With changes afoot for the 2017 World Rally Championship, why is EngageSportMode’s editor failing to get excited about the prospect of a 380hp Polo?
Here’s the deal. I’ve owned five different Volkswagen Polos in 14 years, including an R-Line and two different GTI versions. As such, it’s fair to say I’m something of a fan of VW’s supermini offering. I’ve also been into rallying since I was – to engage James May mode – a small boy, and have been mightily impressed with Volkswagen Motorsport’s complete domination of the WRC for the past three years. So why on earth am I not excited and entranced by the 2017 Polo WRC Concept show above?
The press release details should be whetting my appetite, even if the artwork rendering isn’t. The promise of more power – up to 380hp – in a lighter, wider, more extravagant body should be welcome news to any petrolhead. They’ll even be allowed to use an electronic centre differential to control the transmission of power, and the overall aim is to make the cars far more spectacular than before. With huge spoilers, flared arches and a ginormous rear wing the promise is certainly there. But what does that mean for us mere mortals who have to drive normal roads cars, and don’t get to play with WRC machinery? Probably very little.
Motorsport is often cited as being a way for manufacturers to improve their road-going cars through the advancements learnt from competition. But, in the case of WRC, that seems to be quite far from reality at the minute. Running through the cars used by current WRC entrants – VW Polo, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20, Citroen DS3 – can you spot a manic 4WD road version from that lineup? No, because it doesn’t exist. Volkswagen came closest with the Polo R WRC ‘Street’ in 2012, but that was front-wheel-drive only.
Current WRC regulations don’t require manufacturers to produce genuine replicas to homologate their competition efforts. As such, they don’t bother. So unlike the pre-WRC days filled with Subaru Imprezas and Mitsubishi Lancers, or even further back to the Group-B era, nobody has to build a certain quota of road-going offerings. Yes, certain parts need to be homologated, but that’s not the same as offering a full car. What makes it cruel is that Volkswagen even teased us with a prototype 4WD Polo R – sharing underpinnings with the Audi S1 – but the idea never came to fruition. Had it done so, there might have been one sat on the ESM driveway right now…
Whilst the arguments about pricing and economies of scale will always be used to defend the position of manufacturers not building full-scale rally replicas, it does take away some of the thrill. Driving something with a genuine link to a competition car will always be special but, right now, the World Rally Championship isn’t offering up that potential. So as exciting as the sound of the 2017 WRC regulations are, they’re seemingly even further away from being relevant to the cars ‘normal’ people are left to drive.