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WRC 2018

Posted by Nathan Strum, 04 January 2018 · 457 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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I haven't posted in a couple of rallies, but I have been watching them. Even though Ogier had won 3 out of the first 5 rallies so far this season, the competition level has still been fierce. Last week though, in Rally Portugal, Ogier nicked a tree stump, which broke his steering and sent him careening into a tree. Neuville took full advantage and not only won the rally, but picked up additional power stage points, while Ogier was completely shut out. This had the net result of leapfrogging Neuville into the championship lead, clear by 19 points! Now Ogier has to work his way back up, a position he's been in during rallies, but rarely in the championship itself. Whether he succeeds or not, it will be quite the battle to watch.

 

Meanwhile, Citroën finally got tired of Kris Meeke doing this to their cars, and fired him:

 

thatll-buff-right-out.jpg

 

Fortunately, he and his co-driver walked away, unharmed. That big dent where the windshield used to be? That was wrapped around a tree trunk. Amazing.

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Rally Finland was a blast! There was a great battle at the top, but not between Ogier and Neuville - they were stuck with road-sweeping and couldn't seem to find any pace all weekend. Nope, the battle was between Ott Tänak, Mads Ostberg and Jari-Matti Latvala (who all finished in that order). It was great to see Mads and Jari-Matti back near the front of a rally again, and Mads' effort was sorely needed given Citroën's string of bad results all year.

 

Ogier finished fifth, but only because the team ordered his two teammates to intentionally fall behind him. Neuville ended up in ninth, but picked up a couple of power stage points as well. He lost a little ground to Ogier, but still remains in the championship lead by 21 points. Hyundai leads the manufacturer's championship by 26 points over Ford, who are now just one point ahead of Toyota. (And Toyota would've passed them if Esapekka Lappi hadn't rolled on the last morning of the rally.)  

 

Just 9 more days until Germany! Thomas - are they running anywhere near you?

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~100 miles away.

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I'd totally go if they were that close to me. The nearest they get to me is Rally Mexico, which is some 1600 miles away.

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Too complicated with public transport.

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Yeah - I wouldn't do it unless I could drive there myself.

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And then in Turkey, this happened.

 

Looks like this championship is going to go right down to the wire!

 

I don't think I've ever seen Ogier look so exhausted (or emotional) after managing to get his suspension put back together enough to continue his rally on Saturday. It was all for naught, but a pretty impressive feat nonetheless. It seems the pressure is catching up to him.

 

Oh, and because it's been several months now since I posted a picture of a Total'd Citroën:

 

extra-crispy.jpg

 

Turkey.

 

Well done.

 

Feel free to make up you own jokes.

 

(Yes... everyone got out just fine.)

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I don't like pictures of totalled Citroëns, mainly because that is the brand of my car and I'd hate to see it totalled. I already smashed two of my former cars, so I'm trying to be even more careful now.

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Citroën has had a tough year to be sure. They dominated the WRC for years, but have struggled since returning. Hopefully they can get things sorted out.

 

I've only ever had one minor accident, where I bumped the car in front of me at a light. There was no visible damage. That was my previous car, and was almost 30 years ago.

 

My current car's been hit three times however, and I wasn't in it any of those times. Twice while parked, and once when the dealership was out testing it after service. I've managed to avoid dozens if not hundreds of near-misses due to Southern California's crazy drivers though. And my car has more parking lot door-dings than I could hope to count. The hazards of working at a college.

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Well, things are looking up for Citroën... and way, way down for M-Sport.

 

Ogier has signed a deal with Citroën starting next season. That leaves Ford with... uh... somebody.

 

Teemu Suninen and maybe Elfyn Evans? Maybe?

 

Ford has committed to supporting M-Sport, but they kind-of need to have... drivers.

