The first time was funny. Kind of funny. The second time was not. Definitely not. Volkswagen Motorsport’s inability to win its home round of the World Rally Championship was the only blot on an otherwise fairly spotless copybook for the first two years of the Polo R WRC.
With six wins from the Polo’s first eight starts, Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala leading Rally Germany then going off the road was OK. Then team principal Jost Capito joked privately about keeping the championship interesting.
All very jovial. All very good-humored.
Ogier and Latvala very much made up for it in the following 11 and a bit months. Between them, they were unbeaten across 12 rallies. From Australia 2013 to Finland 2014, nothing other than a Volkswagen topped the podium.
Then came Germany. Again.
At least there was a three-car entry, with Andreas Mikkelsen joining Ogier and Latvala in Trier. Ultimately, it was Mikkelsen who saved the deepest of blushes by placing his Polo on the podium. In third place.
Ogier and Latvala both crashed out of the lead. Again. And both crashed heavily.
For Latvala, the memory remains a painful one. Standing on the verge of slashing Ogier’s 44-point lead to 16, the Finn talked of keeping his head through Sunday. With almost a minute in hand over Kris Meeke, nobody expected any heroics.
All of which made the sight of the #2 Polo scything its way through the vines down the side of the Mosel valley all the more astonishing.
The pain Latvala felt in Dhrontal that morning eight years ago is not far from the front of his mind as he and the whole Toyota team fly east for next week’s Rally Japan.
“Actually,” Latvala smiled at the question from DirtFish, “we talked about this in the debrief after Spain. Sébastien and I were talking about it. It was tough. We were winning everything else, every other rally, but we couldn’t win at home.
“The second time, it was more serious. There were not so many people smiling then. I remember there was such a big focus from the management to win at home [with Volkswagen].
“Of course, this time we are wanting to win at home, but the pressure from the championship – for the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles – has gone from our shoulders. This is different from how it was in Germany those years ago.
“In Japan next week, the pressure is kind of coming from us as a team. We want to do it. We want to win at home. Everybody in the team is working so hard and we want to share success with Japan. It would be fantastic to win, but also we know our rivals are there to try to make it not happen.”
Like Latvala, Ogier smiles thinly at the memory of his own miserable couple of years in Germany. Heading to Aichi on the back of a dominant win in Spain, Ogier and his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 must be among the favorites – especially at a new rally where experience gained from winning eight championships in nine years will count.
“It’s not always easy to deliver when it’s expected,” said the Frenchman. “It took some years before we took the [home] win with Volkswagen. Even when we were winning everything, Jari-Matti and me throw away a home win a couple of times.”
When it did come, Volkswagen’s success was worth waiting for in Germany. Remember 2015? An Ogier-Latvala-Mikkelsen podium lock-out.