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Featured 2016 FIA World Rally Championship: Waypoint to the Future

Discussion in 'Motorsports' started by R.J. O'Connell, Jan 20, 2016.

  1. 2016 WRC Preview Header.jpg
    A new season of the World Rally Championship begins this weekend with the 84th running of the Rallye Monte Carlo. It is only the start of a true trek across the globe, a grueling, uncompromising, fourteen-round quest for the title of greatest rally driver in the world.

    There are World Championships across multiple disciplines of motorsport, but rallying at the highest level is a test of skill that is completely unique, requiring another level of bravery, daring, and trust - of car, of co-driver, of the driving talent required to blast through the narrowest and most perilous stretches of road on earth and not launch driver, co-driver, and car into oblivion. At its most grassroots level, rallying is a form of motorsport where ordinary people and ordinary cars can do extraordinary things - that, in itself, is a beautiful thing. At the level of competition found in the WRC, extraordinary people and cars ascend to mythical status.

    To be fastest on the ice-laden tarmac of southern France that comprises most of the Rallye Monte Carlo requires a totally different approach from the snow-drifted forests of Sweden that follows immediately after. The frigid cold of the winter rallies is then consumed by the sunshine and the sweltering heat of the spring and summer - ascending up the mountains of Mexico, down into the rivers and valleys of Argentina, leaping and bounding through northern Portugal and cruising through the coasts of Sardinia. There's the deceptive, blistering speed of Poland's lakeside roads that's yet to be truly appreciated, that does not relent through the thousand lakes of Finland, and the speed that rally enthusiasts have grown to love for decades.

    2015 Monte Carlo Neuville.jpg
    Image Credit: Hyundai

    Germany's high speeds and extreme variance contrast with the infamous, twisty, tarmac treachery of the Tour de Corse - two totally different asphalt rallies. In between, a new challenge for everyone in the vast expanses of China. Spain's unique variance, and then the impossible-to-predict nature of Wales - though this year, not the final leg of the tour for the first time in twenty years, for that final step is in the ultimate landmass of natural oddity and extremity, Australia. It's impossible for a brief, rapid-fire summary to truly lay out the challenges that lie ahead of every driver who will embark on the quest to become champion, to those uninitiated.


    Volkswagen 2015 Rally Finland.jpg
    Image Credit: FIA

    Asserting their place at the top of the WRC is Volkswagen Motorsport, who yet again enter 2016 as rallying's unstoppable juggernaut. Even in the backdrop of Volkswagen's horrifying emissions scandal, and now with motorsport director Jost Capito being poached away to McLaren, Volkswagen look completely impervious. The Polo R WRC (seen above in flight at last year's Rally Finland) has only been defeated five times in the last thirty-nine rallies. And leading that charge is the reigning champion, Sebastien Ogier.

    "The Big O" has rapidly climbed into the elite drivers in WRC history, with only the great Sebastien Loeb ahead of him in the all-time rally wins list after wrapping up his third straight championship last year. Upon the horizon is a chance to win a fourth straight title, to match a feat that only two men have achieved before: Loeb, and Tommi Makinen. Ogier is nearly invincible when he gains control of the leaderboard, and pushes until the very last stage for every possible point. The Frenchman, still only 32 years old, has perfected the brutal art of dropping the axe on the neck of any would-be challenger, unsympathetic of the supporters of his rivals, since 2013. And so often, Ogier's closest rivals are those within his own team, with a massive gulf between them and everyone else.

    Jari-Matti Latvala enters 2016 desperate to find the missing something that's kept him from surpassing Ogier over the course of a full season. There's still plenty of unrealized promise in the young Finn, but even as Latvala has tamed his early career wild streaks, he is desperate to win the title after finishing second or third in the championship five of the last six seasons. Andreas Mikkelsen finally broke through with a maiden victory in Catalunya, and the young Norwegian lion, positioned a solid number three in a deep Volkswagen roster, must feel that with the piano off his back and the first rally win secured, he can now make his own push to the title. Can he surpass his more experienced teammates in doing so?


