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Exciting new chapter in WRC history promises much British success, predicts David Evans, Rallies Editor of Autosport
Britain is firmly back at the top of the World Rally Championship tree – of that there can be no argument. And Britain has arrived there just in time for one of the most exciting, entertaining and open seasons in the series’ 43-year history; again, an indubitable fact.
Yes, you’re right, a Frenchman called Sebastien has won the WRC title for the last 13 years – but if 13 becomes 14 then Mr Ogier (as opposed to Mr Loeb – the Sebastien who dominated the previous nine years) will have also scored a maiden drivers’ title for M-Sport.
And if we break with tradition and don’t have a Frenchman on top, it’s entirely conceivable there will be a French car on top. And a French car driven by Britain’s Kris Meeke.
The best news of all? Red Bull TV’s offering previously unrivalled coverage of what’s set to be a riveting year’s entertainment, watching the world’s best drivers on the world’s most demanding roads in the fastest rally cars ever made.
Swing by https://www.redbull.tv/channels for full details of how to make the most of watching the best of that action – it’s available on just about every platform available, including smart television.
But you’d best get a move on: the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo – one of the true gems of world motorsport – starts on January 19.
When reigning champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are flagged away from Casino Square in their Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRC, history will be made and a new chapter will open.
It will, of course, be the first time an M-Sport-built machine has carried the world champion’s number one on its doors – and it will be the first time out for the much-hyped and very long-awaited 2017 World Rally Cars.
Courtesy of world rallying’s biggest technical upheaval since the introduction of the World Rally Car formula in 1997, this year’s machinery will be more electrifying than ever. Bigger turbo restrictors mated to more technologically advanced transmissions will ensure excitement is switched up a notch or two.
The change of regulations has also afforded the manufacturers the opportunity to overhaul the way the cars look. Gone are the sporty-but-samey motors of last year and in have come some of the most dramatic looking cars ever.
Splitters, spoilers, wings and diffusers have been used to craft the next generation. Visually, the cars are stunning. But from the inside, that hike in downforce adds yet more dynamism to the ever-increasing rate at which corners will be consumed in the coming year.
For the past year, rally fans around the world have been glued to the evolution of 2017 World Rally Cars. From the very first test of Volkswagen’s Polo R WRC 18 months ago, they looked wild. And from then on, they’ve just got wilder, more aggressive and considerably more energetic.
If there is a single downside to this season, it’s the absence of the champion manufacturer Volkswagen. The German firm departed after four successive makes’ titles to focus its efforts elsewhere.
But out of that surprising decision came some fascinating and intense late-season driver market speculation. Ogier held the golden ticket and was the only man allowed to test cars before he signed. Where would he go?
Citroen, for sure. That was the early running. Then it was Toyota and its millions. Or maybe that private Volkswagen deal would come to fruition. In the end, the deal wasn’t in too much doubt. It was Dovenby Hall and M-Sport.
Once the champ was signed and sealed, Jari-Matti Latvala beat fellow former Polo man Andreas Mikkelsen to the only Yaris seat on the block, leaving the Norwegian out in the cold.
Incredibly, Mikkelsen – the man who ended last year as Rally Australia winner in his Polo R WRC – will start the new season in a Skoda. His Fabia R5 is a WRC2 class-based car with zero potential for giving the likeable Scando back-to-back world championship wins. Astonishing.
And the story goes on, with Mikkelsen tipped to return to the top flight not too far into season. Red Bull TV will keep you up to speed on all the service park gossip as well as all the action from the stages.
One of Mikkelsen’s options was thought to be with DMACK World Rally Team. Fortunately for British fans, DMACK elected to run its reigning MSA British Rally Champion Elfyn Evans in a 2017-specification Ford Fiesta WRC.
Evans was forced to step back from a full factory drive last year, but he comes back to the pinnacle of world rallying at the very top of his game. Along with Meeke, the super-talented Welshman will be a solid bet for podiums and possible wins from the season’s start.
Coming from across the Irish Sea, Waterford’s Craig Breen makes his full-time WRC debut with Citroen. Breen stormed the WRC fortress with a spellbinding third in Finland last year and will be looking for his first WRC win this season.
As well as M-Sport (Ford), Toyota and Citroen, Hyundai completes the quality quartet of global carmakers contesting the WRC. Runners-up in last year’s makes’ race nudges the Koreans into pole for this first Volkswagen-less season since 2012.
The time is coming to sit down and tune in to the WRC. You won’t want to miss a second – and, thanks to Red Bull TV, you won’t have to.
FIA World Rally Championship 2017
Round 1: Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 19-22)
Round 2: Rally Sweden (February 9-12)
Round 3: Rally Guanajuato Mexico (March 9-12)
Round 4: Tour de Corse – Rallye de France (April 6-9)
Round 5: Rally Argentina (April 27-30)
Round 6: Rally de Portugal (May 18-21)
Round 7: Rally d’Italia Sardegna (June 8-11).
Round 8: Rally Poland (June 30-July 2)
Round 9: Rally Finland (July 27-30)
Round 10: Rallye Deutschland (August 17-20)
Round 11: Rally RACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada (October 5-8)
Round 12: Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (October 26-29)
Round 13: Rally Australia (November 17-19)