Volkswagen confirmed it will drop its World Rally Championship program in 2017 in order to focus on customer racing and new technology, per a company press release. The Volkswagen Motorsport team won four championships in a row during the four years they were a full-time manufacturer team in WRC.
Frank Welch, a Member of the Board of Management involved in Technical Development, explained to 200 motorsport employees in Hannover, Germany, as quoted in the release:
The Volkswagen brand is facing enormous challenges. With the upcoming expansion in electrification of our vehicle range we must focus all our efforts on important future technologies. We far exceeded our sporting goals in the WRC, now we are realigning Volkswagen Motorsport and moving the vehicle technology of the future more starkly into focus.
At the same time, Volkswagen is going to focus more on customer racing. As well as the Golf GTI TCR on the circuit track and the Beetle GRC in rallycross, we also want to offer customers top products and will develop a new Polo according to R5 regulations.
Volkswagen needs cash as Dieselgate’s costs continue to rise. Customer racing is one way to get some, and sadly for fans of the VW WRC team, making an R5-spec rally car they can sell to other rally teams makes more sense than participating in rally’s very highest level.
Likewise, the Golf GTI TCR program will continue, as it’s an easy sell for Volkswagen to offer a touring car in a worldwide spec that’s expanding. For one, the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge is looking to adopt the TCR spec in America as early as 2018, and that’s a major market Volkswagen needs to woo back, particularly with its new Atlas crossover coming in 2018.
The dominant Red Bull Global Rallycross team supported by Volkswagen of America, too, will continue, as the rallycross Beetles have won two drivers’ titles for Scott Speed in two years as well as the manufacturer’s title for Volkswagen. The GRC Beetles are developed by Volkswagen Motorsport in Hannover before being shipped to America. Volkswagen may look to expand their rallycross involvement because of that team’s success, per the release.
The factory team, with drivers Jari-Matti Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen and Sébastien Ogier participated in a total of 51 WRC rallies, winning 42 events and setting 621 fastest stage times.
This is the second major Volkswagen Group top-level motorsport effort to get the axe because of Dieselgate. Audi announced their withdrawal from the World Endurance Championship last week after years of being synonymous with the highest level of sportscar racing. Audi also announced their intent to move into the less expensive Formula E championship instead.