Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Is WRC heading for third straight nail-biter?

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
News on the world of rallying has certainly blown up in the last few weeks after Estonian Ott Tänak (Toyota Gazoo Racing) managed to overhaul six-time World Rally Champion, Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Racing) to claim his first WRC title. 

The World Rally Championship season finale in Australia was canceled due to severe fires in the region, while both championships were decided, the news kept flowing as the 2020 season is already shaping up to be an even more dramatic year of rallying.

As the 2019 WRC season ended, Hyundai Motorsport set the rallying world alight with the news of Ott Tänak signing a shock deal with the manufacturer for two years. The Korean manufacturer named their line-up for the 2020 season, as Thierry Neuville would join the team in a second car, while Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo would share a third car at selected rounds. 

With the cancellation of the 2019 Australian round, Hyundai (who led the manufacturers’ championship at this point) where crowned manufacturers' champions for the first time in WRC, after a very close battle with Toyota Gazoo Racing. The 2018 winners only trailed Hyundai by a mere 18 points. 

All seemed poised for Hyundai to hit the ground running in 2020 and lead out the (now) champion less Toyota and Citroen. An extremely close season tussle was set to close and become a season, dominated by Hyundai. 
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.

The rallying world, would, however, take yet another shock turn, in only one month when Citroen announced that they will withdraw from the World Rally Championship to focus on a new motorsport programme that will see Peugeot return to WEC from 2022 due to the new Hypercar regulations, as well as focusing resources on an electrified series. 

While Ogier was left without a seat for the 2020 season. Tänak’s departure from Toyota opened the door for the six-time WRC champion. Rumors immediately began circulating, as sources linked Ogier to Toyota, including speculation that Elfyn Evans would again join forces with his former Ford (MSport) team-mate at Toyota Gazoo Racing. 

The speculation soon ended, when Tommi Mäkinen (team principal) and his team announced the signing of Ogier and Evans as well as another young star, poised for victory. Kalle Rovanpeä, the WRC-2 Pro driver, will join the Toyota squad as the reigning WRC-2 champion, having won five of the thirteen rounds this year. 

While Toyota ended the contracts of Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke, the turn of events foreshadows a very exciting 2020 campaign. 

Latvala will get back behind the wheel of the Toyota Yaris for two events in 2020 – Rally Sweden and Rally Finland, but the Finn has set his sights on three additional rounds yet to be announced.

The three leading championship contenders (Tänak, Ogier, and Neuville) were found in three different teams in the past two years, but the two dominant teams (Toyota and Hyundai) will now feature all three of the title contenders. 

Between these three drivers, they shared 92% of all the victories this year, with only Dani Sordo claiming a single victory in Sardegna. Tänak dominated the season taking six victories in 13 rounds, while both Neuville and Ogier took three wins apiece. 

It’s quite rare to see the domination that Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT has shown this year, with four manufacturers fighting for the title. Toyota started the year as defending manufacturers’ champions and ended it having fielded the fastest car and the fastest crew in Tänak and co-driver Jarveoja.

Despite ending the season on a high with Tänak and Jarveoja wrapping up the WRC drivers’ title with one round remaining, Toyota were still in the hunt for the manufacturers’ title but due to the cancellation of the final round in Australia, Hyundai Shell Morbis WRT were crowned manufacturers' champions. 

The Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Tänak and co-driver Jarveoja won almost one in every three special stages in 2019 regardless of the surface – snow, ice, gravel or asphalt.

Impressive isn’t it? Well, guess again. Ott’s success was not the only factor to highlight Toyota’s dominance this season. Kris Meeke (co-driver Sebastian Marshall) and Jari-Matti Latvala (co-driver Miikka Anttila) were the fastest on 107 special stages in total. 

Hyundai Motorsport secured their first title in the highly competitive 2019 FIA World Rally Championship, after five years in the championship. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
The 2019 season might have got off to a good start for the defending World Champion Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia who claimed the first win of the season in Monaco and kept a pretty consistent scorecard with 3 victories and five podium finishes. Ogier grew seemingly impatient with Citroen who appeared to lag behind in the development of their C3 WRC car, but slowly developments were brought to their car in 2019. 

Ogier and Ingrassia claimed the 2019 World Rally Championship Wolf Power Stage award this year by a single point from world champions Tänak and Jarveoja.

While Citroen exits the World Rally Championship in 2019, there is fresh speculation that Citroen is open to the sale of 2020 homologated Citroen C3 cars to a private entity. The 2020 homologated Citroen’s will include the evolution package tested ahead of Rally Spain. 
With the departure of the second most successful manufacturer in the history of the World Rally Championship having amassed 8 world Championships, with five consecutive titles with Sebastien Loeb. The long winding road of success is now open to the three remaining manufacturers – Hyundai, Toyota, and Ford.

Three new rounds are joining the 2020 WRC calendar (Kenya, Japan, and New Zealand), most of the field will head into unknown territory. It will, therefore, be a very challenging, but exciting season. 

We are already on the edges of our seats, waiting for 23 January (Monte Carlo) to arrive.

Written By: Franco Theron and Junaid Samodien.

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