The Škoda Octavia WRC and the Acropolis Rally

Škoda Octavia kit-car

The history of the Škoda Octavia WRC started in 1997 as a kit car. After the successful years in the 2 litres category with the Felicia, assaulting a WRC project required much more expertise and resources, for what the decision was to start with an intermediate step (kit car) in preparation for the WRC. The model selected for such an important attempt was the Octavia: a large, front-wheel-drive car, designed by Belgian Dirk van Braecke, that was launched in 1996. A well designed model with very low air resistance, showing a drag coefficient of 0,31, slighty better than the previous generation Skoda Fabia (0,32) and not far from the 0,28 reported for the new Fabia.

The variant kit car was first homologated in September 1997 (page 22 of the Homologation Form A-5573, 01/01 VK). The car was equipped with all the aero devices allowed by regulations: a front bumper with a small splitter and several air intakes for the engine, bonnet vents, side skirts and integrated side mirrors. At the rear, an small rear wing (1000 width) was attached to the boot by two side supports with small endplates on both sides.

P.Sibera/P.Gross, Škoda Octavia kit car, Rally Finland 1997, retired – image by Škoda Motorsport

The Octavia kit car made its first appearance in Rally Finland 1997. It was on its very first stage of development and had to abandon after 7 stages, due to suspension failure. Same result in Sanremo, where a second car was aligned, for Emil Triner and Miloš Hůlka.

For 1998 the car received some improvements: new rear suspension, modifications in the gearbox and the engine (now delivering 270 hp) and weight reduction (80 kg) thanks to a kevlar carter protector and a lighter tablier.

P.Sibera/P.Gross, Škoda Octavia kit car, Acropolis Rally 1998, 3rd 2l – image by Jan Marek – ewrc-results.com

The team took part in most of the European WRC events, showing good progress in the Corsican tarmac, where Sibera/Gross were regularly ahead of the Renault Meganes and the Hyundai Coupes, before retiring. The best result came in the broken routes of the Acropolis, starting a series of good performances in the toughest events (Acropolis in particular). After setting a couple of fastest times between the 2 liters cars, and even though the problems with the gearbox, Sibera/Gross finished in the third position, right behind the two dominant Seat Ibiza kit car Evo2. Another good result came in Finland when Sibera/Jirátko finished in fourth place, while in the RAC Rally they hit the same concrete block that almost prevent Makinen from being world champion, on the first day of the event, and had to retire.

Škoda Octavia WRC

The first images of the Octavia WRC were released in October’98: it was the longest WRC car (4511 mm, with the same wheelbase as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V). Designed in Mladá Boleslav, the team requested some external support, from Prodrive (4-wheel system), AMS/MES (engine) and Proflex (dampers). The design of the car was led by Technical Manager Vaclav Trkola, while Dietmar Metrich (ex-Mitsubishi) was recruited as development engineer due to his extensive knowledge of four-wheel drive and turbocharging.

E.Triner/M.Hůlka, Škoda Octavia WRC, Rally Sanremo 1999, – image by Škoda Motorsport / ewrc-results.com

The Octavia WRC included a new front bumper with a bigger central air intake and two smaller side intakes, compared to the kit car. A third vent was added to the bonnet to remove the excess of air, while the side skirts were also enlarged, to better prevent air from entering under the car.

Škoda Octavia WRC rear wing drawings – extracted from Homologation form A-5573

The change to WRC also allowed the incorporation of a bigger rear wing, to generate much more rear downforce. It included an upper wing, supported by two considerably thick endplates, and a wicker (lower plate) located over the boot.

On the driver’s side, the experienced German duo (ex-Toyota) Armin Schwartz and Manfred Hiemer joined the team as leading drivers. They were in charge of most of the development testing program that lead to the final homologation in January 1999 (page 73 of the Homologation Form A-5573, 11/01 WR).

The car was too young at the start of the 1999 season, leading to very early retirement in Monte-Carlo and Portugal. The first results came in Rally Catalunya, where Schwartz/Hiemer completed a good first leg, finishing in the eighth position, before retiring due to alternator issues. The car was hardly understeering, forcing the German driver to throw the car sideways before every corner, resulting in a spectacular driving style.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC, Acropolis Rally 1999, 12th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

In Greece, the car finally incorporated cooling improvements (water injection system). Such an improvement, combined with the robustness of the car, allowed the team to finally see both cars at the end of a WRC event, in 12th (Schwartz/Hiemer) and 13th position (Triner/Hůlka). One month later, the Czech duo gave the Octavia WRC his first absolute win in the Czech Bohemia Rally, a fast event with stages over 140 km/h average speed, that started from the own Mladá Boleslav Skoda’s factory.

Another novelty arrived in Finland, with the inclusion of the Anti-lag system (ALS) in Finland, in order to reduce the delay in the turbo and give the car more power. There Triner/Hůlka finished in the 14th position. Additional improvements were introduced before Sanremo, such as a brake water cooling system, but results continued to be disappointing.