    Hyundai 2016 i20.jpg

    Image Credit: Hyundai

    Hyundai's new-look i20 WRC is the platform for the Korean marque to begin anew after a tumultuous 2015 campaign that fell short of expectations of multiple rally victories. It's difficult to determine whether the stunning pace of Kiwi Hayden Paddon in his first full WRC campaign was more surprising in 2015, than how fragile and inconsistent Thierry Neuville, the team's ace driver, looked in comparison over the stretch run of the season. Paddon's year was highlighted by nearly winning the Rally Sardegna in a straight fight with Ogier. Neuville's was highlighted by deciding to drop himself from the mainline team in Great Britain. Safe to say, 2016 will be a crucial year to decide the future of Hyundai - whether their future in 2017 will see the team led by Paddon or Neuville remains to be seen.

    For 2016, the leader at Hyundai is neither of the two - it's the experienced Spanish tarmac specialist Dani Sordo, comparatively unspectacular yet steady in his approach last year. Monte Carlo is Sordo's kind of rally, and he has a real chance to stamp his authority on the team with a win to start 2016. The young apprentice at Hyundai is Kevin Abbring of the Netherlands, who went pointless in a limited campaign last year - but he'll be back for more this time around to show more of what he's capable of.


    MSport 2016 Preview.jpg

    Image Credit: M-Sport

    Once again carrying the banner for Ford, M-Sport goes with an entirely new driver lineup for 2016. Mads Østberg returns after two productive, yet unfulfilled years at Citroen Racing - though he was still "best of the rest" in 2015. He's joined by a fresh face to the WRC - Frenchman Eric Camilli, 28 years of age, three times a podium finisher in WRC-2 a season ago and a test pilot for Toyota's regenerating programme. Team director Malcolm Wilson believes he has the potential for championship greatness, justifying his decision to bring him in for a full season. It's a big risk though, particularly when Camilli's nomination had to come with pushing dependable young Welshman Elfyn Evans down to WRC-2.

    A number of WRC's prominent privateers run the Ford Fiesta RS WRC in their efforts to crash the party. The unsinkable Ött Tanak moves on to the DMACK team, which steps up to the premier division. Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rahji's bright green car will be as eye-catching as the Pagani Huayra he owns as part of a collection of luxury supercars. Flambouyant Italian Lorenzo Bertelli exudes style that he hopes to match with real rally racing substance after a learning year in 2015. And at Monte Carlo, Bryan Bouffier is the local ringer who has triumphed in rallying's oldest challenge, and can easily do it again.

    Most popular of the Blue Oval's privateers over the last two years has been Robert Kubica, but the Polish superstar admits that the road may be nearing an end with his team's funding running scarce. With the accident that ended his F1 career still too raw in the minds of many, it's become an all too frequent and troubling sight to see the speed Kubica still possesses at the wheel of a rally car blighted by frequent crashes ending any hope of a breakthrough result, and beyond the start of 2016, nothing is guaranteed for Kubica's motorsport future.


    Citroen 2016 WRC.jpg

    Image Credit: Citroen Racing

    The PH Racing team will pick up where Citroen Racing opted to leave off after last season, as the French manufacturer prepares to build a new car for the 2017 regulations. That commitment to what they see as a bright future and a return to their former glory was solidified with the signing of Kris Meeke to a long-term deal. Protege of Colin McRae, now finally a winner in Argentina last year, the Northern Irishman is the new leader of Citroen's rally programme, and even with a glorified privateer team behind him, he is still well and capable of toppling the Volkswagen apple cart to another stunning victory.

    They've also invested in two young drivers for 2016: 23-year-old Stephane Lefebvre won top honours in Monte Carlo in the WRC-2 class a year ago, scored points in his premier class debut - he shows all the early promise of a future champion, much like his mentor, Sebastien Loeb, was before him. Lefebvre will switch out in Sweden for ERC star Craig Breen, himself not 26 until February, in his first chance competing in the top level of the WRC. Either young man has the potential within him to impress big time in 2016. Veteran Emirati rallier Khalid Al-Qassimi is both driver and patron of the "We're Totally Not Citroen" Team.

