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Apex Predator: The All Conquering Volkswagen Polo R WRX Supercar
600bhp, 0-60mph in 1.9 seconds, Volkswagen Polo R. Spot the odd one out.
If you chose any of the above in the context of the FIA World Rallycross Championship you’d be wrong. Very wrong. Because Rallycross is, and always has been, a sport of total extremes, and there is no better example of this than the machinery on track. With two Drivers’ titles and two Teams’ FIA World Championships to its racing CV, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden’s Polo R Supercar is arguably the most successful race car of the modern Rallycross era.
On the 14th of October, at the Estering circuit just outside Hamburg, 29-year-old Swedish driver, Johan Kristoffersson took the chequered flag in the final race of the 2018 World RX of Germany. He won; continuing a remarkable set of results which includes his 8th consecutive World RX victory, and 10th win of the season.
What’s more, the result also meant that the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Team, for which Johan and his teammate - three-time FIA World Champion - Petter Solberg, have been driving for since its inception at the beginning of 2017, had now clinched their second successive Teams’ title.
Combine that with the two FIA World Rallycross Drivers titles which Johan has secured throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and that makes four FIA World titles in two years. All this was achieved against a staunch lineup of factory-backed opponents - such as Ford, Audi, Peugeot - and an equally unrelenting pack of well-funded and experienced independent teams.
So, aside from Johan and Petter’s prodigious talents in the cockpit, what makes the car so successful? "There’s always a lot of work behind the scenes to create a winning car. First, the Polo was created to compete in the WRC, and then it was adapted to race in Rallycross. But with that work, keeping the highest level of consistency is absolutely key,” explains Johan Kristoffersson.
“Our team from PSRX and Volkswagen have done such a perfect job at keeping the car in mint condition throughout the season. Every time I jump into the car it feels the same. Every single millimeter is crucial when the races are so short and intense. The feel of the pedals - how the clutch is shimmed so you have half a millimeter between the biting point and disengaging it, for example, the tiny slack in the handbrake, the position of my seatbelts, the adjustment of the gear lever and steering wheel. Everything is matched to me, and more importantly, it is the same every time.
“You jump in and you feel at home. It all adds up so that you can push to the limit from the very first corner. To put this another way, during all the free practice sessions in Germany, my quickest lap was my very first lap of the weekend. And I haven’t been at the Estering for a year. That’s the kind of confidence which is inspired by the accuracy of engineers; which ultimately leads to success. The results are a huge credit to the guys that build the car.”
The Small Details of Engineering Make A Rally Car Great
For Petter Solberg it goes beyond simply engineering a fast car though, success is nurtured through respect at an individual level between every member of the team, and only then can the work to win a race really begin: “It was communication and respect between the team that has achieved these results,” explains Petter Solberg.
“If the engineering team, or driver, or support aren’t working together the whole machine stops. I dream about having the kind of success like Mercedes and Ferrari have had in Formula One. The aim was to build a prestige team but also a team for the people. In our team, it was bigger than just building the car. Of course, reliability is the key, but incorporating that major aim and all the smaller details - that was the ultimate goal.”
“I’ve tried many crazy things while building cars in the past, so everything I’ve learned, I’ve applied to this car. It sounds simple. The first thing was to find a light and well-designed chassis. Secondly weight distribution. Weight is one of the most crucial factors in a successful car. Then thirdly the friction; by which I mean any friction of how the car rolls, or moving mechanical parts. Then finally this all culminates to traction; sheer mechanical grip. Combining the dampers and steering geometry to harness all of these things is the final part of the puzzle. Everyone has a 45mm restrictor on their engines, so physically there is only a set amount of power you can make. It’s how you harness what you have available and translate it through the chassis and tires that make the difference. The technical details create great drivability in the car. You can’t tackle them all at once, you have to make a priority list. To do that list you have to have respect and cooperation again. There's so much that goes on behind the scenes. If you can make all the puzzles fit together and achieve a result with it; it is so rewarding. We completely live racing!”
The team principle of PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, Pernilla Solberg, naturally shares Petter’s viewpoint: “I remember so well at the Silverstone test at the start of the year, we were a little bit stressed. Some of the other cars were coming so quickly and everybody was talking about the others teams with their faster cars and fancy parts; we had to find some more speed. Volkswagen Motorsport delivered a fast and completely fantastic race car in the Polo R Supercar. And PSRX Volkswagen Sweden delivered the team and the drivers to make good with that car. This year really has been the dream. To win 10 races for Johan is something just unbelievable. This team has pulled together and worked as one – everybody who wears the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden shirt is part of this incredible story.”
Design: Four-cylinder in-line engine with exhaust turbocharger and intercooling, positioned laterally in front of the front axle
Capacity: 2,000 ccm
Performance: 419 kW (570hp) at 7,800 rpm
Torque: 650 Nm at 5,000 rpm
Bore/stroke: 86.0 mm/86.0 mm
Restrictor plate: 45 mm
Engine management: Bosch
Gearbox: Sequential, six-gear racing transmission
Axle drive: Permanent 4-wheel drive with rigid drive shaft between the front and rear axle, multi-plate limited-slip differentials on front and rear axle with adjustable barrier effect
Coupling: Hydraulically operated three-plate carbon clutch
Front/rear axle: McPherson struts, dampers by ZF
Suspension travel: Approx. 240 mm
Steering: Rack-and-pinion steering with power assistance
Braking system: Disc brakes with all-around inside ventilation (Ø 325 mm), aluminium calipers (four pistons all-around)
Rims: 8.5 x 17 inch
Tires: 225/640-R17 Cooper
Structure: Reinforced production steel body in line with FIA regulations
Dimensions and weight
Length/width/height: 4,000/1,820/1,452 mm
Track: 1,600 mm
Wheelbase: 2,490 mm
Minimum weight: 1,300 kg (incl. driver)
Acceleration: 0-100 km/h in approx. 1.9 seconds
Top speed: Up to 200 km/h (depending on transmission)