If you’ve spent any amount of time on YouTube or have a remote interest in rallying, you’ll be more than familiar with the aggressive machines you see on these pages.
The current generation World Rally Car in full flight provides an all-out assault on the senses, and no matter how many adjectives or over-enthusiastic words I write here, I will never do them justice. However, it hasn’t always been so rosy.
After the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, the WRC (World Rally Championship) was hit hard. The 2009 season registered just two competing manufacturers, one a privateer team in M-Sport. The series was struggling, so to encourage new teams to join, the FIA downscaled to B-segment cars and tried to cut the cost of competition. Over the following years, several manufacturers entered, including MINI, Hyundai, and finally Volkswagen.
With the regulations set to expire at the end of the 2016 season and Volkswagen departing in the wake of Dieselgate, a fresh start was recognised and the FIA made a decision some of us still can’t quite believe. ‘Give the cars more power,’ they said. ‘Oh, and remove almost all regulation on aerodynamics while you’re at it.’ And so, the wildest, fastest, most visually pleasing generation of World Rally Car was born.
As a result, 2019 has been the closest fought title battle for some time. Three drivers from three different manufacturers have gone at it hammer and tongs since the flag dropped in Monaco back in January.
Sébastien Ogier is gunning for a seventh consecutive title in a Citroën C3 struggling for performance, while Ott Tänak of Toyota and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville bid for their maiden world title. This intense race for success is testament to these new cars, which provide thrilling battles at every event.
While the action on stage is jaw-dropping to the eye, the rivalries are equally as impressive.
The Welsh round of the WRC would be an emotional one for many – especially if you’re Norwegian. Rally legend and 2003 World Champion Petter Solberg hung up his gloves on the same weekend his 18-year-old son, Oliver, made his WRC debut, both drivers at the wheel of VW Polo R5s. Petter marked the occasion by taking victory in the WRC’s support category (WRC 2) with Oliver having a wretched weekend plagued by technical gremlins.
Travelling from the Emereld Isle, I had my Irish flag packed, ready to cheer on one of our own in Craig Breen. Craig had been handed the keys to a second drive of the season after impressing Hyundai with his performance in Finland earlier in the year. Unfortunately, his Irish luck ran out when his i20 WRC left the road and rolled multiple times on the famous Myherin stage. Fortunately, he could continue and finished the rally. Fingers crossed, we’ll see him a little more regularly next year.
So it’s Sunday morning; I was running on fumes at this point with just 13 hours sleep in four days. I stood precariously on a sodden bank, rain slowly soaking through the first layer of clothing, at 6:30am on the shores of Llyn Brenig waiting for Ott Tänak to power his Toyota Yaris WRC into sight.
Ott comes into view like a freight train through a brick wall, powering his way to a victory of 23.8-seconds over Séb Ogier in the questionable Citroën. Claiming the extra five points on offer for the fastest time through the power stage sees Ott put one hand firmly on the driver’s title this year, increasing his advantage over Ogier by 28 points. The question remains, can he do it?
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