Wolfsburg, Germany | AFP |
Volkswagen, world champions for the past four years with Sebastien Ogier, said Wednesday they are withdrawing from the world rally championship dealing a major blow to the series.
The German auto giants, reeling from the Dieselgate scandal, announced last week that luxury brand Audi was pulling out of Le Mans and the endurance world championship to concentrate on Formula E.
The shock withdrawal means that Ogier, who has already secured the 2016 title, along with other team drivers Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen are jobless.
But Ogier at least seemed confident.
“I feel so sorry for my fantastic team. We had four outstanding years! Thanks for their passion and support! Don’t worry about me, we’ll see us again,” Ogier said on Twitter.
The Volkswagen board decided on the rally withdrawal at a meeting on Tuesday at the Wolfsburg headquarters.
“The commitment to the FIA world rally championship is coming to an end after four historically successful years, in which Volkswagen won WRC titles in the driver, co-driver and manufacturer rankings in a row with the Polo R,” the company said in a statement.
Since their arrival in 2013 VW have enjoyed unprecedented WRC success with Frenchman Ogier driving to four consecutive world titles to go with the constructor’s honours.
Ogier’s former employers Citroen have already announced their driver line-up for 2017, as have South Korean outfit Hyundai.
That leaves the French ace with a possible move to Toyota or Ford.
Ogier and his teammates enjoyed a phenomenal success rate with the Polo, winning 42 of the 51 rallies they competed in with 621 best times in special stages.
“The team has done great things,” said VW Motorsport director Sven Smeets.
“At the same time, our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the great challenges facing the entire company,” added Smeets.
“From now on, the focus is on upcoming technologies in motorsport and on our customer sports range.”
News of VW’s decision to turn their back on rallying comes eight days after they agreed to pay US suppliers $1.2 billion to settle claims emanating from the Dieselgate pollution scandal.