At Rally GB, Dutchman Kevin Abbring with co-driver Lara Vanneste impressed as the winners of the S2000 classification, and in twelfth place overall clinched a season’s best result for the Volkswagen team.
German junior driver Sepp Wiegand, with Dakar winner Timo Gottschalk as co-driver, was forced to retire at the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) having been running in a solid third place in class for much of the event.
At the fourth test run across a total distance of 354 kilometres of special stages, the Volkswagen factory team had again sent two Fabia S2000 cars from the Group’s Škoda brand across the starting ramp in order to evaluate young talents.
‘With fast gravel stretches and unpredictable weather, Rally GB represents one of the biggest challenges in the WRC. Kevin Abbring showed a very strong driving performance and did a good job of presenting himself together with his co-driver Lara Vanneste,’ said an obviously pleased Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen.
‘But Sepp Wiegand convinced us as well. He continually improved throughout the weekend and proved his talent. We’ll continue to observe both drivers.’
Kevin Abbring (22) together with his Belgian co-driver Lara Vanneste (21) piloted the four-wheel drive 270-HP Fabia S2000 to first place in the S2000 classification. Overall, the pairing finished in an impressive twelfth place, and only lost the class lead briefly after the eleventh leg in heavy fog. ‘I’m very happy.
The car was running superbly and had very good balance, which was important on the slippery ground. I felt that the team trust me and hope that I haven’t disappointed them. It’s a great opportunity to be driving in such a professional squad as the Volkswagen team,’ the young Dutchman explained.
The German duo Sepp Wiegand (20) and co-driver Timo Gottschalk (37) was struck by misfortune. The rally was over early on Sunday morning for the car designated as number 57, five special stages before the end.
Dakar winner and seasoned rally campaigner Timo Gottschalk was forced to retire after the day’s first stage due to severe stomach cramps. Despite the retirement Wiegand, who switched from motocross to rally racing only a year ago, was pleased with his first run at a gravel rally. ‘For me it’s been the most difficult rally I’ve driven so far,’ the young German admitted afterwards. ‘Fog, mud and, to top it off, constantly changing conditions – the track is extremely challenging.’
Praise was also expressed by Dakar winner and co-driver Gottschalk: ‘Naturally, Sepp has still got to learn a lot, but he’s a very quick learner. In the end we weren’t very far from the top drivers in class. He certainly has a lot of talent, particularly considering that he’s only been driving rallies for a year. It’s just a shame that we didn’t reach the finish.’
From 2013, Volkswagen will compete in the top category of rally sport with the Polo R WRC that is currently being developed. Commenting on the team’s progress throughout this year, Nissen explained: ‘The first rally runs in Finland, Germany, Spain and Great Britain have given us important findings for our WRC entry in 2013 with respect to fielding the vehicles, the organisation of the team and the related logistics.’
The next competitive run planned by the Volkswagen factory team will see two Škoda Fabia S2000s take part in the legendary Monte Carlo Rally, 18-22 January 2012, which returns to the WRC calendar for the first time since 2009.