The KODIAQ RS has conquered the famous Nordschleife, the Nürburgring’s northern loop, and driven away with the prized track record for a seven-seater SUV. Professional racer Sabine Schmitz was at the wheel, with František Drábek – in charge of the car’s development – next to her. Sabine Schmitz has given an interview in which she discusses the car’s handling and the difficulty of the track, and František Drábek talked about the ŠKODA KODIAQ RS SUV itself.

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Sabine Schmitz:

“It lives up to its name of Green Hell, but for petrolheads it’s heaven.“

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What was it like to drive the new ŠKODA KODIAQ RS?
The car looks sporty and the drive itself is sporty. I thought a seven-seater would be difficult to handle, especially on a demanding circuit like the Nordschleife, which is quite tricky with all its bumps and corner weighting, but it handled perfectly and was easy to drive.

Were you surprised how the car acquitted itself?
Every car is different. You have to push a real race car, where the centre of gravity isn’t so high and the weight is very well balanced. I thought that the KODIAQ RS might prove a little tricky because of the balance, and that all the bumps could make trouble for the car, which was true when it came to braking sometimes, but the rest was absolutely OK. Especially in the turns like the Adenaur Forst S corner, where you have a lot of weight transfer. It’s really good; I am impressed.

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Sabine Schmitz

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Were any special modifications made for the record drive?
This car is absolutely stock, so we didn’t change anything. I think that if we do break the lap record, it should be in a car that is available for sale. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense to me if you make any special modifications, such as change the brakes. The Nordschleife is the hardest racetrack in the world. So much work goes into making a car fast here. The engineers did a very good job to make a production car go fast here. I felt very comfortable from the beginning, which I really hadn’t expected.

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Today you have taken to the track in a seven-seater SUV rather than a race car. Why?
I want to show to the world that driving on the Nordschleife is a fantastic experience, whatever the car. I want to show people how well a car you can buy in a showroom performs. You know, I always like to drive something special, like a racing van or a propelled racing car – I’ve even driven motorhomes around the track. For me, it’s very interesting to learn how a car behaves. I am always up for something out of the ordinary. Why not?

What makes the Nordschleife so special and appealing?
The Nordschleife has so many stories to tell. It’s an unbelievable racetrack. Everybody has heard of it. It’s so famous. So many dramatic things have happened here – bad and good. To drive a car here is such a great feeling. You are battling with the track and the weather. There are so many conditions. Sometimes the sun will be out, but you know there’s heavy rain five kilometres ahead. So choosing the right tyres is always a dilemma. It’s just great to be here, sometimes you’ll be disappointed with your performance, other times very happy.

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Why is the Nordschleife so famous?
Because motorsport really came alive here. The circuit is 90 years old now and I would say it’s the mother of motorsport. When it was opened in 1927, it was not just a racetrack, but also a test track, so there were a lot of trials. This is why I’d say it is the birthplace of motorsport. Everyone who comes here wants to return, it’s like a drug.

You’ve been racing on the Nordschleife for a long time. Has your driving style changed over the years?
My driving style? [laughs] I always try to be asfast as possible. But the cars have changed a lot. When I started out in motorsport, there was no ABS or power steering. The tyres did not grip so well. Now cars are much easier to drive, they are much more forgiving, and are also faster.

What’s it like to be a woman in the predominantly male environment of motorsport?
To be a woman in motor racing? At the beginning it was tough. Everybody would say, “Sure, we’ll help you if you have questions, or just follow me… And I didn’t follow the guy – I just overtook him on the third corner. So they started to be very upset. You really have to be hard as nails because they are perhaps not fair at times. But a couple of years down the line, they learnt their lesson, and now there are more women in motorsport, and they’re very fast, too. So it’s accepted these days.

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How do you prepare for a race?
Racing is always tricky when you’re driving on the Nordschleife, whatever the car. Every car has its own life, you have to be prepared, you have to check how the car behaves on the track, and then you have to hatch a plan to make you go fast.

