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GP Week : Issue 161
RALLY >>> FEATURE Monte Carlo 2009 saw the dramatic competition debut of the Skoda Fabia S2000, leading for half the three-day IRC event before Juho Hanninen crashed and teammate Jan Kopecky suffered delay through power steering failure, finishing fourth behind three Peugeots. Since then the story of success for the Fabia S2000 has just got better and better. The IRC was the initially preferred international battleground for Skoda Motorsport, with Kopecky finishing second in the 2009 IRC series behind the dominant Peugeot driver Kris Meeke, and winning the locally important Barum Rally in Czech Republic. 2010 was the start of a chain of successes for the team, with Hanninen becoming IRC champion (main pic) and Kopecky finishing second, while Andreas Mickelsen then went on to win the IRC again in 2011. For 2012 the policy for Skoda has been to give primary responsibility for the IRC series to the national Skoda British and German Skoda teams, with works drivers Hanninen and Kopecky alternating as a support entry from the factory. This leaves Skoda to concentrate on supporting their official driver Hanninen in the FIA’s European championship, the series which the FIA is actively seeking to integrate with the IRC, and continue to run teammate Jan Kopecky in the national Czech championship. This year a private Spanish team is running a car for the reigning Production Car world champion Hayden Paddon in the FIA’s SWRC series and for the first time there is a Skoda involvement in the FIA’s Asia Pacific series through the MRF team. It means that Skoda has a strong representation in the four most important international series below the WRC level. And in a quite different way, Skoda has a strong presence in the WRC as well. This programme, using Fabia S2000 cars, is being run by the Volkswagen Motorsport team, a part of their fact- finding mission for when the Polo R WRC becomes available in 2013 in the world championship. The Skoda season has been incredibly successful so far. By mid season the Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen was ahead of the two works drivers in the IRC, Hanninen was streets ahead in the ERC, Paddon was well ahead in the SWRC (even beating the works Proton drivers), MRF drivers Chris Atkinson and Gaurav Gill are lying 1-2 in the APRC, and Kopecky has been unbeaten in the Czech series. On all their six appearances this year, one of VW drivers (Ogier, Abbring or Mikkelsen) has finished the top non-World Rally Car, and all except once in the top 10 positions. Winning on all possible fronts. Over the past four seasons Skoda Motorsport have been working on the S2000 design making such improvements as the regulations allow. Engine improvements including new manifolds were introduced for Monte Carlo 2010. Then modifications allowing the car to take advantage of new increased maximum width rules were introduced for 2010 season, permitting the wide track version car which Skoda introduced in mid-season. That essentially is the development story of the Fabia S2000. In time for the 2012 season, regional championship rallies were allowed to admit S2000 cars using 1.6 litre turbo engines, but the decision was taken that Skoda would stay with 2-litre normally aspirated engines while the VW company proceeded with the 1.6 turbo engine work for their projected World Rally Car. 1.6 turbo cars began to infiltrate the S2000 scene but not in strength of numbers. For Skoda there was other unfinished business with their normally aspirated cars. A lot more rally championship titles were waiting to be won. The reason for the success of the Fabia S2000? For a start the timing of the car was perfect. Skoda were late on the scene. They waited for Fiat to struggle in 2005 and 2006 when they were developing the car and undertaking endless discussions with the FIA about the finer points of the formula. They then watched during 2007 and 2008 as Toyota, Peugeot, VW and then Proton gained practical experience of running the cars. Skoda meanwhile had been carrying out a protracted test programme, culminating in being ready to demonstrate in public as a zero car on the 2008 Barum Rally. This timetable worked well, particularly as the S2000 regulations severely restrict ‘second thoughts’ in designs. As the Fabia S2000 activities got under way, the technical world of rallying had moved on. S2000 rules had already been around a long time, even a couple of years before the first cars were homologated in 2006. FIA’s current policy dictates that S2000, in both 2-litre and 1.6 litre turbo specification, would be phased out and that four-wheel-drive, budget level R5 cars would take over as the sport’s secondary formula. Skoda were already reacting. Work had been independently instigated for the Fabia R2 model, a car intended to capture the market from the existing designs from Citroen, Ford and more recently Renault. The Fabia R2 has already proved to be a car which has brought the higher standard of technology in R3 down to R2 level. Skoda have not announced any formal decision regarding policy in 2013, but it is widely suspected that the company wants to spend 2013 preparing for entry into R5 in 2014. For years Skoda has lived up to their marketing tag of ‘Surprising Skoda’, but the Fabia S2000 has been far more surprising that any previous rally car they have produced. Skoda has progressed immensely in the last few years. In the company’s 100 years and more in competition, they have been around the block many times. Ten years prior to the debut of the Fabia S2000 at Monte Carlo, the Octavia WRC was launched at the same event, but in its four season campaign in the WRC the model only gained one podium result. Then came the Fabia WRC, a very popular little car but in the five or so years that car was in the centre of the WRC it did not even do that. Salute therefore the Fabia S2000, competitive from the start and going stronger than ever four seasons later. Wide-bodied Skoda Fabia S2000 43 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: