British Rally Champion Matt Edwards will give Volkswagen its first top-line British championship start in over two decades this year, switching from M-Sport in pursuit of a third consecutive British title.
Edwards – the 2018 and 2019 champion – has only ever driven M-Sport prepared Ford Fiesta machines in the BRC since switching to R5 towards the end of 2016 but will pilot a Melvyn Evans Motorsport-run VW Polo GTI R5 when the 2021 season begins later this year.
His campaign will be backed by personal sponsors Yuasa, Swift Group and a new partner – Volkswagen Group genuine parts supplier TPS.
“I’m very excited to be returning to the British Rally Championship, not only to try for a third title but also to see what this season has in store,” Edwards said.
“My campaign will look very different from the last four years that’s for sure and we have been working very hard over the winter to make sure we have the best package possible in the Volkswagen Polo. I truly believe we have the platform to go out there and get title number three.”
Osian Pryce was supposed to be the man to return the VW brand to the BRC on last season’s West Cork Rally, but the rally was canceled just two days before it was set to begin before ultimately the entire championship was scrapped too due to COVID-19.
The last time a frontrunning Volkswagen started a BRC round was in the hands of Tapio Laukkanen in the year 2000 when he piloted a Golf IV Kit Car on that year’s Manx International Rally.
This historical landmark coincides with another as, should Edwards win the 2021 title, he would become the first driver in series history to win the championship three times in succession.
He will have to adjust to a new car, but this isn’t a new concept for Edwards – who won on his first outing with a Ford Fiesta Rally2 on last year’s BRC season opener – although he confessed “there will be a lot of challenge to conquer” in 2021.
However, due to the long COVID-enforced lull, the 36-year-old reckons the playing field could be leveled as rallying “will feel like a clean sheet” for everyone.
“We are hearing that the BRC will have a strong entry again but with the new events in the calendar, it should level the playing field a little,” he said.
“I’m excited to get some quality mileage in the Polo though. I know it’s a very capable car and the setup we have should mean we can challenge at the front from the first round. That’s certainly the plan.
“It’s been almost 12 months since I’ve been able to compete as a driver although I have managed to carry out some tuition and co-driving duties when restrictions have allowed.
“That will probably help in a way as it will feel like a clean sheet, a new start if you like when we get underway again. As I say, I’m very excited about this season and very indebted to my supporters for their backing once again. Let’s hope I can do them and myself proud.”
It’s currently unclear when the 2021 British Rally Championship season will begin, with the planned opening rounds – Circuit of Ireland, Tendring & Clacton and Jim Clark Rallies – all already canceled due to coronavirus.
However, DirtFish understands a new, revised calendar will be unveiled soon. It is likely to include the remaining four rallies from the original schedule – Nicky Grist Stages, Grampian Forest Rally, Trackrod Rally Yorkshire and Cambrian Rally – as well as the reserve event: Mull Rally.