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WRC 2018

Posted by Nathan Strum, 04 January 2018 · 140 views

Cars

Well, the answer to last year's question was a pretty resounding "yes". For the first time in years, the World Rally Championship was truly competitive and unpredictable.
 
Even though in the end, the same driver ended up winning the championship for the fifth year in a row. But he certainly had to work hard for it, since there were seven different winners last year.
 
And best of all, thanks to Red Bull's excellent coverage, I could finally, actually watch the rallies using my AppleTV.
 
So now, the 2018 season starts in just three weeks. And here are the main things to watch out for:

  • First and foremost, Ogier re-signed with M-Sport. There were questions whether he'd retire or not (especially given that M-Sport operates with a fraction of the budget of the other teams), but he did. And I'm glad! The sport needs someone at the top for everyone else to chase. Especially now that they know they can actually catch him. :)
  • Perhaps equally important: Ford is back! After being gone as an official manufacturer for several years, they've rejoined with M-Sport to help back the team with more technical support, and return for a shot at the manufacturer's title. It's great to see them officially back. It's been a revolving door of manufacturers in recent years, but this helps add some stability to the sport, and helps M-Sport be on a more level playing field (although to be fair, they did win without Ford last year). It's good to see the blue oval back again. Now... if we could just get that other blue oval to return. ;)
  • Loeb is back. Sort-of. Bazillion-time champion Sebastien Loeb has re-signed with Citroën. But only for three races. Still - he could play into the championship as a spoiler if he returns to form. But it will be fun seeing how he fares in this new generation of cars, especially against former teammate Ogier.
  • Another question for Citroën: can Chris Meeke get a handle on the C3 this year? When he's on - he's fast. But when he's off, he's way, way off.
  • Driver-wise, things were pretty stable except that Ott Tänak left M-Sport to join the Toyota squad, and Andreas Mikkelsen (without a team since VW exited) signed on with Hyundai. M-Sport is the loser there since Tänak did so well for them in 2017, but Toyota and Hyundai should both be bolstered by those additions.
  • The biggest question this year will be: has Hyundai fixed their cars? While driver error can be blamed for some of their issues last year, there were just so many suspension failures amongst all of their cars, there had to be a design flaw there. If Hyundai can get that sorted out, I think Thierry Neuville will be the one to beat this year. Although personally, I'm really hoping to see Jari-Matti Latvala return to the top of the sport this year. He has incredible speed, but had some bad luck in the Toyota in 2017.
However it turns out - I'm already looking forward to it!






How about the Dakar? Are you watching?

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Yep. I'm a day behind though.

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And the first rally of the 2018 season is in the books.

 

Ogier won - but it was a good, competitive rally all the way through. Toyota almost locked up 2nd, 3rd and 4th, except for a last-stage misstep from Esapekka Lappi, which dropped him from 4th to 7th. Thierry Neuville ran a solid rally throughout, ending up in 5th, but would have been in contention if he hadn't gotten stuck in a snowbank on Thursday for nearly four minutes.

 

The championship standings (not yet posted) are very close (admittedly - being only the first rally of the year) and all of the cars were competitive at some point over the weekend. Hopefully this season will shape up to be as good as last year. Up next - rally Sweden!

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I've still been watching the rallies - just not posting wrap-ups.

 

Last month in Sweden, Neuville won, because Ogier had to spend most of the rally plowing snow. Overall, not a good weekend for Ford, but still a lot of fun watching the cars driving through hip-deep snow.

 

Contrast that weather with last weekend, where Ogier won in the heat of Mexico by doing what he does best - staying out of trouble while others didn't. It's pretty amazing the variety of weather and terrain these drivers have to master, and their cars have to adapt to. The real story of the weekend though was nine-times World Champion Sebastien Loeb coming back from a five-year retirement, and actually leading the rally. Had it not been for an unfortunate puncture and slow tire change, he had a really good shot at winning. Still, he ended up in fifth, which isn't bad for being away so long and being unfamiliar with the current generation of rally cars. Dani Sordo also had a good shot at winning until a couple of punctures dropped him back to second, but it was nice to see him get a well-deserved podium spot.

 

The upshot to all of this is that Ogier is back in the lead of the drivers' championship, but only by four points. The manufacturers' championship has tightened up as well, with Ford/M-Sport gaining some ground in the standings. It's another competitive and unpredictable season. Well-worth checking out! Up next - Corsica on April 5th.

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