Changes afoot as WRC kicks off this week
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
A highly anticipated fight for the 2019 World Rally Championship featuring significant changes in team and driver line-ups begins when Rallye Monte Carlo hits the road early on Friday morning.
WRC crews will attack two Thursday night (Friday morning NZ time) special stages near the town of Gap as a 41km opener to a 2019 season that runs through to Rally Australia in November.
The official launch of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship was earlier this month at the Autosport International Show. Picture/Supplied
It’s a season that will see nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb (France) join Hyundai Motorsport for six events while Sebastien Ogier (France) returns to Citroen, chasing his seventh consecutive title after four wins with Volkswagen and 2017-18 successes with the M-Sport Ford team.
There are 11 manufacturer crews in action this weekend with Loeb joining Thierry Neuville (Belgium) and Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) at Hyundai Motorsport.
Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke, who was dumped by Citroen last season, steps into a strong Toyota Gazoo Racing squad alongside Ott Tanak (Estonia) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland).
Former Toyota driver Esapekka Lappi (Finland) has joined Citroen alongside Ogier with the French team only fielding two cars. The M-Sport Ford trio in Monte Carlo is Elfyn Evans (GB), Teemu Suninen (Finland) and Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand.
The WRC2 Championship — which now features a separate Pro category — starts the year relatively quietly with 11 entries.
There are three in the WRC Pro class for factory teams with Britain’s Gus Greensmith (Ford Fiesta R5), Frenchman Yoann Bonato (Citroen C3 R5) and Finnish teenager Kalle Rovanpera (Skoda Fabia R5).
With his stunning pace in the second half of the 2018 season, Toyota's Ott Tanak will be a strong contender for WRC title honours in 2018. Picture: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC
Rallye Monte Carlo is the only WRC round with an itinerary that features four days of competition. The route comprises 16 stages in total with two on Thursday night, a six-stage run through Friday and four stages on Saturday when the rally moves back from Gap to Monaco.
On Sunday the final four stages are in the Alpes Maritimes, closer to the principality, including two runs across the famed Col du Turini. The rally route features 323.83km of special stages and 1042km of liaison sections.
Throughout Rallye Monte Carlo, crews traditionally face ever-changing road conditions including dry sections of the tarmac mountain roads mixed with ice and snow that can makes tyre selection critical.
In other significant changes for 2019 the season has been extended to 14 events with the inclusion of Rally Chile in early May.
The Chilean event will be based at Concepcion, southwest of Santiago, with an all-gravel format. Chile will become the 32nd nation to have hosted a round of the WRC since the series was established in 1973.