Volkswagen's mission to successfully defend its titles in the FIA World Rally Championship is officially underway after chairman of the board Dr Martin Winterkorn 'flagged off' the 2014 season for the German giant.
Winterkorn and board member for technical development Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neußer were joined by the marque's driving strength as VW launched the second season of its return to the championship, with the all-conquering Polo R WRC rolling over a symbolic start ramp in front of the main Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg to send the team on its way towards Monte Carlo, the venue for the opening round of the season between 14-19 January.
“The entire Volkswagen team performed magnificently in 2013 and won all three titles in the WRC, [but] the key now is to follow on from this success,” Winterkorn said, “That means no arrogance or complacency, but maximum concentration and desire to win once again. If the team is able to heed this advice, we could do even better this year.
“That will obviously not be easy. Winning the titles was a milestone for the Volkswagen brand. Motorsport is not an end in itself for us – we compete to demonstrate the outstanding quality and innovation of our brand and our cars. The Polo R WRC is, after all, based on a production chassis that is manufactured in Pamplona. The fact that we won the championship in such dominant fashion makes the entire Volkswagen brand shine that little bit brighter.”
As defending champions, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will line up in Monte Carlo with start number one and, together with team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, will be charged with defending the manufacturers' title VW won last year. The two main crews will be assisted in 2014 by the third works duo of Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Markkula, who will carry the #9.
“There are only 61 days between the final special stage of last season and the first of the coming Rally Monte Carlo - no other world championship has such a short break,” Ogier commented, “Testing and preparations have been running at full throttle since November, and we are well prepared to start the new season as defending champions.
“Today's event was symbolic – starting out from Wolfsburg shows that the entire company is behind us. As far as I, my co-driver Julien Ingrassia and our team are concerned, we are ready for the 2014 World Rally Championship.”
“It goes without saying that preparations for the WRC season started well before today,” motorsport director Jost Capito concluded, “We are as well prepared as possible for the Rally Monte Carlo and have further developed many details on the Polo R WRC. We are now looking forward to facing new challenges in the competition.
“This season's World Rally Championship offers many new aspects, which will make the project to defend our titles demanding. We have a new opponent in Hyundai, while Ford and Citroën have new driving line-ups this season. In Poland, a country full of rally enthusiasts returns to the WRC calendar, [and] we are looking forward to pitting our wits against them.
“Today's launch sees the anticipation within the team step up another notch. Everyone is looking forward to doing their best. It was thanks to our extraordinary team spirit that we achieved such great things in 2013. Bring on 2014.”