The 2016 WRC2 Championship will go down as one of the most successful campaigns in ŠKODA Motorsport history. It was not only the year that the FABIA R5 secured its world title, but also a year in which the car dominated the championship like few other cars before it ever has.
There were three ŠKODA Motorsport’s crews taking part in this year’s WRC2 Championship and each one of them enjoyed some notable successes across the course of the season. It was the Finnish pairing of Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm who stole the headlines as they clinched the WRC2 title in fine style at the final event of the season.
They actually made a modest start to the season, by their own high standards. A 3rd place finish at their first event of the season, the Rally Sweden, was followed up by a disappointing 9th place at the Rally Italia Sardegna and 3rd again at the Rally Poland.
At that stage, they look out of contention, but what followed was an astonishing run of four successive rally victories which elevated them to the top of the standings. It all began on home soil at the Rally Finland where they capitalized on home advantage to secure a comfortable win.
Next up was the Rallye Deutschland, which they again won in dominant fashion, heading home a remarkable ‘1-2-3-4’ finish for FABIA R5 drivers. That win meant their championship hopes all rested on the final two rallies of the season. At the Wales Rally GB, they knew they needed a win, and for other results to go their way as well. And they got what they needed, remarkably at the head of another FABIA R5 ‘1-2-3-4’ finish.
That win meant it all boiled down to the long journey down under and the Rally Australia. They knew only a 1st or 2nd place finish would suffice, and they coped with the pressure superbly, dominating from start to finish to win by more than four minutes. In the end, they won the WRC2 Championship title by a margin of 10 points and Lappi was understandably elated at his success.
But it was not just Lappi who enjoyed a fine WRC2 season in a FABIA R5. His Czech teammate Jan Kopecký also enjoyed some notable successes alongside his long-term co-driver Pavel Dresler. Their highlight was undoubtedly victory at the RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada, a win claimed by a margin of just 15 seconds after an epic showdown with fellow ŠKODA Motorsport driver Pontus Tidemand.
Prior to that win, Kopecký had been on a run of 3 successive runners-up finishes (at the Rally Italia Sardegna, the Rallye Deutschland, and the Tour de Corse) and a 4th place at the Wales Rally GB, ensured he would finish in 4th place in the WRC2 Championship standings.
One place and just 7 points further back in 5th place were the other ŠKODA Motorsport pairing of Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson. Tidemand enjoyed a near identical record to Kopecký, with one rally victory and three 2nd places out of their six rallies. As well as coming close to the Czech driver at the RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada, he also missed out on a win at the Rally Sweden by a narrow margin just 14.7 seconds.
They bounced back from that disappointment in style with victory in their second outing at the Rally de Portugal. But a third narrow miss of the season at the Wales Rally GB, where they finished second again, this time by a margin of just 29.1 seconds, left them reflecting on a strong season, but an inevitable sense of what might have been.
As Tidemand’s results can testify, rallying can come down to fine margins, and no-one knows that more than the Finnish pairing of Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula. They ended up as the highest placed FABIA R5 customer team drivers, for Team Oreca, after what was a remarkable season. For a while, they looked the most likely FABIA R5 drivers to clinch the WRC2 title before Lappi’s late push meant they had to settle for second place in the championship standings.
However, they claimed three event victories at the Rally Guanajuato Mexico, the Rally Italia Sardegna and the Rally Poland, as well as a second place at the Rally Finland and third at the Wales Rally GB. That last result elevated them to the top of the WRC2 Championship standings despite having the same points total as Elfyn Evans, as a result of a better head-to-head record against their British rival. Even though it wasn’t enough in the end to hold off Lappi, Teemu Suninen and all at Team Oreca can none-the-less look back with pride on a remarkable season.
The other FABIA R5 rally winner was Peruvian Nicolás Fuchs. Alongside co-driver Fernando Mussano, he claimed victory at the Rally Argentina, and also finished runner-up twice, at the Rally de Portugal and Rally Australia. He ended the season in 6th place in the overall WRC2 Championship standings, making him the highest placed South American driver in WRC2 history.
But without question, the real star of the 2016 season has been the ŠKODA FABIA R5. It won 10 of the 13 rallies, giving the car a remarkable 76.9% win ratio. But that is only half the story. There were 24 podium places, included not one but two ‘1-2-3-4’ results. And in the final drivers’ standings, seven of the top eight drivers were competing in the FABIA R5.
The 2016 WRC2 Championship was one of ŠKODA’s finest years ever. And here at ŠKODA Motorsport, we are all looking forward eagerly to what the 2017 Championship will bring.