    With big changes ahead for the WRC after 2016, it can be said that the season ahead could be a Liaison to the future that lies ahead from 2017. The series is already in the midst of a major youth movement, with the legends like Loeb, Solberg, and Gronholm having wound their careers to a close. There's enough talent to fuel a new boom period in the WRC, and hopefully, the arrival of a strong Toyota team, and a rejuvenated Citroen, to join Volkswagen and Hyundai will provide those promising stars the opportunity for success they've longed for.

    As far as 2016 itself goes, Ogier and Volkswagen look to be the overwhelming favorites to win out for a fourth consecutive year. The optimist will hope for a close fight all season, for Hyundai to assert themselves as serious title contenders alongside VW, and for one of the underdogs to steal the show somewhere on the dangerous journey to becoming World Rally Champion.

    Who do you think will take top honours in the 2016 WRC campaign? Who will be the surprise of the season? And who will start their season with victory in the fabled Rallye Monte Carlo? Discuss this, and more WRC-related topics, below!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 20, 2016
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  2. DMACK will hopefully give a better car to Ott.
  3. Shawn Jacobs

    Shawn Jacobs
    SpeedyMite Racing Premium

    Fantastic article, really well written @R.J. O'Connell, I haven't followed wrc for a couple of years but after reading this with the amount information you provided has got me keen to check it out this weekend. Thanks for putting it together.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. Any time. Admittedly it gets harder for me to follow once the winter ends because it's in the main racing season where I have to cover so many other things.

    I was in fact marathoning the 2015 season this week, and before I even got to finish, Red Bull TV yanked it from their site! :(
  5. Yay cant wait. 2 more days Monaco!
  6. the_sigman

    Sim racer, F1 news editor... Racing is in my blood Premium

    Very nice article!

    My prediction: Ogier-Mikkelsen-Neuville
    • Like Like x 1
  7. any chance you'll stream something of the season here @ RD?
  8. I'm almost obligated to pick a VW podium sweep this weekend, seeing as I live in a Volkswagen assembly city where they're almost half of our economy. But I do drive a Hyundai, often filled with Shell petrol and on Michelin tyres...tough call.
  9. Ole Marius Myrvold

    Ole Marius Myrvold
    JWB 96-13 Staff

    All streaming is behind paywalls, so that's not likely.
  10. Very nice article, @R.J. O'Connell Just a note about Kubica - His first season in 2014 was quite "crashy", but 2015 (especially second half of the season) was really good and the main reason he didn't deliver decent result was reliability of his underfunded car/team... Try to find rally without mechanical issues (probably 0) and then compare it with number of rallies without crashes.

    Give him solid car and team, so he can focus only on driving (not on managing team, logitics, being main engineer etc.) and I'm sure he can be a threat for Ogier at least in a few rallies.
  11. I love me some Robert Kubica. Have since 2007. With that said, the last two years have been just about the most demoralizing experience.

    I know he's got a win in him somewhere, I know that even as a privateer he has at least a podium finish in him. I just don't know if his team will go broke before he can get there. And if that happens, I'm not sure who would pick him up...
  12. Interesting that Meeke was top on the shakedown stage in his Citroen, ahead of Ogier in the updated VW with Sordo's and Neuville's brand new Hyundais very close behind. The Fords were the slowest by a relatively large margin.
  13. Ole Marius Myrvold

    Ole Marius Myrvold
    JWB 96-13 Staff

    Far from it at the moment. He is not fast enough, while being able to drive safe. The guy is starting is 28th event in a WRC car now, and have crashed 26 times. He have 20 retirements from 61 rallies in his career so far. And that is including the Super Rally system that means he can crash out on Friday and Saturday, and still be classfied.

    The times he finished rallies without crashing, he is rarely in the top of the timesheets, with the exception of 2-3 stages.

