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Will the WRC return to competitiveness?

Nathan Strum

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Admittedly, I've [url="http://atariage.com/forums/blog/118/entry-11767-whatever-rally-championship/"]hardly been paying any attention[/url] to the [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/"]World Rally Championship[/url] (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 [url="http://rally-america.com"]Rally America Championship[/url] races. All we get are [url="http://redbullglobalrallycross.com"]GRC[/url] highlights, which is hardly rallying. Velocity does carry [url="https://www.fiaerc.com"]ERC[/url] 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 [i]dominated[/i] 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 [url="http://www.autoblog.com/2016/11/01/volkswagen-leaving-world-rally-championship-next-year/"]VW is leaving[/url]. Despite having [url="http://blackflag.jalopnik.com/volkswagens-2017-wrc-car-is-the-monster-polo-of-all-our-1787012873"]a new car[/url] for 2017. And [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/drivers/drivers/driver/s%C3%A9bastien-ogier/page/874-94-874--.html?h=2016/drivers/5"]the top driver[/url] in the sport on their team. After just having [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/news/october-2016/gb-day-three/page/4039--12-12-.html"]won their fourth[/url] championship in a row.
 
Wait... what?
 
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 [url="https://uk.sports.yahoo.com/news/ogier-brands-wrc-boring-joke-102200005.html"]disgruntled drivers[/url] 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 [i]most[/i] - 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 [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/results/championship/drivers/page/193-290---.html"]Driver Standings[/url], [i]after[/i] 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 [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/teams/page/18-94---.html"]other teams[/url] in the WRC, none of them are factory-backed, so they wouldn't have the resources (or appeal) to bag him.
 
Hyundai has [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/news/october-2016/neuville-to-hyundai-/page/3948--12-12--3926.html"]already set[/url] 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 [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/news/october-2016/hanninen-toyota/page/3993--12-12--3926.html"]one confirmed driver[/url]. 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 [i]at all[/i].
 
Either way, he'd be on a new team - so he likely wouldn't [i]completely[/i] dominate, at least until they got their feet under them a little bit. So that [i]could[/i] 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 [i]very[/i] 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.
 
[b]Addendum:[/b]
 
Whoops - I forgot that Citroën will be [url="http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/news/october-2016/citroen-2017-drivers/page/3947--12-12--3926.html"]fielding a team[/url] 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 [url="http://www.subaru.com/vehicles/impreza/index.html"]2017 Impreza Sport[/url] is looking pretty nice. And although I'm more into [url="http://atariage.com/forums/blog/118/entry-7891-wrc-mia/"]dark blue[/url]...
 
[img]http://cheeptech.com/misc/blog_pics/2017-lapis-blue.jpg[/img]
 
I'm [i]really[/i] digging the five-door in Island Blue Pearl:
 
[img]http://cheeptech.com/misc/blog_pics/2017-island-blue.jpg[/img]
 
That said, I've learned to [i]never[/i] 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 [i]finally[/i], there's a Subaru I'd actually want to buy again.



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I think it will be an Ogier in a Toyota. ;)

 

I updated the entry - I'd forgotten Citroën will be returning next year. But their team is already set, and Ogier didn't part on very good terms with them, so I don't see him going there.

 

What would be really interesting, would be if Loeb returned to the WRC with Toyota, and Ogier ended up getting stuck on one of the second or third tier teams. But Loeb has already said he wouldn't.

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Well, this looks promising.

 

Red Bull is going to do live Saturday broadcasts and three highlight shows for each rally on its Red Bull TV app/channel/thing. For free. So it looks like I may be able to watch the WRC next year on my Apple TV.

 

Congratulations, WRC - welcome to 2010! ;)

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Speaking of Subaru...

 

They changed their driver lineup for Global Rallycross for 2017. Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson have replaced Bucky Lasek and Sverre Isachsen.

 

Atkinson got a few drives with Subaru's GRC team this year, so I thought he might replace one of the other drivers, but the Sandell announcement came out of the blue. Sandell had been driving a Fiesta for the Kobalt Tools GRC team, and had been pretty competitive doing so.

 

It's nice to see Subaru making the change, since they've had trouble being competitive in GRC for some time. How much of that has been due to the cars or the drivers remains to be seen. But the team essentially spent this year testing and developing the cars they'll be using next year, so hopefully they'll start racking up some wins. Or at least some podiums.

