IAA ’03: Skoda Motorsport

At the end of July this year the Škoda Motorsport team started another important chapter in its more than one hundred-year history. After months of preparation and intensive testing, the new Škoda Fabia WRC drove down from the starting platform of the German Rally.

Even during its presentation in Geneva the Škoda Fabia WRC attracted lots of attention because of its rigorous but extremely elegant design. And its design immediately made the Škoda Fabia WRC one of the best looking cars in the championship. During two introductory rallies the new Fabia WRC cars covered a distance of more than 500 km with a full competition load. The first competition revealed not only the significant potential of the new car but also its hidden reserves and possibilities for improvement. This invaluable experience in the high performance and astonishing pace of sharp competition cannot be replaced by any, even extremely demanding, testing. Both resident drivers of the Škoda Motorsport team, Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister have commended the perfect steering control of the Škoda Fabia WRC in particular. However, they stressed that this is just the beginning of a long journey, the goal of which is a car that can claim the title of world champion.

The arrival of the Škoda Fabia WRC has rounded off the decisive period that the Škoda Motorsport team went through at the start of the 2003 season. Everything started with the arrival of the former world champion Didier Auriol with his co-driver, Denis Giraudet, and their first appearance at the Monte Carlo Rally in the colours of the Škoda Motorsport team. An indication of significant changes occurred at the beginning of March when the new weapon of the Škoda Motorsport team was presented to the public at the Geneva motor show for the first time: the Škoda Fabia WRC. The remaining part of Spring and the beginning of Summer was devoted to intensive testing so that the new car would be ready for its first appearance at the German Rally.

The appearance of the Fabia WRC at the German Rally was not only an important step into the future but also a definite end to one of the most important chapters in the motorsport history of Škoda. The preceding Cyprus Rally saw the last performance of the Octavia WRC, after more than four years in world championship competitions. The Octavia WRC enabled Škoda to enter the elite world championship series and it also brought Škoda its first historic place on the winner’s podium in the top category of the world rally. The Škoda Octavia WRC achieved two wins in individual speed trials in the demanding Safari Rally and also in the Catalan Rally, over extremely fast asphalt-surface. A total of ten drivers including world champions such as Kenneth Eriksson, Gabriel Pozzo and Didier Auriol drove the Octavia WRC.

The Škoda Octavia WRC has demonstrated its outstanding qualities and its ability to compete at the top in the last seven world competitions. Because of its solid design and, predominantly, its renowned reliability, Octavia WRC cars managed to score in six out of seven competitions and continued the successes achieved in 2001 when at least one crew completed each of the fourteen competitions in 2002. The results of 2001 and 2002 meant that at least one Škoda Octavia WRC car finished in twenty-two successive world championship competitions, a unique achievement. The Škoda Octavia has deserved the label of one of the most reliable cars on the starting grid.

Before the Fabia WRC could start its first world championship competition, it had to undergo a phase of intensive development. The entire Škoda Motorsport team participated, together with the relevant divisions of the technical development of Škoda Auto and the VW group, and selected external companies. Racing cars for the WRC category have to be designed from the basic model, in this case the Škoda Fabia RS, with extensive modifications of virtually all design units. At the same time all applicable FIA regulations have to be complied with.

The successful design of the Fabia WRC originated in the Design Centre of Škoda Auto. The resulting shapes and respective components have been wind tunnel optimised. The reconstruction results in great torsion elasticity several times higher than standard cars, which is helped by an additional protective frame. The floor has been modified for the installation of the 4×4 drive. The chassis has been reinforced and strengthened, with both axles embedded in supporting frames and designed as independent suspension with McPherson units. The suspension system includes shock absorbers that allow individual adjustment of the attenuation characteristics. The clearance of the Fabia WRC can be adjusted from 80 to 240 mm depending on the characteristics of the racing surface.

The car has a turbo-charged, four-cylinder engine with a maximum prescribed displacement of 2,000 cc. The output of all engines in the world championship competitions is limited to a maximum of 221 kW (300 bhp), which is achieved by placing a restricting device (shroud) with a diameter of 34 mm in front of the turbo-charger, according to the FIA regulations. A special six-gear transmission with semi-automatic gear changing under the steering wheel is a part of the drive of the all wheels system. The inter-axle and the front differentials are located in the transmission box and, like the rear axle differential, they are electronically controlled.

An integral part of the development process of the Fabia WRC were driving tests that covered many kilometres across the whole of Europe on various surfaces and in various conditions. Both resident drivers of the Škoda Motorsport team, Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister, drove their first kilometres behind the steering wheel of the Fabia WRC and immediately showed their great enthusiasm for the new car. Didier Auriol, in particular, with his many years of experience, contributed to the development of the Fabia WRC with his invaluable knowledge. All tests proceeded unusually well and the great potential of the new car was obvious from the very beginning. The tests also demonstrated how reliable the car is and enabled the decision to be made regarding the subsequent phase of development: to take part in its first world championship competition. The results of these last intensive tests performed in Germany and Finland, immediately before the German Rally, proved that the Fabia WRC is faster than the Octavia WRC in certain stages, even during these development phases. The whole team eagerly anticipated the first comparison with the world’s top rally cars.

The new car’s development does not end with its first rally. Its appearance in actual world rally competitions conditions has supplied even more key information and the remaining part of this year’s season will be accompanied by intensive testing and tuning so that the Fabia WRC is fully competitive for the 2004 season and ready to win in the first world championship competitions in 2005 at the latest.