What’s your favourite memory of the Nordschleife?
Oh, there are so many memories, when you’ve been driving here for thirty years. I won the 24-hour race twice. That was a really great achievement for me. It was a local team – like a family. My neighbours were working in the team. Togetherness is what teamwork is all about. We had a big party afterwards, as it was hard to win, I can tell you, very hard, because there were rapid changes in the weather, rain in one spot and sunshine at the next corner. We didn’t know which tyres to pick ahead of the big battle for victory on the last lap. I opted for the hardest rain tyres we had and my rival switched to slicks. Then it absolutely poured down, so I ended up half of a lap in front by the end.

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And your worst memory?
I drove a car into a carousel once. I had a puncture so I braked and the tyre made this big BANG sound and blew up. The car ended up with its front tyres on the carousel and kept going until it turned over. I just called the crew to let them know I wouldn’t be making the pit stop because I was upside down. My team boss said it could have been worse –she still can talk even though the antenna’s on the roof… so there can’t be that much damage.

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What’s most dangerous about the Nordschleife?
The most difficult element of the Nordschleife is its length. Overall we’re talking 25 kilometres. The Nordschleife alone is 20.8 km long which is quite a distance in dangerous weather conditions, perhaps snow or even sunshine, anything is possible. I’ve got stuck in the snow in a race before. And then there are the bumps. You have sections where the car is lifted off the ground completely. So it lives up to its name of Green Hell, but for petrolheads it’s heaven.

What could catch you out on the circuit?
Even when you’ve been driving for many years, there are always things happening that you don’t expect. There might be a crash or oil on the track, so you have to focus every lap because it’s very dangerous. There’s not a lot of run-off area – there’s no gravel, you know, it’s green and we have the trees – they’re sure to keep you on the track! But it’s dangerous, especially the crests, as you can’t see what’s happening on the other side. It’s a challenge.

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A lot of driving fans and amateur racers come to try out the track. What are the biggest mistakes they make?
The biggest mistake I often see is that they are driving big, powerful cars. This is not good. You have to become familiar with the track first, and that needs time. If you go too fast, you make too many mistakes and it can get chaotic. Sure, they want to keep pushing, because they think everyone else is, and it doesn’t make sense. You’re better off in a small car, preferably with a with roll cage – you can rent one here. For absolute beginners, renting a small, less powerful car is best. Then you can relax and enjoy yourselves more. [laughs] Just don’t crash!

What’s your advice to anyone who fancies a drive on the Nordschleife?
It’s quite difficult to drive when there is a lot of traffic. So if you come on a Sunday or a public holiday, it’s really tough, what with all the other cars, because they’re overtaking you and you have to look in the mirror all the time. It’s not good for your concentration. It’s better to come during the week and in the evening. For your first three four laps it’s enough, then you sleep on it, think about it, and the next day it’s much better, you will see.

 

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František Drábek:

“This is the first time we have used biturbo technology.“

František Drábek, as Head of Product Line Compact, oversaw the development of the ŠKODA KODIAQ RS, the latest member of the KODIAQ family. “The ŠKODA KODIAQ is a highly successful range, thanks in part to its very wide range of special models. We have the robust KODIAQ SCOUT, then there’s the KODIAQ LAURIN & KLEMENT for those who want luxury and exclusiveness, and the KODIAQ SPORTLINE, which embodies sportiness. And now, there’s the KODIAQ RS, too” says Drábek as he lists the various versions.

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When it comes to the RS, everyone’s focus will be on the engine.
We have installed – exclusively for the KODIAQ RS – a two-litre TDI biturbo engine with power output of 176 kW, invariably combined with all-wheel drive technology and automatic transmission. This is the first time we have used biturbo technology.

Will the KODIAQ RS have any other special features?
There are three features in this that car I would like to highlight: progressive power steering, dynamic chassis control and – my favourite – the dynamic sound boost.

František Drábek

head of Product Line Compact

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What customers will the KODIAQ RS target?
The “RS” denotes rally sport and reflects the ŠKODA brand’s motorsport history. By the way, the very first ŠKODA RS was an OCTAVIA, almost two decades ago now. People who pursue an active lifestyle will love this car. A single car enables them to ferry their family around safely and yet also race on a circuit like this one.

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The KODIAQ RS’s first field trial was a drive around the legendary Nordschleife, a challenging track. Did you believe it would be successful?
The KODIAQ RS has been tested on several circuits in Europe during its development. I had no worries.

When can we look forward to the KODIAQ RS in all its glory?
The KODIAQ RS’s world première will be at the Paris Motorshow in October this year.

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