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The Volkswagen Polo R WRC is just a matter of days away from its much-anticipated competitive debut on gravel in the FIA World Rally Championship.

The 315 hp four-wheel drive powerhouse from Wolfsburg will take on very specific conditions when it rolls down the starting ramp at the third round of the season, the Rally Mexico, from 7th to 10th March.

Reaching altitudes of up to 2,700 metres above sea level, the special stages are the highest the teams will face all season – a true challenge for both driver and technology. However, for thousands of rally fans, this is the biggest fiesta of the season. Flying the flag for Volkswagen: Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), and Rally Sweden winners Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia (F/F).

“The first three rallies of the season are all a bit special. After the iconic and unpredictable ‘Monte’, and the extreme cold of Sweden, we now face soaring temperatures at over 2,000 metres above sea level,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “The thin air and temperatures of above 30 degrees have a real impact – on both driver and co-driver, as well as the technology.

The Rally Mexico is also the first round of the season on gravel. We are yet to compete under these conditions with the Polo R WRC. As such, we are obviously very excited to see how competitive the Polo is in Mexico.”

Fiesta Mexicana: 80,000 fans create a pop concert atmosphere at the start

The drivers will cover 394.88 kilometres over the course of 23 special stages at the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season. The most spectacular opening stage of the season awaits the competitors in Guanajuato on Thursday evening.

The site of a former silver mine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its shafts have now been converted into roads, creating the venue for one of the most breath-taking special stages on the WRC calendar – the “Guanajuato Street Stage”. Crowds of almost 80,000 line the streets and perch on house roofs to greet the rally drivers with a flurry of camera flashes as they drift by. This stage is not to be confused with the 54.85-kilometre “Guanajuatito”, which is one of the longest and most difficult faced all year and forms Sunday’s highlight.

As well as the remaining, wonderfully-named special stages – such as the new “El Chocolate” – the “Mexico” has another highlight in store for them on Sunday: the most popular spectator point for fans comes on the 22nd stage – “Derramadero”. Among the exquisite ingredients that make up this awesome Power Stage are an ultra-quick winding passage, a drop of about 200 metres in just 2.5 kilometres, and the “El Brinco” jump, which produces spectacular images of World Rally Cars in flight. Bonus World Championship points are up for grabs for places one to three on this stage.

High jinks in Mexico provide a stern test for man and machine

One of the biggest technological challenges at the Rally Mexico is modifying the engines to cope with altitudes of around 3,000 metres. As the air thins out, the 1.6-litre turbo engines lose between 28 and 30 per cent of their performance. The Volkswagen engineers have prepared as well as possible for the demands of the high plains in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato, in order to compensate for the relative lack of experience compared to the opposition. Volkswagen was in Mexico to test the Polo R WRC in 2012. From a technological point of view, the turbocharger plays a key role. As well as the loss of performance, less oxygen and air pressure also means less air resistance for the turbo. This results in an increase in the number of revs per minute produced by this component – so much so that only a technological intervention prevents it from overheating.

Experience and diligence are all important here: as well as test drives, Volkswagen has also completed trials in the group’s climate and altitude chamber, in order to be prepared for the “Mexico”. This has allowed the team to develop a detailed characteristic map for this unique outing. The key is to limit loss of performance without endangering the stability of the turbocharger.

“The altitudes encountered at the Rally Mexico affect the engine more than any other part of the Polo R WRC,” said Dr. Donatus Wichelhaus, Head of Engine Development at Volkswagen Motorsport. “On the one hand the air pressure and oxygen content of the air decrease the higher you go. On the other hand, the air resistance in the turbocharger also decreases, resulting in higher revs per minute than at any other rally. In order to guarantee its stability, whilst at the same time losing as little performance as possible, we have run various simulations to prepare for Mexico. In the highest sections, the engine will lose about 28 to 30 per cent compared to the Rally Sweden.”

