Will the WRC return to competitiveness?
Admittedly, I've hardly been paying any attention to the World Rally Championship (WRC) for the past two years.
For starters, there hasn't been any U.S. TV coverage. No surprise there - we don't even get Rally America Championship races. All we get are GRC highlights, which is hardly rallying. Velocity does carry ERC highlights - at 5:00 AM Sunday mornings - but they don't start running them until the season is almost over. But at least it's something, and it's a lot more competitive than the WRC has been.
Which is the other reason I haven't been paying attention to the WRC: the lack of competition.
For years, Sebastien Loeb dominated the WRC, driving for Citroën. It became all-too predictable. And for awhile the only manufacturers left in the WRC were Citroën and Ford. So it wasn't even competitive from a manufacturers' standpoint.
Then Mini returned.
Then Mini left.
Then Ford left.
Then VW joined.
Then Loeb left.
Then Sebastien Ogier started dominating the WRC, driving for VW. And the same problem of predictability remained - just with a different Sebastien.
Then Hyundai returned.
Then Citroën left. Presumably because they weren't winning anymore.
Then Toyota announced it would return in 2017.
So at least we'd have more manufacturers again. And even though Citroën and Ford weren't fielding factory teams anymore, other teams were still running those cars.
But now VW is leaving. Despite having a new car for 2017. And the top driver in the sport on their team. After just having won their fourth championship in a row.
Yep. Just hitting the newswire this afternoon, Volkswagen is dropping out of the WRC. At the top of their game.
Reportedly, this is due to VW scaling back on pretty-much everything because of their diesel scandal shenanigans. They're circling the wagons and regrouping, and motorsports just isn't something they want to keep investing in right now.
Now, the WRC probably isn't thrilled with this, since they've had enough trouble keeping manufacturers from leaving the sport, and have had their own share of controversies including disgruntled drivers and team owners, a lack of sponsorship, anemic TV coverage, rules controversies, cancelled rallies, and, of course, a perception of being uncompetitive and boring.
But the thing is - VW quitting may be just what the WRC needs.
Because what the WRC lacks the most - is competition.
And if Ogier - the most dominant driver in the sport - gets knocked down a peg or two because of this, then so much the better.
If you look at the Driver Standings, after Ogier, the next several spots are all pretty close.
Now, unquestionably, he's going to get snapped up by another team. But he will be starting over. And depending on the team, he could be at a significant disadvantage.
With VW out of the picture, there are really only two possibilities here: Hyundai and Toyota. While there are other teams in the WRC, none of them are factory-backed, so they wouldn't have the resources (or appeal) to bag him.
Hyundai has already set their driver lineup for 2017. But with Ogier on the market, all bets are off. And Hyundai has been aggressively pursuing their WRC campaign since they came back a few years ago. Plus, being an established team, they would have an appeal to Ogier.
However, my money is on Toyota. At the moment they only have one confirmed driver. And even though they're an all-new team for 2017, being the lead driver for Toyota would certainly appeal to Ogier's ego, and having the top driver in the sport would certainly be a huge prize for Toyota. Plus, if he repeated his early successes with VW, he'd come out of the gate winning. They wouldn't mind that at all.
Either way, he'd be on a new team - so he likely wouldn't completely dominate, at least until they got their feet under them a little bit. So that could make the WRC interesting again. For awhile.
Also not to be completely ignored are the other two VW drivers: Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen. This might be a good opportunity for Hyundai to upgrade a little bit by grabbing one of them. But my guess is if they miss out on Ogier, Hyundai will stick with their announced lineup, and Latvala and Mikkelsen will end up with one of the second tier teams - either M-Sport or Abu Dhabi.
There's also the very outside possibility that Ogier - who has been disgruntled with how the WRC has been run for most of his career - may just decide to pack it in, and go do something else. But I really doubt that. His ego won't permit it. He wants to destroy (former teammate) Loeb's WRC records, and won't rest until he's done so.
Anyway, VW is expected to officially announce this tomorrow. Then everything will start hitting the fan.
Whoops - I forgot that Citroën will be fielding a team again next year. However, given Ogier's bumpy history with them (when he was a teammate with Loeb), I don't think either party would be interested in getting back together.
Elsewhere in car news...
The new 2017 Impreza Sport is looking pretty nice. And although I'm more into dark blue...
I'm really digging the five-door in Island Blue Pearl:
That said, I've learned to never buy a new car in the first year of a re-design. Too many potential problems. So I'll wait and see how it all shakes out over the next year or so. But at least finally, there's a Subaru I'd actually want to buy again.