With the end of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in sight it seems that Finland’s Juho Hänninen, the 2010 IRC champion, may soon announce the end of his long and successful tenure in the Škoda Motorsport squad.
Since joining Škoda in 2009, Hänninen has proven to be among the select group of Finns who compete on asphalt as well as relishing loose surface events. Armed with the fabulous Fabia S2000, he subsequently claimed both the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and FIA European Rally Championship in 2010 and followed this up last year with the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship.
Today it is being reported in the Czech press that Hänninen is preparing to make the break from Škoda’s works squad in order to join Chris Atkinson in a two-car effort by MINI Team Portugal for a full season in the WRC proper. It would be a logical move for the personable 31-year-old in order to prove his worth within the WRC firmament.
It had been thought that Hänninen was a contender to join the Volkswagen WRC team, after doing a significant amount of mileage with them early in the test programme. Word from the Czech Republic, however, suggests that the roster at VW is now ‘full’ for 2013… with Dani Sordo, Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala all in the frame to join Sébastien Ogier.
All this begs the question of what may lie in store for Škoda Motorsport in 2013. With the IRC in its dying days, there remains only the revamped FIA European Rally Championship – effectively a European-based IRC – to aim for as an outright title.
Rumours abound that an R5 variant of the Fabia may be seen using a version of the Polo WRC engine, which would be eligible for both the ERC and the new WRC2, while the Fabia will, in S2000 trim, will undoubtedly remain a potent weapon for privateer teams.
It is highly likely that the level of support given by Škoda Motorsport towards the Volkswagen programme will be rewarded with an R5 ‘upgrade’ to what is one of the most successful rally cars of the modern era. What VW will be keen to avoid, however, is the sort of internecine battle which saw Škoda and SEAT taking points off each other in the WRC while Škoda, SEAT and Volkswagen competed against each other in Formula 2 events.