There have been widespread changes introduced for the 2011 World Rally Championship, mainly in the technical department. The World Rally Car specifications have been adjusted, with the introduction of a 1.6-litre engine. This means both Citroen and Ford have developed brand new cars, the DS3 WRC and Fiesta RS WRC respectively. The big question is though; will the widespread changes actually bring around a change of name on the championship trophy?
Many thought that 2010 would be the year Sebastien Loeb was toppled, after Mikko Hirvonen had brought the championship down to the wire the previous year. However, Hirvonen had a dreadful year, and Loeb took an easy seventh consecutive world title. Despite this, a new challenger emerged in the shape of Sebastien Ogier. The young Frenchman took his first win in New Zealand, with Citroen's Junior Team, and in 2011 steps up to the main team alongside Loeb.
With the new technical regulations, the return of Mini later in the season, and the emerging talents of Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, 2011 promises to be one of the most exciting WRC seasons for some time. Here, we take you through the teams and drivers that will be present towards the top of the leaderboards throughout the season.
Citroen Total World Rally Team – Citroen DS3 WRC
Sebastien Loeb / Sebastien Ogier
Citroen will be hoping that the new DS3 WRC is as successful as the Xsara and the C4 before it, which took Loeb to seven consecutive titles. Ogier joins Loeb at the full factory team, and will be many people's favourites to knock Loeb off his perch. It appears he may just have the edge on Loeb in terms of pace on gravel, but needs to ensure he makes fewer errors and can try to match Loeb on tarmac. Getting the upper hand on the Swedish snow in Round One will help as well.
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team – Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Mikko Hirvonen / Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford has worked hard on the development of the Fiesta RS WRC to ensure it is more successful at defeating Citroen than the Focus was. On the driving front, Latvala matured last year to almost steal the team leader position from Hirvonen, who endured a year to forget. Both will start the year on an equal footing and will be looking to get their year off to the best possible start by winning in Sweden.
M-Sport Stobart World Rally Team – Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Henning Solberg / Mads Ostberg / Matthew Wilson
Ford's 'B' team returns for a sixth season, and gets a trio of brand new Fiesta RS WRCs to play with. Promising Norwegian Mads Ostberg has made the switch from Subaru to Ford, and is brought in to score points for M-Sport Stobart. In fact, the team will have a very Norwegian feel to it, as he joins Solberg Sr as a nominated scorer for the team. Wilson has yet to finalise a deal to do a sixth full season in the WRC, but does begin the season in a Fiesta RS WRC, a car in which he did much of the development work.
Munchi's Ford World Rally Team – Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Multiple Argentine champion Villagra returns for a fifth season in the WRC with the Munchi's team. Villagra has become a regular points scorer in recent years, in fact only failing to score in Spain last year out of the eight rounds he started. As usual, he will not make the trip to snowy Sweden, his season instead starting on round 2 in Mexico.
Ice 1 Racing – Citroen DS3 WRC
Former Formula 1 champion Raikkonen returns for a second year in rallying. Citroen has ditched the Junior Team, with Raikkonen now entered under the 'Ice 1 Racing' banner. The effort will still be managed by Benoit Nogier and run out of Versailles.
FERM Power Tools Rally Team – Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Dutchman Kuipers scored a points finish in Turkey last year in an S2000 Fiesta, the beginning of what was an eight-round programme with the car. Stepping up into WRC machinery, his team will be run with support from M-Sport. Expect him to be a regular in the bottom half of the top ten.
Monster World Rally Team – Ford Fiesta RS WRC
American Block made a big impression on world rallying in his debut season in 2010, even if good results were hard to come by. This year he will contest all 13 rallies, with the Monster team registered as a WRC Team.
Team Abu Dhabi – Ford Fiesta RS WRC
Khalid Al Qassimi
Al Qassimi has been entered in a third factory Ford for the last three and a half years as part of the sponsorship deal with Abu Dhabi's tourism authority. For this year the late decision has been made to split him into his own team to benefit from more testing and a safety crew on asphalt. Scored points on three occasions last year – twice on tarmac.
Petter Solberg World Rally Team – Citroen DS3 WRC
Fan favourite and 2003 champion Solberg got a late deal together to drive one of Citroen's new DS3s. Caused Loeb problems at time last year and you can expect the same to happen again this year, although testing with the car has been limited. Not yet registered as a WRC Team, but does intend to.
2011 WRC Calendar
Rally Sweden – 10-13 February
Rally Mexico – 3-6 March
Rally de Portugal – 24-27 March
Jordan Rally – 14-16 April
Rally d'Italia – 5-8 May
Rally Argentina – 26-29 May
Acropolis Rally of Greece – 16-19 June
Rally Finland – 28-31 July
Rallye Deutschland – 18-21 August
Rally Australia – 8-11 September
Rally de France – 29 September-2 October
Rally de Espana – 20-23 October
Wales Rally GB – 10-13 November