 

My guess is that either Dani Sordo or Hayden Paddon will get tired of having to share seat-time in a Hyundai and jump ship to Ford. If Citroën doesn't want to run three cars, then Mads Ostberg could find himself looking for a new ride, too. There's always the possibility of Kris Meeke going to Ford, since he's probably eager to get back into the sport. Then I could post photos of Fiestas being wrapped around trees or burnt to a crisp. Toyota seems set for next year - I don't see their lineup changing.

 

They could also bring up some younger talent from WRC 2. But they still need a veteran driver to lead the team.

 

Meanwhile, still three more rallies to go for this season, starting with Wales Rally GB this week.

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Rally GB was crazy.

 

Ogier had largely been counted out of the championship prior to last weekend because of his catastrophic outing in Turkey, and had fallen to 8th early in the rally. Neuville got stuck in a ditch and dropped as far as 9th, and Tänak was on an absolute tear, and looked like a sure bet for his fourth win in a row. Had things stayed that way, Tanäk could've finished the weekend in the championship lead.

 

But then, Ogier does what he does best - he clawed his way all the way back up to second behind Tanäk. Then Tanäk came off a small jump too steeply and smashed his radiator, taking him out of the rally. Neuville worked his way back up to 5th, thanks to two of his teammates dropping back. Ogier won an incredibly close battle with Jari-Matti Latvala for the eventual win (it's nice to see Latvala driving so well lately). After the bonus Power Stage points were all said and done, Neuville is still in the championship lead, but now Ogier is only 7 points behind him with two rallies left. Tanäk isn't out of the picture yet, being a further 14 points back.

 

The way things went this weekend, it's impossible to predict who's going to take the championship this year.

 

Awesome. :D

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Musical chairs continues - Kris Meeke (having been ousted from Citroën earlier this year) has signed on with Toyota for next year, while Esapekka Lappi will be moving from Toyota to Citroën. With Lappi and Ogier both moving to Citroën, that could leave Craig Breen and/or Mads Ostberg out in the cold (or a likely move over to M-Sport).

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Okay... so then there was Spain.

 

The Toyotas were fast. Latvala started out on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, near the end of Friday, he clipped a wall, punctured a tire, and dropped in the standings down to fifth. That left Tanäk in the lead and he wasn't about to give up on his championship bid, building up a lead of over 30 seconds at one point. Unfortunately, late on Saturday morning, a mid-stage puncture had other ideas, and sent him plummeting down the ranks to ninth, effectively taking him out of the championship running. Meanwhile, Latvala had managed to work his way back up to the lead, until falling back Sunday due to yet another puncture in the second-to-last stage. His most dominant rally perfomance in years - and he ended up eighth.

 

Neuville was consistently behind Ogier all weekend long, but it looked right up until the very last stage as if he'd finish only one place back. However, with just a few corners left in the rally, Neuville hit a rock in the road, damaging a wheel, and he ended up dropping to fourth place, a half a second behind Elfyn Evans. Between that place change and not taking any power stage points, Neuville now sits in second place in the championship, just three points behind Ogier. This might very well be decided in the last stage of the last rally of the season! But with Ogier now in the lead, he has to open the roads in Australia. Traditionally, that puts the first car at a disadvantage, which could actually help Neuville. But Ogier doesn't seem worried.

 

Ogier didn't win Spain, however. In one of the more surprising turns in an already surprising season, Sebastien Loeb, who stepped away from the WRC six years ago, and had two uninspired outings earlier this year, ended up winning by 2.9 seconds over Ogier. It was a pretty incredible moment, and Loeb, the winningest driver ever in the WRC, was clearly emotional. It has to make you wonder if he might want to reconsider his retirement. That could make things very interesting next year. Meanwhile, this season still has one more rally to go...

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It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that Ogier won the championship. But it really was in question right up until the last rally. Jari-Matti Latvala won the event (happy to see that!), and Ogier did what he does best - stayed out of trouble and earned enough points to get the job done. Toyota won the manufacturer's championship, and for just their second year back in rallying, that's quite an achievement.

 

Less than two months until the 2019 season begins, and with all of the driver shuffling happening (and likely to happen), it should be another good one!

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