The decision was made days after VW driver Sebastian Ogier won his fourth successive Wales Rally GB, having already secured his fourth title and VW’s fourth manufacturers prize in four years, the brand winning 41 individual rallies along the way.
The VW pullout also comes just a week after sister brand Audi ended its highly successful 18-year campaign in the World Endurance Championship, announcing instead that it will shift its focus to the Formula E electric single seater series, in which Audi has recently invested in a competing team.
Both cutbacks are believed to be a direct result of the widespread cost cutting being carried out by the VW Group to cope with the dieselgate scandal. More than £10 billion has already been set aside for putting right cars affected in the US, and further major costs will result from similar fixes needed for cars in other markets including Europe.
The decision to end the WRC programme was taken at a meeting of the VW board on Tuesday (1st November) and staff in the motorsport division informed on Wednesday.
Speaking to about 200 motorsport employees in Hannover, VW technical development head Frank Welsh said that the Volkswagen brand is facing enormous challenges, while not explicitly mentioning the dieselgate crisis.
“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,” Welsch said.
He added that there would be no redundancies, with staff instead focusing on a customer racing future for VW. This will include marketing a version of the Golf for the TCR International touring car formula – started two seasons ago, TCR has grown to spawn a number of national and regional series across the globe and 10 manufacturers are now offering cars for it.
VW has also developed a version of the Beetle in America for Global Rallycross events, and has announced it will begin development of a new Polo rally car to the R5 regulations and intended to be available to customers from 2018.
However the brand-new Polo WRC car, which has already been developed to the series’ 2017 regulations, is thought unlikely to be offered to customer teams.
“The whole team built around Motorsport Director Sven Smeets has created the basis for (our) success with the enormous commitment of each individual – we want to continue working with this excellent team,” Welsch added.