125 YEARS OF ŠKODA: from motorcycles to victories in the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo

125 YEARS OF ŠKODA: from motorcycles to victories in the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo

Since the days of Laurin and Klement, machines from Mladá Boleslav have flourished in international racing events. Let’s look back on at least some of the numerous motorsports successes the brand has notched up over twelve decades.

14. 5. 2020 125 let Škode


Podsedníček claims a moral victory in the Paris – Berlin race

In 1901, Laurin & Klement rider Narcis Podsedníček set off on the 1,196 kilometre Paris – Aachen – Hannover – Berlin course. The race was dramatic, with 57 accidents that cost the lives of 28 people and left 29 more with serious injuries – and most of them were unruly spectators. Just 48 vehicles out of 110 reached the finish. And Podsedníček was the quickest in the motorcycles and tricycles category. The problem was that his night-time arrival at the finish line was not documented properly: at around three in the morning there were no race commissioners to be found, so his arrival time was confirmed by a policeman. But the race organisers refused to recognise his time, and only four French riders on De Dion – Bouton three-wheelers were classified. The Czech rider claimed a moral victory, however.


Václav Vondřich becomes unofficial world champion

Laurin & Klement motorcycles won 32 races out of 34 in 1903 alone. The Czech manufacturer’s campaign was crowned on 25 June 1905 by works rider Václav Vondřich’s victory in the “Coupe Internationale”, the unofficial world championship, at Dourdan in France. After his experiences from the 1904 event, when French spectators scattered nails over the course, Václav Vondřich made sure he had a leather satchel full of repair tools. Despite his extra weight and higher centre of gravity, he soon achieved the best split times, and after the fourth lap, which meant a distance of 216 km, the Czech rider was in the lead with a time of 2:28.22. After 270 km, he crossed the finish line in a time of 3:05.15. The runner-up, Demester (3:13.17), was disqualified anyway after performing a prohibited rear tyre change on the course.


Speed record on the Brooklands banked circuit

In December 1908, an L&K four-cylinder FCS car made history on the concrete Brooklands Motor Circuit at Weybridge, in the English county of Surrey. The track was a 4.43 km long and 30 m wide oval with banked curves elevated to heights of up to 9 metres, allowing – at least theoretically – speeds of as much as 192 km/h. The works FCS-type attempted to break the speed record in the category of four-cylinder cars with a maximum bore of 86 mm. The regulations of the day did not restrict actual engine capacity, so its constructors tried to maximise it by extending the stroke to absurd lengths, in the case of the FCS to 150 mm. First Count Saša Kolowrat got behind the wheel, managing an average speed of 112 km/h – which fell short of the record. He was replaced by the much slimmer chief constructor Otto Hieronimus, who set a record with a speed of 118.72 km/h.


Five victories in a row in the Alps

The Alpine Rally, an event organised by the Austrian Touring Club from 1910, was evidently the most demanding automobile competition at the start of the 20th century. Laurin & Klement achieved success in the very first year and their efforts culminated in June 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I. The course was tougher every year, as Charles Freeston from the Rolls-Royce team recalled: “In my more than fifteen-year motoring career I have never experienced anything tougher than the first day of the 1914 Alpine Rally: it was terrible.” Nineteen of the fifty or so cars finished without any penalty points. One of them was Saša Kolowrat’s Laurin & Klement. Only five drivers kept a clean sheet in the years 1912, 1913 and 1914. L&K’s exceptional achievement was its five consecutive victories, something no other car manufacturer managed.


ŠKODA POPULAR Sport races from Prague to Monte Carlo

In January 1936 the Czech duo of Jiří Pohl /Jaroslav Hausman took part in the prestigious Monte Carlo rally in a ŠKODA POPULAR Sport. The four-cylinder 1.4 litre RAPID type model had a top speed of around 110 km/h. On 14 January 1936, Pohl and Hausman, in their open-top car, set off for one of the most remote Monte Carlo official start points: Athens. The POPULAR MC managed the first stretch, 850 kilometres from Prague to Trieste, in 17 hours. The 3,852 kilometre route to Monaco via Thessaloniki, Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna, Strasbourg and Avignon took a further four days. They arrived at the finish with no penalty points, notching up successes in the technical inspection and the driving agility scoring categories. Pohl and Hausman came second in the category up to 1,500 cm3. They could even have won if they had told the organisers about the Italian car’s prohibited repair in Budapest, but they regarded informing on their rivals as undignified.


Three Tudors at the finish line

After World War II the Czech carmaker expanded with two more manufacturing plants at Kvasiny and Vrchlabí. The main production item in those days was the ŠKODA 1101 “Tudor”. Three Tudors achieved an impressive victory in their class at a famous 24-hour race at Spa in Belgium. Despite the heavy rain, they crossed the finish line in quick session, having gone 1,972 kilometres. Half of the competitors completed the 24-hour race, but only the ŠKODA team did so without picking up any penalties. In the same year, the winged arrow’s standing in South America was enhanced by Uruguayan architect Arturo Porro’s victory in the Montevideo-Melo-Montevideo race. Second place was taken by another Tudor driven by Borrat Fabini, following up his pre-war successes in ŠKODA POPULAR models, which were the Tudor’s immediate forerunner.


