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SchwarzSkoda may be always regarded as the poor team of the World Rally Championship (WRC) and remembering where they come from and what their background is, this may be right. But for the same reason, the pure fact that they are here, and not only that, but that they are actually regular points finishers, is the more a testimony of their strong enthusiasm and character. There certainly is no shortage of both, enthusiasm and character as Skoda’s motorsport history started in 1901, over 100 years ago. And although they were into motorbike races at first, car rallies have been part of their activity nearly since the beginning.

Skoda 1000mb rally carNowadays still everybody seems to remember Skoda taking part in rallies with little RWD rear engined cars and good for respectable class wins. But in fact in the 1960s the Skoda 1000MB and 1100MB were not that far off the norm, nor was another rear engined car of that time, called the Octavia! In fact from their layout there were similarities between the Skodas and i.e. the famous R8 Gordini. Further, the Skodas were certainly sophisticated cars compared to what some of the opposition came up with, just remember the rear engined NSU Prinz or the 2-stroke engined DKW and Wartborg – at least Skoda had proper engines. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Skoda seemed to struggle keeping up with the way modern technology went, which couldn’t be helped for the situation the CZ found themselves in, but in that situation they did more than most of even today’s big firms could have ever coped with.

In the 1980s Skodas had a 1.3 litre rear engine which looked antique, but you would reconsider such judgement quickly at the finish line as Skodas never seemed to break down and they often managed to get in or at least close to the top10 overall, even in group B days. It is not without reason the Czecks are regarded as some of the most eager engineers there are. Go to central European touring car teams and you will be surprised how many of them have already worked with Czeck engineers and mechanics and give them the best references you could imagine. Skoda surely had their fans as well, high profile fans at that and not only within the CZ. So was i.e. Norwegian John Haugland an absolute top star driver talent at the time, but he somehow refused to compete in anything else but a Skoda. To the day John Haugland has a reknown ice driving school and to the day he is a loyal admirer of Skoda.
In the 1990s the situation for Skoda and their country changed dramatically. Of course you can’t expect miracles overnight. This as well has good aspects however, since Volkswagen bought themselves into Skoda but this did not make Skoda give up their unique character in any big way. So Skoda still rallied 1.3 litre cars and soon 1.5 and 1.6, Skoda Feliciabut by now they were FWD, they were of a modern layout, but they did in no way lose their sturdiness and efficiency. In 1994 Skoda still competed with the Favorit 136L and amazingly with it won the 2 Litre World Cup. One highlight that just seems typical of Skoda was the RAC Rally 1996. This was no full WRC event that year, but nevertheless Stig Blomqvist managed to come 3rd overall(!) on that event with a little Skoda Felicia 1600 Kit Car!

When in 1997 Skoda then moved on to an Octavia 2000 Kit Car, this car did not seem to fit into the frame. Not that it was a bad car, it just was rather big – too big – for an F2 car and it seemed strange that out of all companies it was the traditional giant killer Skoda to come out with a car generally considered too big. It wasn’t the biggest success, though. But by 1999 SchwarzSkoda came with a proper WRCar. This was incredible, only 10 years earlier nobody would probably have dreamed of a Skoda A8 or WRCar. Now it was there in the shape of the big Octavia again. The Octavia may not have won a WRC rally, but Skoda certainly has settled in well and the Octavia WRC has scored podiums, which i.e. Hyundai never managed! It speaks volumes that even many of the opposition regard Skoda’s engine as one of the strongest there is, while the Octavia’s main downfall seems to have been the transmission which ironically is an old Subaru system purchased through Prodrive. Now we have the much more conveniently sized and again more modern Fabia WRC and things turn ever more exciting, not only for Skoda themselves but quite likely even too exciting for some of Skoda’s competition! Or this could have been, it could be said that the Fabia could have impressed more in the few events it did in 2003, however a change in the rules that made the 2004 season far more expensive sadly forced Skoda out of competing a full season.
The Skoda Octavia WRC is the biggest WRCar of the lot. The adventure started after many respactable successes in small class cars and the Octavia Kit Car, (the biggest F2 car ever).

The Octavia WRC holds other records between the Cars as well: it is the only WRCar with a 20-valve engine and it is the WRCar with the longest stroke engine, which helps torque. The Octavia WRC was replaced mid 2003 by the little Fabia WRC but the Octavia's brightest season was easily 2001, when against strongest opposition Armin Schwarz came within split seconds of a podium in Monte Carlo, after an event long fight with Monte expert Francois Delecour.

Armin eventually managed the podium in the Safari, which underlined its reputation of being a tough, reliable car. Unfortunately following seasons proved luck was not always on Skoda's side. In Sweden 2002 Kenneth Eriksson retired from 4th place virtually 100yards from the finish line. And this was not the only case of Skoda Octavias beating Subaru Imprezas on the stages but being denied the result to prove it!
Extracts from: http://www.rallye-info.com
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