The Beetle World Rally Car that never existed
Demaison entered the WRC scene with no prior rallying experience, but his vast technical knowledge helped Marcus Grönholm and Peugeot win world titles in the early 2000s.
He also developed a close relationship with Petter Solberg at Subaru and Citroën before joining the formidable Volkswagen Motorsport team in 2011.
The Frenchman took a break from his current role as technical director for the Williams Formula 1 team for an exclusive interview with Becs Williams on the latest WRC Backstories podcast.
He told a variety of stories, including stories of the unique relationships he shared with drivers, comparisons of the technical differences between the WRC and Formula 1, and the day he switched to Volkswagen.
After leaving Citroën, Demaison was supposed to meet the technical director of Volkswagen Motorsport to discuss joining the German squad. He spent the night before in a hotel before Kris Nissen – the motorsport director at the time – called him and asked him to come to the office a few hours earlier.
“I took a taxi to Volkswagen Motorsport and we talked for five minutes,” explained Demaison. “We basically started the interview and after five minutes we shook hands and the decision was made. I said, ‘But I should see the technical director,’ and he [Nissen] said: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll call him later and introduce you to him.’ ”
At that time, Volkswagen had not yet decided on which model to build its new World Rally Car. Demaison remembered how Nissen had set out the selection during the short but sweet interview.
“After talking to their marketing department,” he said, “we have two options. Your preferred option is to collect the beetle. It would be fantastic for communication, but it’s not the best basic car for us and we would rather use the Polo. ”
“I said, ‘Well, it’s clear to me. If a rally car is supposed to do with the Beetle, I’ll stay at home. There’s no point in coming ‘. And then he said, “Okay, the deal is closed. You are employed – I am delighted that you are taking the position! ‘”
The sight of a Volkswagen Beetle in the FIA World Rally Championship would have been extraordinary. But from an engineer’s point of view, Demaison believed it wouldn’t have been competitive.
“Choosing a car was easy,” said the Frenchman. “If it had been the Polo, I would have been there, but if it had been the Beetle, I would not have been on the team.
“You only learn from your experience – the beetle would have been a disaster. It would have been nice with the two stripes on the bonnet and the number 53 on the doors, but doing motorsport and not winning makes no sense, ”he added.
As fate would have it, the polo was successful from the start. After making its debut at the 2013 Monte-Carlo Rally, the car won 43 of the 53 rallies it started, leading both Sébastien Ogier and Volkswagen to four consecutive driver and manufacturer titles before the team was eliminated in 2016.