Volkswagen Motorsport launched its first ever bid to win the World Rally Championship in Monaco today.
While the German manufacturer has succeeded at a category level in previous years, it has never lifted the world title outright – but that's the stated aim with the Polo R WRC. The team and the latest incarnation of the Hannover-built car were revealed to the world's media in the principality today.
Volkswagen Motorsport director Jost Capito said: "After two years of development, the whole team is ready for the start of the season. We have our homologation date next week and the two rally cars for Monte Carlo are being built now and will roll out over Christmas."
Capito said the team would be targeting podiums in its first season.
"The WRC is pretty new to us," said Capito. "We are all just at the start. We have a lot of learning through season and want to challenge for podium positions in 2013 so we are prepared for the 2014 season, where we want to fight for wins."
VW driver Sebastien Ogier was joined in public by his teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen for the first time. Mikkelsen has been part of the VW team throughout this year - contesting rounds of the WRC alongside Ogier in a Skoda Fabia S2000, but until now his future with the team had not been confirmed.
Today was also the first public outing for Latvala as a VW driver. The Finn announced he was leaving Ford to switch to VW in October, but has been unable to talk in-depth about the move for contractual reasons. Latvala has, however, tested the Polo R WRC in preparation for the first three rounds of 2013, including an extended outing in Mexico late last month.
OPINION: A vital step
It's impossible to overstate Volkswagen's arrival in the World Rally Championship. We have seen from the marque's three-year domination of Dakar that its engineering ability is beyond question. But the real positive for the WRC right now is the marketing force which accompanies that technical prowess.
As has been quite apparent from today's launch, Volkswagen wants to come into the WRC and win, but at the same time it wants to come in and celebrate everything that's great about the sport. And not just celebrate them, VW wants to shout from the rooftops about how good the WRC is. And that can only be very, very good news for the series.
Take today's launch as an example. It was held in Monte Carlo, Casino Square to be precise – right outside the world's most famous roulette wheels. Why?
The firm's Wolfsburg factory is a massively impressive facility and one which would have posed as the perfect backdrop for an occasion such as this,but VW shunned self-promotion of the brand in favor of a photograph. The Monte Carlo launch was all about taking one of world rallying's favorite and most famous photographs: the season starter in the Square.
Starting in Valence, the Monte Carlo Rally no longer offers this opportunity, so with a nod to the sport's heritage, Volkswagen built its own start ramp and rolled the R over it.
As a way of setting out one's stall, Saturday was pretty impressive.
-David Evans, AUTOSPORT Rally Editor