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Skoda Motorsport is changing their World Rally Championship policy for 2018, while still majoring in the WRC2 sector. Speaking at the Autosport International Show, Skoda Motorsport Team Principal, Michal Hrabanek, explained the team’s latest plans.
“It will be the same programme in 2018 as last year. We will be focussed on WRC2 with Pontus Tidemand,” Hrabanek said.
“He will try to defend his title, and we will give a chance to young drivers, especially Ole Christian Veiby and Kalle Rovenpera, and also Jusso Nordgren. “Jan Kopecky will also participate on selected events in the WRC, including Monte Carlo, but his main target will be Czech championship.”
Michal Hrabanek

Skoda Motorsport boss Michal Hrabanek. Photo: Martin Holmes

Last year a lot of care was taken to make sure Skoda’s drivers did not compete against each other more than necessary in the WRC2. “I think last year there were only a few rallies where our drivers actually competed against each other.
“This was generally intentional, but this year we have to find a combination not to compete each other, which also enables two young drivers to gain experience on the rallies. It will be mix of both strategies.”
What special changes will there be to the Fabia R5 car? “Generally there will be no big or crucial changes beyond small improvements on the set-up side of the car,” he added. “In the spring we would like to come with some better engine performance. We will try to improve driveability of the engine, and maybe slightly to improve the performance, the torque and the performance. That is more or less all the changes on the car.” Reflecting on the progressive development of the R5 and before that the Super 2000, has this all worked out as you like?
“I think the design of all R5 cars is more or less very similar because of the FIA R5 regulations.
“I think some details of our car may be slightly better than the solutions of our competitors. I think our car is well balanced and without any weakness.
Pontus Tidemand will be Skoda Motorsport's focus in the 2018 WRC2 championship.

Pontus Tidemand will be Skoda Motorsport's focus in the 2018 WRC2 championship.

“It makes the complete picture competitive, very reliable and popular among the customers.” Skoda spent a long time developing the car before it was homologated.
“We had a small advantage compared to our competitors because we had to wait before the series production cars went on sale. “Our rivals, especially M-Sport with the Fiesta and PSA with Peugeot (208) and Citroen (DS3), could come earlier because they had their base models already in the production, but we had to wait till 2015.
“In the meantime we could follow what were the main problems of our competitors! But later, after the homologation, we could make up time and during 2016 and 2017 I think we sold more cars than them!” Then came Hyundai and coming is the new Citroen, the Volkswagen, and Proton. How do you think the formula is progressing? “At first I would like to mention that it is perfect that there are a lot of manufacturers in the R5 category. I think it’s proof that the category is good, popular among the drivers, among the teams.
Ole Christian Veiby

Ole Christian Veiny contested the 2017 Asia Pacific Rally Championship for Skoda. Photo: Peter Whitten

“I cannot remember any comparably popular category in rally sport in the last 10 years. Of course (Super) 2000 had been perfect, but I think even now we can say R5 is more popular. “That’s why it’s good that new manufacturers join this category and there is no doubt about Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, the car will be very good. Proton, is still a question mark for us because we have no information about the project.
“The new Citroen will come this season, but I think it will be a fairly competitive year.”
How does Fabia R5 work correlate with the development of the Volkswagen Polo R5? Do they work with you or against you? “Definitely we work together but the cars, Polo and Fabia, are not identical. “I would say the components might be same or similar, but each car has a different base platform.
“The Skoda is based on the old P26 platform. (The Polo R5 is based on the sixth generation MQB platform.) This demands some differences between these two cars. “Both cars use the same Chinese base engine, the Chinese one is the only suitable engine in the group of R5.”
Skoda drivers

Skoda drivers will once again concentrate on the WRC2 championship in 2018. Photo: Holmes

What are your predictions for 2018?
“I think the championship this year will be a little more challenging, not only thanks to the names Jan Kopecky, Pontus Tidemand, but I think Ole Christian Veiby is well proved in the championship. He was able to win Rally Poland last year.
“Hyundai will support young drivers with Jari Huttunen for example. I think Citroen has already announced they will make a campaign for the new (C3) R5 with Stephane Lefebvre, and definitely Volkswagen would like to show the best possible performance of their car in the summer. “That’s why I think WRC2 will be a very, very nice championship this year.” And after that? Are you frustrated on a personal level that you cannot go to the World Rally Car level? “I’m not frustrated. It’s, let’s say, one of the long term options for Skoda, but not with the current generation of the car.” Related news: https://rallysportmag.com/skoda-announces-super-young-line-2018/ https://rallysportmag.com/skoda-announce-fabia-r5-drivers-monte-carlo-rally/ https://rallysportmag.com/introducing-veibys-army/ https://rallysportmag.com/local-star-drive-skoda-r5-rally-australia/  
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