For the first time since the end of the 2016 season, Volkswagen Motorsport are back in the FIA World Rally Championship in a one-off event to début their Polo GTI R5 at Rally de España with former WRC champion Petter Solberg and Frenchman Eric Camilli taking on driving duties this week.
The event this week marks the shift in focus the German manufacturer made at the end of the 2016 when the shock decision was made to can the WRC programme and concentrate on customer racing, the result of this is the Polo GTI R5, drawing on the DNA of the highly successful Polo R WRC.
“Two years after Volkswagen’s last WRC title, we are all looking forward to the Rally Spain, even if it is only a one-off comeback for our team and the Polo GTI R5 will be run by customer teams in the future,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets. “With 21 competitors, the WRC 2 category has a large and a strong field – that makes us all the more determined to get a good result.”
Since the start of the R5 programme, the car has undergone over 10,000 kilometres of testing, leading up to the début this week, both Solberg and Camilli have taken part in pre event tests recently as the team prepared for the unique mixture of gravel and tarmac.
“This is another reason why we selected the Rally Spain for the competitive debut of the Polo GTI R5,” explained Gerard-Jan de Jongh, technical project leader for the Polo GTI R5 and former race engineer for world rally champion Sébastien Ogier.
While Solberg and Camilli will not be in the hunt for the overall victory, they should put in a strong performance as they go up against the competitive R5 machinery. The Norwegian returns to the series for the first time since 2012 and since then has been crowned title winner in the FIA World Rallycross Championship.
“Spain was the venue of my last WRC rally in 2012,” said Solberg. “It feels great to be heading back there now. Particularly with this car and this team. The combination of gravel and tarmac will be a big challenge for me. After all, it is six years since I drove in a WRC rally. However, one way or another, it will be a fantastic weekend – with old rally friends and passionate fans out on the route.”
Raimund Baumschlager, Emil Lindholm, Dieter Depping, Pontus Tidemand, former world champion Marcus Grönholm and Solberg have all been part of the development programme, along with Camilli, who finished second in the WRC2 class last season.
“It is a great honour for me to be involved in Spain. I have completed a lot of test kilometres and am really looking forward to finally getting to drive the Polo GTI R5 at a rally,” said Camilli.
“The first outing with a completely new car is always very special, and you have to be ready for anything. However, I know that we have prepared as well as possible and do not believe that we need to fear our more established opponents.”
The 54. RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada 2018 gets under way on Thursday 25 October with the crowd favourite Barcelona city stage returning to the event.
Follow The Checkered Flag throughout the event for updates each day.