B.Thiry/S.Prévot, Škoda Octavia WRC, Rally of Great Britain 1999, 4th – image by Petr Fitz – ewrc-results.com

In order to improve the car’s performance on tarmac, the team contacted Bruno Thiry and Stéphane Prévot. But the tarmac test sessions were finally canceled and replaced by a single outing in the Rally of Great Britain, after a 3-day test session on gravel. The Belgian driver surprised the press at the pre-event conference when he declared that the car was agile but powerless. And during the competition, he confirmed it, as he was able to master the slippy gravel to drive the car to an impressive final fourth position that compensated for most of the hard moments of the season.

The team suffered several changes to face the season 2000: Dietmar Matrich was promoted to Technical Manager, while Luis Climent/Alex Romaní joined the team for the second car. But development progress remained as slow as in 1999.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2000, 7th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

In Monte-Carlo, the issues with the turbo did not prevent Schwartz/Hiemer from setting the third-fastest time on two stages, to finish seventh, while the Spanish duo finished 10th. Next was an 8-day test in Kenya to prepare for the Safari Rally, with the goal of collecting as much experience and information as possible for a full program in 2001. Former Toyota engineer Karl-Heinz Goldstein joined the team to oversee Skoda’s African adventure.

L.Climent/A.Romaní, Škoda Octavia WRC, Rally Safari 2000, 8th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The plan of sacrificing performance by regularity showed to be successful, and both cars ended in 7th and 8th positions, reporting 3 points to the Manufacturer classification.

L.Climent/A.Romaní, Škoda Octavia WRC, Rally Catalunya 2000, retired

The seats of the Octavia WRC were repositioned much further back in the car before Rally Catalunya to improve the weight distribution. And even that the final results continued to be discrete, Schwartz/Hiemer confirmed the potential of the car by setting the first scratch time of the car, in a difficult (tarmac) stage (Alpens-Les Lloses) under muddy and rainy conditions.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC, Acropolis Rally 2000, 5th – image by Škoda

Another regular performance in th Acropolis placed Schwartz/Hiemer in a good final 5th position, leaving Škoda ahead of Seat and Hyundai in the classification. But the absence of the team in the next two rounds quickly reverted that situation. There was a good reason for that: the team required all their resources for the final development tests of a new evolution of the car during the summer of the year 2000.

Škoda Octavia WRC Evo2

The new version of the Octavia WRC, named Evo2, was homologated in September 2000 (page 126 of the Homologation Form A-5573, 24/02 WR). Not only the engine (new turbocharger), weight distribution (including a weight reduction of 50 kg) and suspension were improved, but also the aero. The front bumper and the bonnet vents were modified to improve the airflow inside the engine bay, which means improved cooling capacity.

The surface of the front bumper air intakes (I and II in the image below) was increased by 40%, while two vents (III) were added on both sides, to remove excess air. The bonnet vents were also redesigned, as the two front vents were replaced by a unique, central vent (V), while an additional air intake, in the shape of a NACA duct (VII), was added. Those modifications not only improved cooling but also allowed to reduce the drag (as internal flow is an important drag source in a rally car).

Škoda Octavia WRC (left) and Evo2 (right) – images by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The new front bumper was also designed to increase front downforce generation capacity. For instance, small side lips (45 mm) were designed to be used on tarmac events, to reduce the amount of air entering under the car, thus reducing the pressure. The lip was smaller on its central part, in order to avoid damage while cutting in the corners.

Another important change was at the rear: a new rear wing with thinner endplates and a thinner wing. The aim was to achieve the same level of rear downforce with less drag (air resistance), in order to improve the top speed of the car.

With the increase in front downforce, the car became more aero balanced, as Luis Climent recently confirmed to magazin Turini (nr. 23), thus becoming easier to drive. Other modifications were the addition of a new radiator to cool down the steering wheel and gearbox fluids, as well as improved weight distribution. The new version of the car debuted in Cyprus, but both cars were forced to retire very soon, while Sanremo and RAC Rally showed the lack of performance of a too young car.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo2, Cyprus Rally 2000, retired – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The year 2001 was the 100th anniversary of Škoda. To celebrate it, it was decided to take part in 12 events, excluding only the oceanic events (Australia and New Zealand). In parallel, the team started to work on the new WRC project, based on the (shorter and lighter) Fabia model. On the driver’s side, Bruno Thiry and Stéphane Prévot rejoined the team for a full season.

The Octavia WRC Evo2 incorporated some modifications for the new season, most notably revised ducting in the engine bay to improve airflow to the turbo. Engine airflow remained an issue, and the team keep working on it to ensure that the motor performed at more consistent temperatures.

Season 2001 couldn’t start better, with a superb drive by Schwartz/Hiemer that placed them in an excellent fourth position at the end of the Rallye Monte-Carlo, while Thiry/Prévot were 8th.

