The 2003 Cyprus Rally marked the end of another successful chapter for Skoda Auto, as it was the final event for the Octavia WRC at its front-line rally car in the WRC and a car that made a significant contribution to Skoda Motorsport's heritage of more than 100 years.

The contribution made by the Octavia WRC to the rich heritage of Skoda Motorsport and the image of Skoda Auto can never be underestimated.

In the four and a half seasons since its introduction there have been many high points. In every season there have been reasons to celebrate; stage victories, podium places and a run of reliability that has further enhanced Skoda Motorsport's enviable reputation in the WRC arena.

The Octavia WRC enabled Skoda Motorsport to lead a World Championship event for the first time and brought the team's first podium finish on a full WRC event. It twice scored stage victories, both on the demanding Safari Rally and also on the ultra-fast asphalt of Catalunya. And on its final event the Octavia WRC started out with third fastest time on the opening stage in Cyprus.

When Skoda Motorsport abandoned its traditional relationship with small-engined class-winning cars in favour of the Octavia it knew that it was embarking on a long-term project aimed at bringing the company into the very heart of the World Rally Championship.

The Octavia was far from an ideal platform to build a front-running rally car but, at the time, it was the only car in Skoda Auto's model range that complied with the minimum length demanded by the WRC regulations. Yet despite the fact that it was longer than many of its rivals, the Octavia WRC became yet another great competitor in a long line of successful cars from the Skoda Motorsport competition department in Mlad? Boleslav.

Skoda Motorsport has been competing in the World Rally Championship since the series began in 1973 but, surprisingly, 2002 was actually the first time that the team had contested the full 14-round series. It was a significant moment as the season marked the centenary of the company's first venture into motorsport. Despite facing the challenge of the rich variety of events and surfaces around the globe and tackling them with two or three-car entries, Skoda Motorsport was always present at the finish with at least one car. A much-celebrated highlight was in Argentina when all three cars finished in the top 10.

The current Skoda Motorsport driver line-up includes 1994 World Rally Champion, Frenchman Didier Auriol. "The Octavia WRC was actually a better car than some people gave credit for," he explains. "Of course we knew that it was not the fastest car because of its size but it was stable, strong and reliable. When you have a car like that you can always hope to finish rallies and if you finish then you can also be in the points. I have helped develop many cars since I began rallying and I can tell you that you must always start with a strong car before you build a fast car."

Auriol's vast experience of setting up new cars for the World Rally Championship will play an even more vital role in the future as the team switches to the exciting Fabia WRC.

Auriol's team mate is young Finn Toni Gardemeister, still regarded as a possible future champion. He has only twice failed to score points this season and is already a vital part of Skoda Motorsport's 2003 campaign. Like all of his countrymen, Gardemeister enjoys the 'flat out' style of driving but has recently learned to pace himself to give Skoda Motorsport every chance to gain successful results.

"The Octavia was a big car but size was the only thing that I would have changed with it," he said. "The size was only a problem when stages were tight and twisty but I could still drive flat out on enough stages to make me very happy when I was at the wheel!"

Auriol and Gardemeister are the latest in a high-quality list of drivers who have competed with the Octavia WRC at World Championship level. No less than 10 leading drivers have been seen at the wheel including FIA Champions Kenneth Eriksson and Gabriel Pozzo along with Auriol who was the 1994 World Champion.

The technical brain behind the Octavia WRC success story was Skoda Motorsport chief engineer Dietmar Metrich. "Without any doubt the Octavia's biggest strength was its reliability," he says. "It meant that our drivers could have complete confidence in the car's ability to get them to the finish of the rally on most occasions."

Metrich says Skoda Motorsport built around 30 rally versions of the Octavia WRC and there are a few unused cars now waiting for new owners around the World.

"When I look back on the years we had with the Octavia WRC I guess that the biggest highlight was taking third place on the 2001 Safari," says Metrich. "But I would also mention the stage win in Catalunya the year before. That took everyone by surprise I think! However we again showed how competitive the Octavia WRC could be on asphalt when we had a fantastic battle with Francois Delecour on the final morning for third and fourth places in Monte Carlo 2001."

Skoda Motorsport will replace the Octavia WRC with the smaller Fabia WRC for the second half of this season, starting with Rallye Deutschland. The thing that Skoda Motorsport hopes to carry over from the Octavia to the Fabia is Skoda's legendary reliability. And so Skoda Motorsport bids a fond farewell to the Octavia and say a warm welcome to the Fabia WRC as Auriol, Gardemeister and the rest of the team work hard to maintain Skoda Auto's enviable reputation gained in over a century of participation in motorsport.