Volkswagen in Mexico – history revisited

Volkswagen’s involvement in motorsport can look back on a successful history. One of the first chapters of this success story was written in Mexico: in 1954, seven Beetles started the iconic Carrera Panamericana, capturing the hearts of the public in doing so. The slogan “It runs and runs and runs…” was also brought to life on the motorsport scene – all seven Beetles finished the 3,211-kilometre rally across Mexico. The Beetle was manufactured in Puebla from 1964 to 30th July 2003, when the final model – number 21,528,464 – rolled off the production line.

And this is what the Volkswagen drivers had to say ahead of the Rally Mexico:

Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7:

“One of the most important aspects of preparing for Mexico is how well you can cope with the time difference. If you have adapted to local time well, then your senses are sharper during the Recce. For this reason, I travel to California two weeks prior to the start, in order to acclimatise. We have to adapt in a lot of ways: unlike in Sweden, the grip level does not change as often on gravel. Despite this, your concentration is really put to the test in Mexico. For example, the longest special stage of the rally, ‘Guanajuatito”, is incredibly difficult. I like the character of this stage. It is made up of very narrow sections that are technically very demanding, and also very, very quick passages. It has a bit of both – fast and expansive in some places, tight and technical in others. It is very diverse – just as the entire Rally Mexico is.”

Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8:

“I was delighted with the win in Sweden. The way we presented ourselves as a team over the entire weekend was very impressive. However, that is yesterday’s news, as the Rally Mexico now sees us take on our first gravel event with the Polo R WRC. I really like the atmosphere in Mexico. The start in Guanajuato, in particular, is a fantastic experience. Down narrow lanes, through tunnels, and past thousands of fans cheering you on frenetically – that is pure goose bumps! For me personally, it is always very special to line up in Mexico. It was there that I drove my very first rally in the World Championship back in 2008 – and I promptly won my first race in the Junior WRC class. And, just like back then, we are now starting out on a new venture there with the Polo R WRC. Mexico will give us our first indication of how good the car is on gravel, and where we need to tweak a few screws to improve in the future.”

Volkswagen in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC)

In entering the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Volkswagen is adding another chapter to its motorsport success story. Volkswagen claimed overall victory at the Rally Dakar with the Race Touareg in 2009, 2010 and 2011 – celebrating a hat-trick of titles at the toughest marathon rally in the world. The Polo R WRC is the first World Rally Car produced by the Wolfsburg-based company, which now lines up with its own works team in the pinnacle of rallying. The series offers Volkswagen the opportunity to prove itself on a global platform in direct sporting competition. No model is more suited to the challenge than the Polo – one of Volkswagen’s most heavily produced and distributed models in the world.

The number for the Rally Mexico: 91

Over water, land and in the air: Volkswagen is transporting a total 91 tons of material to Mexico – both as surface and air freight. The two Polo R WRCs are transported along with 12 tons of air freight to León. 79 tons of material, of which 51 tons are pure freight weight, are sent to Mexico by ship. A rough insight into the list of materials: the overseas containers include an office container, an equipment container, and a spare part and workshop container.

FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Standings

Drivers’ Championship

1. Sébastien Ogier, 46; 2. Sébastien Loeb, 43; 3. Mads Østberg, 24; 4. Dani Sordo, 15; 5.
Jari-Matti Latvala, 14; 6. Mikko Hirvonen, 12; 7. Martin Prokop, 12; 8. Bryan Bouffier, 10; 9.
Thierry Neuville, 10; 10. Juho Hänninen, 8; 11. Sepp Wiegand, 4; 12. Henning Solberg, 4;
13. Olivier Burri, 2; 14. Evgeny Novikov, 2; 15. Micha? Kosciuszko, 1; 16. Yazeed Al Rajhi, 1

Manufacturers’ Championship

1. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, 57; 2. Volkswagen Motorsport, 55; 3. Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, 31; 4. Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team, 15; 5. Lotos WRC Team, 12; 6. Qatar World Rally Team, 10; 7. Jipocar Czech National Team, 8

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