A works Polo rally car hadn’t been seen on the stages since the end of 2016, when Volkswagen walked away from the sport amid the fallout from dieselgate, having won four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championship doubles.
But this wasn’t quite the return of the all-conquering squad that won 43 of the 52 WRC events held between 2013 and 2016. And that’s because this was a very different type of Polo WRC. Instead of a full works World Rally Car capable of dominating, the Polo GTIs that took to Spain’s Tarmac and gravel stages, driven by Eric Camilli and former world champion Petter Solberg, were built to R5 regulations and entered in the WRC2 category.
The cost-controlled and tightly restricted R5 category is designed for privateer teams, and Volkswagen Motorsport’s works entry was a one-off to showcase the new machine ahead of sales starting.
The R5 project has been in the plans since Volkswagen’s sudden WRC withdrawal was announced by R&D boss Frank Welsch. While he committed Volkswagen Motorsport’s works efforts to electric projects – which led to the record-breaking 642bhp ID R Pikes Peak electric hill climb machine – he also tasked the team with developing customer projects. That included the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR touring car and the Polo WRX rallycross supercar – and Welsch also promised an R5 rally version of the new Polo GTI.
Developing a rally car to tight regulations to sell to customers was a new challenge for Volkswagen Motorsport, particularly with the R5 rules stipulating a maximum sales price of €190,000 (£170,000) per car. That required a very different approach from designing a money-no-object World Rally Car.