VOLKSWAGEN has all but confirmed an R-version of the Polo hatch, as part of its assault on the world rally championship (WRC).
The German car maker finally revealed its WRC plans overnight after months of speculation, announcing it will enter the WRC in 2013 at the Italian round of the series.
Volkswagen will go head-to-head with Mini, Ford and Citroen using a new Polo R WRC machine that his already under development at its German racing headquarters. Under the new-for-2011 rally rules the Polo R will be powered by a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder engine and use an all-wheel drive system.
The decision to use the Polo R name suggests the company has back-flipped on its decision not to build a range-topping R version of the pint-sized hatchback. Last year Dr Ernst Linder, technical chief on the Polo GTI program, said a Polo R was unlikely.
Since then Audi has begun work on an all-wheel drive version of its Polo-based A1 hatch, which will wear the S1 badge. Sharing that development would give Volkswagen the option of producing a road-going Polo R to match its WRC contender.
Volkswagen motorsport boss Kris Nissen said the new WRC rules introduced this year that cater to smaller cars with smaller, turbo engines suit the company's strategy for road cars.
"The new technical regulations of the World Rally Championship ideally fit Volkswagen's philosophy with respect to the development of production vehicles," Nissen said. "Downsizing, reliability and high efficiency are top priorities for our customers."
Although Volkswagen will not enter the championship officially until 2013 work is already underway on the car with its initial tests planned for later this year.
"The concept and vehicle design for the Polo R WRC started in February," Nissen said. "The roll-out is planned before the end of 2011. Before in-depth trials in an extensive testing programme start with the vehicle in 2012 the team will already receive an opportunity in 2011 to gather initial experiences in the World Rally Championship."
That experience will be gathered by using a Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car on selected rallies to get the Volkswagen team used to the demands of competition.
Nissen said no drivers have been signed yet, but former WRC champion Carlos Sainz will be instrumental in preparing the team. Sainz, who drives for VW's Dakar rally raid team, is expected to test the Polo R when it is ready.
"I spent some time convincing Carlos to stay in the team, it was the easiest 10 seconds ever," said Nissen. "He will be my right hand and involved in many things. Carlos promised me not for racing, but for sure we need him for some tests."
Volkswagen's other Dakar winner, Qatar's Nassar Al-Attiyah, is a regular competitor in WRC events. He has been tipped to take one of the drives in the Polo R in 2013 alongside former world champion Petter Solberg.
The decision to enter the WRC brings to an end Volkswagen's official participation in the Dakar Rally. The team has won the last three South American cross-country events but will not defend its title in 2012. However, there is speculation that the company will lease its Race Touaregs to private teams.
Volkswagen had also been linked with a move into Formula One.
Nissen confirmed the WRC deal will run until the end of the 2015 season.
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