The most famous Octavia WRC is back! At this year's Sosnová Classic Rally Show, fans could once again see the car that became famous for crashing at the 2002 Rallye Monte-Carlo in action. What does it feel like to get behind the steering wheel of a 20+ years old WRC special? Watch the video.
After the successes in world rallying during the 1990s, when Škoda Motorsport was gaining success in the lower class categories, firstly with the Favorit and later on with the Felicia Kit Car, the decision was made to take on the best teams in the then new WRC category. However, this meant building a completely new all-wheel drive special, something that the Škoda Motorsport team had no experience with. The previous experience of developing the front-wheel drive Octavia Kit Car could only be used in part, the rest was completely new. The team rose to the challenge, and the 1999 Škoda Octavia WRC took to the start of the Rallye Monte-Carlo. Much has been written about its sporting performance, but let's have a look at how the car was driven.
A powerful two-litre
The Octavia had the usual power unit of the time under the bonnet, a turbocharged two-litre petrol engine that produced 221 kW at 3,250 rpm. Torque reached 600 Nm in later versions. From today's point of view, this is still a very powerful engine. Compared to the engine in the current Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, the main difference is that there is more torque at lower revs, but the response and especially the onset of turbocharger boost pressure is much better today. This is similar to the road cars. The first-generation Škoda Octavia RS also has a significantly higher turbo effect than the current model.
However, despite the more pronounced turbo effect, the engine power is well controlled and metered. For the record, the turbocharger in the Octavia was custom-built by Garrett and is an extremely expensive item to replace. Not to mention the fact that their supply is dwindling mercilessly. In this aspect, the customer-oriented Fabia RS Rally2 is more merciful, as its engine's turbocharging is handled by the stock turbocharger.
The Evo2 version in the video has two active, hydraulically controlled differentials in the all-wheel drive system. At the rear, there was a conventional mechanical self-locking system. The driver could switch between the active differential maps on the control panel to the left of the steering wheel. Hydraulics of the time were not the fastest, so the car required a specific driving style on the asphalt of Sosnová, which required a vigorous press of the accelerator pedal to overcome massive under steer on corner entry. Then all the differentials clamped down and the Octavia threw itself into a beautifully smooth and tight over steer. From a driver's perspective, this line between under steer and over steer was easy to control, as the driver hit the apexes of the corners precisely every lap and then dragged the exit skid to the outside edge of the Sosnová circuit. The Octavia is not as calm and precise as contemporary cars, but its sweeping style will grab the heart of any rally driver.
Movements are not harmful
The big difference is in the shock absorbers. Thanks to them and its length, the Octavia moves quite significantly in the longitudinal and transverse axes. Surprisingly, however, the car's sinking under braking helps the driver get a better read on the grip levels of the tyres, especially under braking. In fact, this makes it a little easier to read the car's grip than on current-generation rally specials, which are much further along in the shock absorber department. The Octavia is also a very long car by today's standards, which gives it an oversteer character on the one hand, but also stability at higher speeds, which many drivers have enjoyed during its competition career. However, size does not mean more weight, so the Octavia easily fit within the prescribed WRC category limit of 1,230kg. The brakes are fully comparable in performance and responsiveness to contemporary cars and their age is not noticeable at all.
Respect for history
Driving the Octavia WRC is a great experience for drivers of the Fabia RS Rally2. Despite the incredible power of the WRC engine, the WRC2 category Fabia is the faster car overall. Behind the wheel, you have to be faster and more precise than you would be in a WRC special that's more than 20 years old. Yet, the Octavia is wonderful to drive. It's wild, impulsive and you have to correct it more. You have a bit more time for everything; time that you'll enjoy with a smile on your lips until the last hundredth of a second. However, driving for fun on a circuit is very different to hurtling along at a blistering pace on a special stage. Those who have experienced this with the Octavia WRC deserve a lot of respect.