World Rally Championship 2017 – A New Era Begins

Henry Kelsall

The 2017 WRC season kicked off in style in Monte Carlo last weekend, heralding a new era for the championship. Along the way there were several surprises, and the new regulations showed that this could be one of rallying’s best seasons to date…

Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 22, 2017
Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 22, 2017

“After this, I feel pretty confident we have a good chance of winning this year”

Toyota Team Principal Tommi Makinen

Before we get onto that though, let’s start with Toyota. And what a return to the series they had! Toyota tester Mikko Hirvonen had previously stated that he did not think the Japanese manufacturer was completely ready for its return to the championship. But he was proven wrong. Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hanninen drove impeccably and showed the Yaris WRC had tremendous pace, Hanninen running 3rd early on in the rally. An off for him and subsequent damage meant he finished the rally in 16th, but a stunning run from Latvala meant he finished the rally in 2nd place. Luck from issues via other competitors had helped but it was still beyond what Toyota and its drivers had expected, and a result the entire team can be proud of. What does this mean? Well team boss and 4-time rally champion Tommi Makinen thinks they can challenge for wins this year. And after Monte Carlo, he could well be right!

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017

“The i20 Coupe WRC is fantastic to drive and offers us genuine promise for the season.”

Hyundai Driver Thierry Neuville 

Hyundai probably left Monte Carlo with mixed emotions. They had shown the new i20 was fast. Very fast. Thierry Neuville looked on course to win the rally from as early as Friday, storming over a minute ahead of his nearest competitors at one point. The car looked superb, and the decision to carry over some components from the very competent 2016 model was certainly a good one. But disaster struck on SS13, when a suspension problem caused by drifting wide and hitting a rock meant Neuville last his lead and over half an hour to his competitors. It was a gutting way for his rally to effectively end, although he did claim the five power stage points on Sunday’s final stage. Hyundai also withdrew Hayden Paddon’s car from the rally after his crash on the opening stage where a spectator was killed. Our thoughts at CLICKON are with the spectators friends and family, and Paddon and his co-driver John Kennard. Paddon would no doubt have been up there with Neuville. But Hyundai at least know there car is very quick, and it is potentially the best car in the field.

Kris Meeke (GBR) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 18, 2017
Kris Meeke (GBR) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 18, 2017

“After the efforts made, it’s tough to see Kris retire for such a stupid reason”

Citroen Team Principal Yves Matton

Citroen also have a very quick car. Kris Meeke up to second at one stage during Friday but his rally was utterly miserable and not representative of the very fast C3 WRC. But, several miles into the 23 mile long Aspres les Corps – the Citroen clipped a bank and retired with suspension damage. Things got even worse on Saturday evening. Meeke was making his way back from the service in Gap to the Sunday base in Monaco when he was hit by a car on the road! This took him out of the rally altogether, ending a diabolical event for the Northern Irishman. Craig Breen was the highest placed of the Citroen drivers, in fifth place in his previous generation DS3! A terrible event for Citroen’s leading contender, but things will no doubt get better at Rally Sweden. He is still a championship contender.

Sebastien Ogier (FRA) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
Sebastien Ogier (FRA) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017

“This is the Monte, everything was possible on this rally. But before the start I was talking about being happy with a podium and I really meant that!”

Rallye Monte Carlo Winner Sebastien Ogier

Out of everything that happened, and the surprises along the way such as Hyundai’s electric pace and Toyota’s stunning debut, perhaps the least surprising event of them all was that Sebastien Ogier took victory in his M-Sport Ford. Although it probably surprised a few people, as he only had a few weeks testing the car prior to the start of the season. This was evident at times throughout the rally. Various mistakes were made by the reigning champion, and he fell from 2nd to 9th on Friday’s first stage when he slid off the road, but regained all his lost positions and was in prime position to win the rally once Neuville dropped out of the lead, and the Frenchman ended up winning by over two minutes. M-Sports phenomenal start was further enhanced with Ott Tanak on the podium in 3rd, although an engine electronics problem took a 1-2 away from the team. But it was a dream start for Ogier, who showed how well he was able to read Monte Carlo’s tricky stages to take a fully deserved and stunning victory.

“I can’t put into words the feeling in the team right now. It’s been five years since we have stood on the top step of the podium and I can tell you that it’s a feeling we want to continue.”

M-Sport Team Principal Malcolm Wilson

Who knows what might happen throughout the rest of the season? It is certainly more open than the last three or four have ever been. Three teams at least in the mix, with Toyota joining the fray. And lets not forget this remarkable fact from the podium in Monte Carlo. Toyota was the only full factory team on the podium. The rally was won by a privateer team. A team that last took victory in 2012. Rally’s new Group B could give us the most sensational season yet.

Sebastien Ogier (FRA), Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) , Ott Tanak (EST) celebrate the podium during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 22, 2017
Sebastien Ogier (FRA), Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) , Ott Tanak (EST) celebrate the podium during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 22, 2017

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