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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WRC has been through it's fair share of ups and downs over the last 2 decades. It's always held a special place in the hearts & minds of motorsport fans regardless of the voracity of machinery available.
Rallying has never felt anything other than exhilarating as a spectacle, unlike F1. The utter domination of one man (well 3 to be exact,over the last 2 decades with the likes of Makinnen, Loeb and Ogier) winning multiple years couldn't dilute the amount of heroism involved in competing at the sharp end of a WRC grid. One thing has always been a constant throughout it's recovery to the upper echelons of motorsport has been the talent of the drivers and navi's. Their supreme commitment and the ridiculously close battles which defy belief when looked at in isolation.
The current generation of cars are just about the most exciting vehicles - across all genre - to ever turn a wheel in competition as far as I'm concerned. I just wish some of what makes WRC so entertaining was somehow morphed into helping F1 turn the corner and become the spectacle it once was...
More power, no aero limits - could just be the answer!
Great report and great photos! The current generation of WRC cars is the most exciting we've had in the last 20 years, it got my interest in rally re-ignited and I didn't feel this excitement since I was a kid going to watch Makinen, McRae, Sainz on the side of the roads of the Monte-Carlo in the late 90s. I don't know how long it will last but after 2 long and boring decades it's amazing!
WRC is the best!
No words for how much I love WRC and rally in general. Rooting for Oliver Solberg to have a bright future in this.
The only complaint I have about modern WRC is I want to buy AWD with trubo road-going versions of these cars. Not the stock boring versions. Kinda like the Honda Civic Type R they run in rallycross although the stock fwd version is anything but boring.
^this right here.
This is the main reason why I still feel the Group A era was the best. You could actually buy the rally car for the road.
I think this philosophy is why Subaru still does so well in the States. They may not do WRC anymore but they spend a lot of money(and give contingency money) on Rally in the US and to people who use their cars in rallys. Subaru is the last rally car you can still buy for the street. I hope they never let that die.