisteron–Thoard” on the Saturday, the service team must change service parks. Once they have completed the midday service in Gap, the first morning service of the following day is scheduled to take place in Monaco harbour.

Once the ceremonial start in Monaco is over, the drivers themselves will take on two night stages on Thursday evening, with a total 40.99 kilometres against the clock. Friday features two attempts at a new loop to the north of Gap. Saturday promises to be a day packed with classics. As well as “Sisteron”, the penultimate leg also includes the longest special stage at the “Monte” – the 51.70-kilometre “Lardier et Valença–Faye”. Sunday also offers everything you would expect from the “Monte”, as the World Rally Cars drift their way up the Col de Braus and the Col de Turini. The fastest three crews on the closing Power Stage “Col St Jean–St Laurent” will score bonus points towards the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championships.

Tricky tyre selection, ice spies, and fun and games with the weather

Each driver in the top WRC category has 82 tyres at his disposal at the Rally Monte Carlo: eight hard slicks, 16 softs, and 24 of the super-soft compound. On top of this, they also have 24 winter tyres with spikes and ten without. The combination is perfectly suited to the players’ paradise that is Monaco: given the fact that the asphalt alternates between wet, dry, snowy and icy, selecting a maximum of 30 tyres from the five different types is always a bit of a gamble. The conditions have been known to vary from one kilometre to the next and minute to minute on the individual special stages. The advantage lies with those who can rely on good ice spies, an accurate weather forecast, and excellent intuition when it comes to tyre selection.

A question of honour – Seb vs. Seb at the mother of all WRC rounds

Nine-time world champion versus double world champion, Sébastien versus Sébastien – the Rally Monte Carlo promises to produce a thrilling duel. Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (F/MC) return to the World Rally Championship with Citroën, and go head to head with defending champions Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia. Both drivers can claim the iconic “Monte” as their living room. Loeb/Elena have won the most prestigious rally on the calendar on seven occasions, while Ogier/Ingrassia have two victories to their name (IRC/WRC). They are the only two duos in the 2015 field who have already won the Rally Monte Carlo in a World Rally Car. Both crews are regarded as being particularly strong when conditions are at their worst, so we could be in for one of rallying’s most dramatic duels. After all, along with the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Indianapolis 500, the Rally Dakar and the Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco, the Rally Monte Carlo is one of the five most renowned automobile races in the world.

Starting order and split times: new sporting regulations in the World Rally Championship

New sporting regulations will come into play in the World Rally Championship as of the Rally Monte Carlo. Whereas the world championship leader has previously had to open the route on the first of the three days of rallying, this now applies to the first two days in 2015, with the order for the final day the reverse of the overall standings after the opening two days. At the “Monte”, the order for the first two days of the rally will be determined according to the final standings at the end of the 2014 World Championship. There has also been a change to the rules governing communication between the teams and their drivers and co-drivers: it was previously permitted to convey split times during special stages. This is now forbidden in 2015.

Quotes ahead of the Rally Monte Carlo

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1

“The break has done me a lot of good. When I come back, I am always particularly hungry to get back into the rally car. I am obviously looking to carry on where I left off in 2014 – with as much success as possible. For me, the Rally Monte Carlo is the ideal way to start the new season. The area around Gap is my home. This is where I was born and grew up. My fans know this too, and they definitely give me a clear mental advantage. The support at the ‘Monte’ is incredible. As a driver, you particularly notice this in the Service Park and between special stages. The fans here have been supporting me throughout my entire career – even when I was still driving national rallies. Another highlight this year will obviously be the duel with Sébastien Loeb. I am really looking forward to the reunion. It will definitely be an exciting and captivating race for all the spectators.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2

“The new car feels really good, and we are ready for the new season – at last. We will be using the shift paddle on the steering wheel to change gear this year, and I really like it On the whole, the new Polo is faster and even better than the 2014 car. I am not the only one to feel that way – Sébastien and Andreas agree with me. As well as changes to the car, the format for the starting order is also different in the new WRC season. I believe this will make the rallies more tactical. Personally, I have my sights set on the title in 2015. That is my greatest dream. I want to be crowned World Champion come the end of the season. As such, I will be aiming for a place in the top four at the Rally Monte Carlo. That would be a success for me, as it is a really tricky rally and I have never finished higher than fifth. I will definitely not be risking everything to try and win the rally. To be honest, I am always happy to have survived the ‘Monte’.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9

“I want to gain as much experience as possible at the ‘Monte’. Last year’s seventh place was my best result there so far. The fact that I live in Monaco is not really much of an advantage for me, as I don’t know the mountains all that well. The conditions up there are very unsettled, so anything better than seventh place would be a success for me. Despite this, my main aim is to finish the rally in the points, and then to head to Sweden in a positive frame of mind. That would be a solid foundation for the rest of the season. I would like to back up the third place I claimed in the overall standings last year, and perhaps to challenge my team-mates a few more times. Who knows, maybe I could even go one better this time.”

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