Škoda’s rallying pulling power is greater than it’s ever been. The general vibe nowadays is if your Rally2 car isn’t a Fabia, it’s not really worth having.
Particularly now the all-new Fabia RS has been homologated and firmly proven itself to be up to the hype.
The brand’s reputation is now at such a stage that statistically the greatest World Rally Championship driver of them all, Sébastien Loeb, wanted to drive a Škoda on this weekend’s Azores Rally.
And he did superbly, winning by 19.2 seconds over over long-time Škoda driver and Toksport team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen in what was a lockout of the top eight positions by the manufacturer.
But Loeb is far from the only top-class World Rally champion to have driven one of Mladá Boleslav’s exports – through the desirable or less desirable times.
Although Škoda never used to be associated with rallying success – and has never even won a round of the WRC at the top level let alone the title – plenty other world beaters have driven the Czech machines in competition over the years:
No World Rally champion has a closer affinity with Škoda than 1984 victor Stig Blomqvist. Although he won his title with Audi in the Group B era, the latter phases of his career were spent in the green and white of Škoda Motorsport.
His first Škoda drive was behind the wheel of a Favorit on the firm’s local event Rally Bohemia in 1994, but it was the Favorit’s replacement – the Felicia Kit Car – that Blomqvist is perhaps most synonymous with.
He did a handful of events in a Felicia, including three British championship rallies, but it’s his drive on the 1996 RAC Rally that really stands out where in the snow and ice he snuck his little front-wheel-drive hatchback onto the overall podium in third.
But the Swede did drive Škoda World Rally Cars too, debuting in an Octavia WRC Evo2 on Rally Finland in 2001 and driving one on three rounds in 2002 too with a best finish of 15th in Sweden.
You weren’t expecting this one, were you?
Toyota, Ford, Subaru, Lancia and Citroën all played a part in Carlos Sainz’s career, but Škoda?
The two-time world champion drove one just once, and after his WRC career had finished.
A year after entering Spain’s Rally Shalymar – Madrid in the course car, Sainz entered the rally proper in 2007, doing a competitive event with Luis Moya for the first time in five years and driving a Fabia WRC.
Sainz cleaned up, winning the event by over five minutes.
Sainz’s old Toyota team-mate probably doesn’t reflect on the final season of his WRC career with the biggest of smiles, with the 1994 world champion bowing out in 2003 with Škoda.
After losing his Peugeot drive for 2002, Auriol had a quiet year before Škoda threw him a WRC lifeline to drive an Octavia WRC Evo3. But it was the new and more compact Fabia WRC on its way that was of interest, and was supposed to propel Škoda closer to the front of the championship.
It didn’t quite happen.
In fact Auriol’s only points that season were claimed in the old Octavia, with a best finish of sixth in Argentina. The best he could manage in the Fabia was 11th, on his final outing on Rally GB.
The Colin McRae and Škoda tale is still one of rallying’s biggest ‘what might have been’ stories. For a partnership that only lasted two WRC events, it certainly made its mark.
Rally GB was the first event and there were signs of the magic that was to come, with a fine sixth fastest time on the first pass of Rheola. But it was in Australia where McRae really put his, and Škoda’s, name in lights.
Equalling the time of Sébastien Loeb’s Xsara WRC was simply unheard of for a Fabia – particularly in 2005 when Loeb was almost unbeatable. But that’s exactly what McRae did on Australia’s fourth stage, and he kept up the momentum to climb as high as second overall!
McRae was eventually overhauled by Harri Rovanperä’s Mitsubishi but third would still have been a massive result for Škoda. But instead heartbreak would prevail.
A routine clutch change went badly wrong and McRae went over the time limit and was therefore forced out of the rally just three stages from home. He then drove the Fabia WRC at the Monza Rally Show, marking the end of his Škoda story.
After a turbulent 2011 season as Loeb’s team-mate in the works Citroën team, Ogier was lured away by Volkswagen’s new Polo R WRC project which would hit the world’s special stages in 2013.
But that meant Ogier would be out of competition for a full season, so VW arranged for him to drive a Škoda Fabia S2000 on all but one of the WRC rounds in 2012 to stay match-fit while the Polo was rigorously tested.
Ogier’s year got off to a bad start with a big crash on the Monte Carlo Rally, but from there he was typically supreme – winning the secondary class on every rally apart from Rally Spain where he had engine troubles. However there was no title to be won, as he was only entered for points in the top class.
The undisputed highlight of the season was in Sardinia where Ogier managed to thread his less powerful, naturally-aspirated machine to an overall fastest time against all the turbocharged World Rally Cars – and he did so by some seven seconds!
The reigning world champion holds a unique distinction on this list as the only outright World Rally champion to also become a world champion with Škoda.
Kalle Rovanperä spent two full seasons in a Fabia as a works Škoda driver in WRC2, but also made his first steps into four-wheel-drive rallying back in 2016 with an S2000 and then an R5 example in which he won the Latvian Rally Championship.
In the world championship he won seven times – twice in 2018 before a dominant season in WRC2 Pro the following in which he became champion at a relative canter.
There were some sensational drives and results – not least sixth overall in Portugal on the debut of the updated Fabia Rally2 evo – that made his progression into the WRC’s top class with Toyota totally inevitable.
Given his Starlet fame as an eight-year-old and his swashbuckling efforts in a GR Yaris Rally1 today, Toyota’s the brand that’s best associated with Rovanperä. But Škoda played a pivotal role in his career too.