WRC 2017: Why the World Rally Championship is a MUST-WATCH this year

The World Rally Championship (WRC) used to be one of my favorite sports when I was much younger. I always enjoyed the clean, precise nature of Formula 1, but found the dirty, “man and machine against the elements” nature of rallying completely captivating. And in 1996 I was just as in awe of Colin McRae, as I was Damon Hill.

That was around 15 to 20 years ago now, and since then I’ve not really followed the WRC that much. But this year I will, because some of the biggest rule changes the sport has ever seen have made rallying as exciting as it should be – and hark back to the legendary “Group B” days of the sport.

Stagnation

When I first got into motorsports, the WRC was in a golden age. Household names such as Tommi Mäkinen, Carlos Sainz, Marcus Grönholm, Colin McRae and Richard Burns were negotiating some of the toughest terrain on the planet at breakneck speed, and the cars they were using were just as iconic. Whether it was the red-and-white Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, the metallic blue Subaru Impreza or – later – McRae’s Ford Focus, the WRC championship really felt like the ultimate test of us against the elements. But for me, it hasn’t really been the same since.

You can’t take anything away from the achievements of Sebastien Loeb and Citroen, but their domination of the sport seemed to usher in a time of stagnation. By 2013 things seemed to have got worse, and for the past few years Volkswagen and Ogier have  essentially been like the Mercedes F1 team of rallying – winning the constructors’ and drivers’ championships four times in a row. Rallying didn’t really feel like the sport that gave us Group B cars, or some of the the biggest names in British motorsport.10534_event-monte2017_com_1920x1080

A shake up

However, this year is going to be amazing, and there’s two very good reasons for that. First, the all-conquering Volkswagen team has left the sport, and that’s provided a huge void at the top of the performance rankings – but it’s shaken up the driver market too. It’s basically like Mercedes deciding to leave F1 without any warning, and forcing their superstar drivers to look for new jobs. Now the series has a varied line-up including Toyota, M-Sport Ford, Hyundai and Citroen – and we have no idea which car is best.[gallery:4]

Image copyright of Matthew Somerfield (@SomersF1)

Then there’s the new rule changes. Simply put, teams have been allowed more breathing room in designing their cars, and it means the new 2017 WRC challengers are beasts. Teams are able to stack far more aero parts onto their cars this year, so the entire field have sprouted incredible DTM-like wings and diffusers, designed to push the cars onto the road surface. This extra bodywork also make the cars look more aggressive and wider, echoing their Group B forefathers.

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Image copyright of Matthew Somerfield (@SomersF1)

New engine restrictor rules mean the cars actually have the performance to match their looks, too, with each engine producing around 380hp. That might not sound like much, but when you consider some of the twisty mountain roads and icy paths these cars will be racing on, it’s plenty. To top it off, the cars are allowed to be 25kg lighter, so the power-to-weight ratio is even better. Put together all these rule tweaks and the result is an incredible piece of machinery, and one drivers will quickly need to tame.

The first round of the 2017 championship took place in Monte Carlo last weekend, and the onboard footage (below) speaks for itself. This year’s cars look like a serious handful, and when you combine them with some of the trickiest stages and most talented drivers in the world, the WRC is definitely worth watching this year.

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