We’ll allow ourselves a bit of freedom to write something rather brave; This is going to be the most interesting season of WRC since 2004. If you’re not exactly pinned to your WRC screen and know all the tiny details, 2004 was the last year before Sebastien Loeb and Citroën turned the series into their playground – in 2004 title winner was Petter Solberg in a Subaru. After so many years we are finally seeing big changes in terms of car manufacturers and drivers. Big changes. Big as Volkswagen, who joined WRC last year to dominate it from the very start. This year the biggest change is the arrival of fourth manufacturer, Hyundai Motorsport. Citroen and M-Sport have changed their lineups. All this leads us to believe 2014 could be one hell of a season, full of ups and downs. And that’s not all. Pascal Vasselon, technical director of Toyota’s LMP1 programme and responsible for motorsport activities echoed the words of Toyota president Akio Toyoda – the Japanese brand is seriously considering WRC, but many things have to align before we can hope to see Toyota branded WRC cars. For now, the scheduled development of Yaris WRC for R&D purposes is all Toyota is able to confirm.
This year WRC returns to Poland, after five years absence. Rules have also changed for this year – we bid farewell to qualifying and free practice runs. Starting orders will have fixed rules applied to them regardless of the surface. Finally, WRC will be shown in live TV this year on numerous channels all over the worlds. By all accounts, this will be the season to remember.
Car: Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Boss: Jost Capito
Drivers: Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen
Ogier did his job, now it’s time to keep the momentum going. Volkswagen did not came to win things in WRC, they came to conquer and dominate. Even though they have the best car and the deepest pockets at the moment, the reigning champions will have to work hard this year if they want to see the repeat of 2013. Hopefully Volkswagen were able to bring Jari-Matti Latvala in order and fix some of this crash-inducing glitches. Volkswagen claims there are no priority drivers at the start of the season – so Jari-Matti needs a strong start.
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT
Car: Citroen DS3 WRC
Boss: Yves Matton
Drivers: Kris Meeke, Mads Ostberg, Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen’s number one driver this year is Kris Meeke, well known name in WRC circles, but essentially also the guy with pretty limited WRC experience. For example, unlike team mate Mads Ostberg, Meeke never rallied in Sweden, Portugal or Mexico, but he does not lack motivation, as seen in Monte Carlo. Mads on the other hand has 65 WRC starts. Both drivers are very fast and capable competitors. Meeke will surely do wonders for Citroen’s PR plans in the UK, but that’s not his main job. For Mads it’s important to make the 2014 count, because new drivers are knocking on the WRC doors. Khalid Al Qassimi will take part in 4 rallies this year.
Car: Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Boss: Malcolm Wilson
Drivers: Mikko Hirvonen, Eflyn Evans
Hirvonen came back home after two years in Citroen. The 33 year old Finn spent 8 years in Ford and scored 13 out of 14 WRC victories. Malcolm Wilson knows Mikko was one of the key factors in two manufacturer titles in 2006 and 2007 – it’s easy to imagine this helped Mikko to find a job at former employers. Mikko also needs a solid year after seasons of bad results and lack of pace. Young Welshman Elfyn Evans is in for a hell of a season – stepping into the main arena next to Hirvonen. In Monte Carlo Elfyn proved his worth and we are very eager to see what else Evans can achieve this year.
Hyundai Shell WRT
Car: Hyundai i20 WRC
Boss: Michel Nandan
Drivers: Thierry Neville, Dani Sordo, Juho Hanninen, Chris Atkinson
In their first WRC season Hyundai will compete with two cars. The first violin in this new orchestra is Thierry Neuville, and the second car will be shared among Sordo, Hanninen and Atkinson. Their main goal (which they failed to achieve in Monte Carlo) is to finish events, collect points and mileage. Sordo will most likely do tarmac events, Hanninen is scheduled for Sweden and Finland at least while Atkinson is lined up to join Neuville in Mexico. Expectations are not too high for Hyundai, but they could really pull a few surprises this year – it’s a young team with huge ambitions and a very serious if somewhat rushed programme. All eyes are upon them.