B.Thiry/S.Prévot, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo2, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2001, 8th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The results in the following events did not show a significant improvement in the performance of the car. It was not until Greece that results did not arrive. In the Acropolis Rally, the German duo finished 7th, ahead of the Belgian duo (10th).

B.Thiry/S.Prévot, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo2, Acropolis Rally 2001, 10th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The best moment of the season arrived at the Rally Safari, an event that the Czech team had prepared carefully. As usual, the car was equipped with animal front protections as well as a roof air intake to prevent water from entering the engine in the multiple river crossings disseminated all other the route. Also, engineers found 40mm of extra wheel travel and made further modifications to the suspension, including water cooling.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo2, Safari Rally 2001, 3rd – image by

Schwartz/Heimer confirmed the robustness of the car by setting the fastest time in the first stage (Oltepesi 1, 117,5 km long), first time Škoda was leading an event of the WRC. The German duo completed a very regular rally, to finish in a brilliant third position, the best result ever achieved by a WRC car of the Czech manufacturer.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo II, Rally Catalunya 2001, retired

But the long and low-power car continued to fail in most of the events, with only a remarkable result in the last event of the season (Rally of Great Britain) where Schwartz/Heimer finished in 5th and Thiry/Prévot in 8th position, thanks to an engine update (by Lehmann, only in Schwartz’s car) and the use of Reiger dampers (in both cars), for the first time replacing the usual Proflex.

A.Schwartz/M.Hiemer, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo II, Rally of Great Britain 2001, 5th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

2002 was the fourth year of the team competing in the WRC, which means that they were forced to participate in all 14 events. For the occasion, the driver’s line-up was totally changed, with the arrival of Kenneth Eriksson and Christina Thörner as well as Tony Gardemeister and Paavo Lukander. The car did not receive any significant change, as most efforts were concentrated on a new evolution.

In Sweden, Eriksson/Thörner showed their ability on snow, being fifth before the final stage. Unfortunately, a leak in the cooling circuit prevented him from finishing in a point’s position. For this event, the team aligned a third car for former world champion Stig Blomqvist, co-driven by Ana Goñi, who finished in the 15th position.

S.Blomqvist/A.Goñi, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo2, Rally Sweden 2002, 15th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

Some modifications were introduced in Corsica, with the main novelty the addition of an active differential at the rear (front and center were already active), together with suspension modifications.

 

Like the previous versions, the car proved to be robust in the roughest terrains, allowing the drivers to get points both for Gardemeister/Lukander (5th) and Eriksson/Parmander (6th) in Argentina, while the Finn duo were 10th in the Acropolis Rally.

Skoda Octavia WRC Evo3

The last evolution of the Octavia WRC, named Evo3, was homologated in August 2002 (page 187 of the Homologation Form A-5573, 38/04 WR). The third generation Octavia WRC included modifications in the engine (a new inlet manifold, throttle body and exhaust) as well as a modified front bumper and bonnet. The modifications in the front bumper affected the shape of the side air intakes, while in the bonnet the NACA duct was replaced by a square intake.

T.Gardemeister/P.Lukander, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo3, Rally Sanremo 2002, retired- image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The best result of the new car arrived in Australia, when Gardemeister/Lukander were 6th, ahead of Eriksson/Thörner (8th).

In 2003, Eriksson was replaced by Didier Auriol. The team carried out an important effort in developing the car, by reducing the weight and improving the weight distribution, working on the suspension to improve the adjustability of the settings and on the engine to improve its power curve.

D.Auriol/D.Giraudet, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo3, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2003, 9th – image by Škoda Motorsport – ewrc-results.com

The announcement in late March of the introduction of the Fabia WRC stopped the development work for the Octavia WRC, which still had the chance to participate one more year in the Acropolis Rally, were Auriol/Giraudet finished in the 10th position. Together with the Safari Rally, Acropolis Rally was one of the favorite terrains of the Octavia WRC, and most of their best performances were deployed over the Greek stages.

D.Auriol/D.Giraudet, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo3, Acropolis Rally 2003, 10th – image by Škoda Motorsport

The debut of the Fabia WRC in Rallye Deutschland in July 2003 represented the end of the official participation of the Octavia WRC in the World Championship, although many other non-official drivers continued to drive it in the following events.

J.Kopecký/F.Schovánek, Škoda Octavia WRC Evo3, Rallye Deutschland 2003, 20th – image by Petr Lusk  – ewrc-results.com

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4 thoughts on “The Škoda Octavia WRC and the Acropolis Rally

  • 2022-09-09 at 08:59
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    When a Taxi assault the WRC stages!

    Reply
    • 2022-09-18 at 14:08
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      Just like the Seat 1430 / 124 in the 70s!

      Reply
  • 2022-09-18 at 18:45
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    The unique WRC with an 20 valve engine. Great post, as usual!

    Reply
    • 2022-09-23 at 10:23
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      Thanks much, glad that you liked it, mr. peuabaix!

      Reply

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