    The sole exception might be in Rally Spain, as the roads are wider, smoother, more racing-surface like. I think that is the only rally I've seen that he have had good speed over quite a few stages without making mistakes.

    And I don't see who would or even could pick him up. The cost will be high, and sponsorship low. When teams can afford to kick Jari-Matti Latvala out even after winning at least 1 rally the 5 years before, because he crashes too much. Then I don't see how Kubica can be employed.
  14. Kris Meeke is the first man this year to lead after a day of Super Specials. Tomorrow, the real fun begins.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. Roy Magnes

    Roy Magnes
    Gentleman Driver Staff

    I know it is knitpicking, but I don't really look at 42km of stages as Super Specials :p
    I do like the new livery on the DS3, though, great looking car!
  16. 4 8 15 16 23 42 108

    4 8 15 16 23 42 108
    Only the 5th-most famous race driver from Kerpen Premium

    And he has indeed crashed out again. End of the day for Robert. Pity.
  17. First proper day is wrapping up with virtually nothing between Ogier and Meeke for P1. Do have to wonder if Meeke can hold steady through the remainder of the event - he has to basically drive mistake-free to stay in contention for victory.

    Elfyn Evans, by the way, has been hovering around the points even before a lot of the attrition kicked in - 11th and leading WRC-2. Shoutouts also to the ageless Francois Delecour - he's been in the top 20 overall (I could have sworn he was still rocking the Porsche this year, though.)
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016
  18. This current regulations and the next are just boring. It´s killing the sport and not contributing with absolutely anything to the companies real life consumer technologies. Not a surprise that the past hero brands are not interested.

    It was meant to be cheaper, but it turned out that the cheap ends up expensive if it does not render results (sales), as is clearly the case with Citroen, that despite of its tremendous success during recent years, complete domination for almost a decade, couldnt profit on top. You, rally fan, what would you buy, a cheapo DS3, which has absolutely nothing in common with its rally version car, or a WRX for about the same price?

    For those who were born later than that, back in the late 80s, when Group B was ruled out, everybody thought that it was the end of rallying. FISA back then came up with Group A regulations, which was sort of promoting today´s Group N to elite status, and made manufactures produce a minimum amount of homologation specials, that is, to have the base car, AWD, turbo, with very very similar chassis and suspension design available to the public for a fairly reasonable price. Very different from the **** ass DS3 FWD that´s in the market today. The result was that it was not only interesting for the factories to compete for the sake of the sport, but it was also a very good chance to develop it technology and a good products and pay it by the sponsors. It was the success that we all know. Subaru, Mitsubishi, Lancia, Nissan, Citroen, Peugeot, Ford, Mazda, Toyota; it was blooming. Subaru for example, is still profitting on top of its 90´s commitment.

    Stupid FIA.
  19. Great battle for the lead spoiled by a terminal gearbox problem on Meeke's car prior to SS13. Big O has the Monte Carlo hat trick wrapped up unless he finds a way to spoil it for himself tomorrow. Puts Neuville on the podium, Ostberg 4th, Lefebvre a solid 5th.

    Re: current regs - Agree with a lot of it. Part of the appeal of rallying's yesteryear was the varieties of cars that were around. I have nothing against the subcompact era of today - the most iconic rally car of the 60s was a Mini Cooper as big as my desk after all, and the Stratos wasn't much bigger than that - but subcompacts are all there is now in WRC. I start to see why people get turned off of series that have the same types of cars across the board. That's why I was a big proponent of the Nissan LMP1. Yeah, the Porsche 919 won stuff, and the Nissan ran one awful race at Le Mans. But you'll see many more cars like the 919 in the future, and you've seen cars like it win before - that's way less fun to think about. That's also why I liked seeing the RWD Peugeot win the Dakar. /soapbox
  20. Ole Marius Myrvold