 

Their Rally America Team, on the other hand, has had no such issues.

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That was fun! :)

 

The (free!) RedBull TV coverage of Rally Monte-Carlo was great! And free! They had daily recaps, and one live stage on Saturday, which is way more coverage than I was getting before. Plus, the rally was fun to watch, and really competitive (until Thierry Neuville clipped the side of the road and ruined his chances of winning). Okay... so... Ogier won yet again. But only at the very end, and if not for a bit of bad luck, Neuville almost certainly would have taken it.

 

But the important thing: the WRC was actually fun to watch again. And free! ;) And I got to watch it on my HDTV using my Apple TV. Can't even do that with WRC+. Which isn't free.

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So... I'm guessing the answer to my original question appears to be "yes".

 

For the first time in years, someone not named Sebastien is ahead in the WRC Driver's Championship! New leader Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Sweden over the weekend. And if Thierry Neuville hadn't had yet-another accident near the end of the rally, he was in position to win it after dominating for most of the event. Ogier finished in third place. If this keeps up... I might just subscribe to WRC+ anyway (although the RedBull TV coverage is suiting me just fine so far).

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Well, I don't think I would've expected this result, but I'm sure glad to see it.

 

Four rallies. Four different winners: different drivers, teams, cars, and manufacturers. This week it was Hyundai's turn, as Thierry Neuville finally turned his luck around and came through with the win.

 

Seb may still be in the championship lead, but the races are a lot more fun to watch now. :thumbsup:  :thumbsup:  :thumbsup:  :thumbsup:

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Well, but for slightly clipping a bridge on the very last stage, and the resulting 0.7 seconds it cost him, we almost had the fifth different driver win in five rallies. Unreal.

 

But it wasn't to be this time for Elfyn Evans. Instead, Thierry Neuville won his second rally in a row. And while Sebastien Ogier is still in the championship lead overall, he isn't as far ahead of the rest of the competition as he's been in recent years. If Thierry hadn't crashed out of two rallies that he was leading earlier in the season, it would be a very different leaderboard.

 

This season is actually getting exciting. I wouldn't have expected that. I was just hoping for marginally more competitive.

 

Up next: less than three weeks until the next rally in Portugal. Looking forward to it!

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Okay... so Ogier won in Portugal. And he's still in the championship lead.

 

But, he only won by 15.6 seconds over Neuville. And there were seven different leaders over the course of the rally.

 

So it was still a very competitive rally, and still fun to watch. Ogier won by being consistent and not making the same mistakes that many of the other drivers did.

 

Hopefully the other drivers will step up again and keep things interesting a few weeks from now in Italy.

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And then there was Italy. And we now have our fifth different winner of the year - Ott Tänak (with M-Sport).

 

Thierry Neuville closed the championship gap on Sebastien Ogier a little bit (thanks to a puncture that Ogier had to change mid-stage), although he could've closed the gap even more if he hadn't had a brake problem that slowed him down. Still, third is a solid finish, and Jari-Matti Latvala took second, improving his championship points as well. M-Sport has a pretty commanding lead in the manufacturer's championship, which is impressive for not having any factory backing.

 

It was certainly another exciting rally to watch - and I'm already looking forward to the next stop in Poland in just a few weeks!

 

(Chris Meeke, however, isn't.)

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Things got even a little more interesting after Rally Poland! Thierry Neuville won after battling with Ott Tänak all weekend (10 lead changes over the course of the rally!), when Tänak crashed out and Jari-Matti Latvala dropped out with transmission problems. Latvala eventually came back to win some Power Stage points, but lost his lock on third place.

 

Ogier ended up in third, and now he's only got a scant 11 point lead in the driver's championship standing. Before Tänak and Latvala exited though, Ogier was all the way back in fifth. Had they stayed in the running, Ogier's lead would have been down to just 6 points. Hyundai had a great result - ending up with three of the top four spots, giving them a boost in the manufacturer's championship. Probably the less said about Citroën, the better. They're not having much fun right now.

 

Next up... Finland! Wouldn't it be great if the championship actually came down to the final rally of the year? Could happen... :D

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Kris Meeke strikes again! :D

 

 

A tree? A rock? A spectator's car parked 30 meters off the side of the course?

 

I did watch Finland while on vacation (brought my Apple TV along). Another heart-breaker for Latvala, but very cool to see the Championship tied now! Ogier has his work cut out for him! And six different winners this year!

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