NEWS: VW Motorsport WRC Dominance In Portugal

VW Motorsport have done it again – continuing their incredible inaugural WRC season in the new (Carlos Sainz developed) VW Polo R WRC – with a win on the tricky gravel of Portugal (WRC round four and the second gravel event), thanks to Sébastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia's dominant 58-second victory.
Team mates, Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila also got onto the podium, coming in third (behind Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen). And Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Markkula completed the awesome team performance for Volkswagen – with sixth place on their competitive debut in the Polo R WRC. Sébastien Ogier has now extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship, courtesy of his third win of the season, by over 50 points. And VW Motorsport are top of the manufacturers standings: Dream stuff.
Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg (Member of the Board of Management for the Volkswagen brand), said: "It was great to be present at such a magnificent success. I was very impressed by the manner in which the team earned this success, and how delighted they were by it. It is just fantastic to see how well the entire team is working together. This provides great backing for our drivers, who did an extraordinary job."
The second gravel rally of the season really put man and machine to the test. The conditions, with narrow, winding passages on rough, stony surfaces alternating with fast sections taken at full throttle, were the toughest encountered so far this season. Illness meant Sébastien Ogier was below strength going into the fourth rally of the year, but the Frenchman still held a slender lead at the end of day one. He extended his advantage at the top of the standings with four stage wins on Saturday, and retained his grip on the lead right through to the finish. The World Championship leader did have a bit of a shock at the start of the final day: the connector between the front and rear axles, which allows the handbrake to be used in tight hairpins, temporarily refused to close, causing him to lose time. A short service later, however, the number 8 Polo R WRC was back to full strength as it set off on the remaining stages.
Jari-Matti Latvala also had a worrying moment on Sunday: the driveshaft on the front-right of the car broke, forcing Latvala to tackle the 52.30-kilometre Almodovar stage – the longest on the rally – with just rear-wheel drive. Latvala consequently had to surrender second place overall, but superbly overcame the hindrance to hold off Evgeny Novikov (Ford) and earn his place on the podium.
A test of strategy: tyre selection secures victory on “Power Stage”
Even early on in the rally, Volkswagen’s top two drivers were already looking to save their tyres for the closing “Power Stage”. Additional points towards the Drivers’ Championship were up for grabs for those crews finishing first, second and third on the 52.30 kilometre special stage. And it proved to be a good decision. Starting on fresh Michelin tyres, the Volkswagen drivers were able to launch one last attack at the end of the rally: Sébastien Ogier picked up the three bonus points for clocking the fastest time on the “Power Stage”, while team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala earned one extra point for his third place.
A test of teamwork: Volkswagen service ensures podium finishes
The service played a key role at the Rally Portugal. The Volkswagen mechanics in the Service Park at the “Estádio Algarve” had a total of five time slots – of 15, 30 or 45 minutes – in which to repair the three Polo R WRCs. Given the tough conditions in Portugal, this barely gave the mechanics and engineers sufficient time, in which to replace worn parts and check the technology, which really took some punishment over the course of the four days. The 58-man Volkswagen team did an outstanding job, consistently sending the 315 hp four-wheel drive powerhouse from Wolfsburg back onto the stages in perfect condition.
A test for the newcomers: impressive start for Mikkelsen and Markkula
Andreas Mikkelsen and his co-driver Mikko Markkula, made a great start at the wheel of the third Polo R WRC, which was making its first outing of the season. Mikkelsen did exactly what the team had asked of him, gaining valuable experience in the World Rally Car under competitive conditions and crowning his reliability with sixth place overall and eighth World Championship points.
Quotes on day three of the Rally Portugal
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #7 said: "I am very happy and satisfied to stand on the podium for the first time for Volkswagen. We had a difficult start to the season, but our run of bad luck has finally come to an end. I feel really at home in the Polo R WRC now, and think that we will soon be able to do even better. The rally was a tough test for driver and car, as the route had suffered some serious erosion over the winter. The hard ground and many stones really put the car through its paces. Driver and co-driver had to be fully focussed and have perfect pace notes in order to get the car safely through the stages. Our mechanics did a perfect job of replacing the broken driveshaft on Sunday. As always, they were totally dependable – thank you. That all gives me a lot of encouragement ahead of the coming rallies, and I am already looking forward to Argentina in three weeks."
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #8 said: "Unbelievable. What a rollercoaster ride here in Portugal! I am overjoyed with the win. First the illness, then the brutal stages, which really push a rally car to the very limit. When we had the problem with the power transmission on this morning’s opening stage, I thought: ‘That’s it Séb. The rally is over.’ Fortunately we made it to the service and the guys did a fantastic job there. I think we really deserved the win. The rally was extremely demanding and difficult, for the car, the entire team, and particularly for me. When I arrived in Portugal on Monday evening, I was not certain whether I would be able to start. I was always tired and my energy reserves were completely empty. I was largely able to blank it out whilst I was driving, as the body is running on adrenalin then – but I certainly did not feel top fit. Fortunately my condition improved considerably over the last two days. I will now try to get as much rest and regain as much strength as possible in time for Argentina."
And Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9 said: "I learned something on every single metre of my first rally with the Polo R WRC. My goal was to gain as much experience as possible. I have come away with a lot of ideas as to how we can improve in the future. With the Polo R WRC, everything is a lot quicker than I am used to in Super-2000 cars. My pace notes were too detailed, particularly on fast sections. It was too much for Mikko to read them out, and for me to process them. We will work on that. The aerodynamics on the Polo R WRC are especially impressive. The cornering speeds are extremely high. As such, I am not yet using the full potential of the car in those corners we take in fourth, fifth or sixth gear. I just didn’t want to take any risks. All in all, however, I am very happy with my debut for Volkswagen. I received great support from the team, and would like to thank them for that.”
Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director
“The Rally Portugal was a real test for the team, the Polo R WRC and the drivers. It was the first typical gravel rally of the season, and was also one of the most demanding on the calendar so far. We saw at the start of the rally that the Polo R WRC and its rivals at Ford and Citroën are on a par with each other. First, third and sixth is an outstanding team result, for which we have the class of our drivers to thank. A huge compliment goes to the engineers and mechanics, who did a magnificent job and secured our third victory, despite a few teething problems with this brand-new car. I am proud of the entire team. In terms of pace, we are among the front-runners and appear to be able to force our rivals to make mistakes, without making any ourselves. With that in mind, we might just have to change our goals for the season."
Quite an incredible, unstoppable start to the WRC season. Amazing stuff. We can't wait to see the VW fly at Wales Rally GB 14th November. You going?

Full results from Rally Portugal
1. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen 4:07:38.7 hrs.
2. Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN/FIN), Citroën + 58.2 sec.
3. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen + 4:04.5 min.
4. Evgeny Novikov/Ilka Minor (RUS/A), Ford + 5:27.7 min.
5. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Giovanni Bernacchini (Q/I), Ford + 7:43.5 min.
6. Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN), Volkswagen + 9:39.8 min.
7. Martin Prokop/Michal Ernst (CZ/CZ), Ford   + 15:04.2 min.
8. Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson (N/S), Ford   + 15:43.6 min.
9. Khalid Al Qassimi/Scott Martin (UAE/GB), Citroën + 15:56.9 min.
10. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN), Škoda + 16:21.0 min.


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