    Ole Marius Myrvold
    JWB 96-13 Staff

    Well something had to be done... You hail Gr.A, and yes, Gr.A was very good. For a period.
    It wasn't awesome in 87. It was Lancia who commited, all the others drove one or two rallies where it fitted.
    88 was the same story, Lancia utterly dominated, and there wasn't much other factories truly in it. There was a lot of different cars, but none that was really good.
    In 89 there was a bit more competition, but again it was dominant Lancias, but it finally looked like there would be competition. But who would really want to own a Galant VR-4? Or a 323?
    1990 was Lancia and Toyota. No other team had any serious cars, and there was still lots of 2WD cars.
    91 - Things started to heat up a little bit. Subaru arrived, Ford arrived with a car they had worked a bit on. Mitsubishi did some more rallies, Mazda did like they always had done since Gr.A became the top. Nissan did a few events. But still, who wants a 323, Galant or a Sunny? And the Sierra 4x4 isn't as popular as the Cossie.
    92 - Same as 91. Quite a bit of teams. Nissan scaling a bit up. Mazda and Mitsubishi down. Toyota vs Lancia for the 3rd year in a row. Ford coming closer.
    93 - Lancia is out. Mitsubishi debuts the Lancer, Subaru debuts the Impreza, Ford with the Escorts. Toyota keeps the Celica. And wins all but 2 rallies they start in.
    94 - Down to 3 manufacturers again. Toyota, Ford and Subaru. Mitsubishi doing few events. Ford is hopeless this year, but managed two wins. The cars are awesome in road-legal form as well. But with only 7 drivers doing more than 50% of the championship, it ain't a healthy championship.
    95 - Mitsubishi is back, Toyota is disqualified, Subaru dominates, Ford is even more hopeless. 8 drivers do more than 50%, but three of them are Toyota-drivers.
    96 - Three teams - 6 drivers. Good fight between top three in different cars. But in reality Ford was hopeless again, just saved by a extremely safe Sainz. Only non McRae/Makinen win was the sole race they didn't finish.
    97 - Now Gr.A rules basically ended. As you could choose not to make a car by the Gr.A rules, which gave much more freedom. It was the same three teams again. But only Mitsubishi followed the Gr.A rules. Subaru and Ford used the WRC-Rules. The fact that Subaru kept making the awesome road-legal cars had nothing to do with the rally-rules anymore. Toyota arrives - 7 drivers to more than half season.
    98 - Toyota arrives with the Corolla, Seat arrives late in the season. Only Mitsubishi still uses the Gr.A rules. This is also the season with the famous Rally GB where Sainz retires close close to the finish.
    99 - Mitsubishi, Toyota, Ford, Subaru, Seat, Skoda and Peugeot arrives late in the year. 14 drivers to more than 50%, 4 different cars wins, though Ford struggles with the new Focus.
    2000 - Seven teams still, as Hyundai arrives when Toyota pull out.

    And so it goes on. The early 00's with quite a few teams, lot's of drivers. The late 90's early 00's often seen as the golden years when it comes to the amount of cars and drivers. And afaik, not that much complaining that you cannot buy the car yourself. When the end of the 00's arrived, we had a struggling Subaru, non-tested Suzuki, Ford and Citroën. Back to the early days of Gr.A, well, with the exception that it was to expensive to show up in older cars, and not possible to make cars "yourself". New rules had to come. And with some luck, 2017 will see 4 factory teams and M-Sport compete. That's more properly supported cars over a whole championship, than the whole Gr.A period. So, it doesn't look like there are any less manufacturers interested in supporting it today than when Gr.A was there.

    Now, the reason why there was a fair amount of different Gr.A ready cars back in 87, was because Gr.A had been there since 82. There was already made quite a few Gr.A cars, that suddenly could compete on the "top" level.

    Also, the time changes. I want to see a bit bigger cars back, maybe a bit more power, sound etc. But that's not what sells these days.
    Of course a petrolhead wants a cool car. But it is a totally different economy now, there is a different view on the environment.


    There is the same amount of manufacturers in rally now as Gr.A.
    There was many Gr.A cars already in 87, as Gr.A had existed since 82.
    Since 97, there was only one Gr.A car in rallying.