A hat-trick in its class in Monte Carlo

The sporting era of the ŠKODA OCTAVIA model series is by far one of the most successful in the Czech brand’s history. Perhaps the OCTAVIA’s sporting heyday came in the early 1960s at the world-famous Monte Carlo Rally. It all started in 1961. The factory provided the talented Finnish private competitor Esko Keinänen and his co-driver Rainer Eklund with a new car, a 1.2 litre OCTAVIA TS. They came first in the 1,300 cm3 category and achieved an outstanding sixth place in the overall classification. The famous series culminated in a hat-trick of three consecutive OCTAVIA victories in its class. In 1963 it was again Scandinavians who coped best with the demanding Monte Carlo Rally course.  Driving an OCTAVIA TS 1200, Norwegians Edward Gjolberg and Carl F. Karlan left all their competitors in their wake in their 1.3 litre class.


The “Porsche of the East” wins the European touring car championships

1964 was the debut year of the rear-engine and monocoque body ŠKODA 1000 MB. This design concept was successfully developed by the “Porsche of the East”, the nickname given to the legendary ŠKODA 130 RS coupé. The RS was powered by a four-cylinder 1.3 litre OHV engine that delivered 130 horsepower (96 kW). The circuit version of the 130 RS had a top speed of 220 km/h. In 1975, its very first competition season, ŠKODA cars took the top three places in the overall classification of the touring car Peace and Friendship Cup. The 130 RS also took part in rallies from the following season. Among other successes, it won its class at the Monte Carlo Rally and Rally Acropolis (1977). In September 1981 the touring car European Championships was won by 142 horsepower (105 kW) ŠKODA 130 RS cars. The Vojtěch–Enge–Bervid works crew was successfully seconded by private competitors Martinovský–Michl–Vaníček and Fešárek–Sivík.


Four wins in a row at Monaco for the FAVORIT

The modern history of the ŠKODA brand’s involvement in motorsport began at the start of the 1990s, when a FAVORIT hatchback took part in the Monte Carlo Rally. In the past, Czech open-top sports cars, coupés, Tudors and sedans had headed off to the Riviera, but this was the first front-wheel-drive hatchback to take part. The Czech pairing of Sibera – Gross caught the eye, winning the 1,300 cm3 class in 1991 and finishing twenty-fourth overall. The 60th anniversary of the Monte Carlo Rally in 1992 brought another victory for Sibera – Gross in their class. The progress made by four-wheel-drive rally cars soon meant there was no point letting two-wheel-drive models compete on the same track. For that reason FIA launched a new competition for 4x2 cars with atmospheric engines up to 2,000 cm3. A fantastic opportunity for the FAVORIT 136 L! Sibera and Gross came first in the A5 class (up to 1300 cc) four times in a row (1991-1994), and in 1994 ŠKODA even won the FIA trophy in the F2 category.


Armin Schwarz’s African adventure in an OCTAVIA WRC

At the start of the millennium, ŠKODA achieved a stunning third place in the extreme Safari Rally, with legendary German driver Armin Schwarz behind the wheel of an OCTAVIA WRC. The 1,000 kilometre course across Africa made the Safari Rally an endurance challenge. “In Kenya you don’t have to have the fastest car, but it must be one of the strongest,” Armin Schwarz recalled. Given the OCTAVIA WRC’s robustness, the plan was simply to outlast the competition. As its rivals fell by the wayside, the unstoppable OCTAVIA secured third place. But Kenya was not the only country where the OCTAVIA WRC managed to capitalise on its strengths. It did well wherever conditions were tough. “It had a tendency to oversteer a bit, but nothing too serious. It didn’t cause you any trouble, it was simple and nice to drive,” said Schwarz, describing the qualities of the ŠKODA he spent three years racing: 1999, 2000 and 2001.

2015 to the present

The ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo notches up dozens of victories

After OCTAVIA WRC, it was FABIA’s turn to storm into the world rally. Starting in WRC, the next successful chapter – this time in a different, second-highest category – was to be written by ŠKODA FABIA Super 2000 with a 4x4 drive. From 2009 to 2014, it claimed as many as 50 national and international titles globally! In early 2015, ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 started a winning streak in the World Championship. In the 2015 season, it won the teams title for ŠKODA Motorsport in the WRC2 category and helped customer teams claim five national titles. Another milestone came in 2016: the first crew title for ŠKODA Motorsport in WRC2 and a defence of the teams triumph, a success that was repeated the following year, too. This impressive series was crowned by the last finished season of 2019, when the works team won the world title in a new WRC2 Pro category, this time with the upgraded ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo car – Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen becoming the World Champions. Customer teams added five more world and continental titles under the FIA and 23 titles in national championships. At that time, more than 320 ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 and ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo rally cars were operated by private teams worldwide.