With just four rounds to go until the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship season comes to an end, teams have been racking up the testing miles in their new 2017 cars, as well as confirming their driver line-ups for next season.
TCF dissects what we already know so far regarding the teams and drivers’ line-ups for the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship season.
Its unsurprising to see Volkswagen field an unchanged three-car line-up with current WRC Championship Leader and three-times World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier heading the Hannover outfit for a sixth season in a row.
Joining Ogier next season is Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen, who continue to drive for Volkswagen Motorsport for the fourth consecutive season.
Volkswagen still remain the team to beat in the World Rally Championship, but with the new 2017 regulations set by the FIA, which means the cars for the ‘new WRC era’ will be 55 millimetres wider and 25 kilograms lighter than the current-spec WRC cars.
That’s not all, there will be greater freedom regarding aerodynamics, as well as the increase in horsepower in the 1.6-litre engine, which increases the horsepower from 318 to 380 for 2017, putting the 2017 WRC cars on level with power with the World Touring Car Championship cars.
The 2017 Polo R, which has been praised by their current WRC drivers Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen has been racking up the miles in testing.
Volkswagen Development and Test Driver Dieter Depping, who was involved in the development of the first-generation Polo R WRC, completed around 150 kilometres on the latest test programme in Baumholder in June for the 2017 Polo R WRC.
Also, the 2017 Polo R WRC has been tested on the fast, gravel roads of Finland and the asphalt of Germany. Whether or not the Volkswagen remains the car to beat is a talking point to discuss about with these new regulations in place for 2017.
Hyundai have already confirmed New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon and Spain’s Dani Sordo as drivers for next season.
Paddon and Sordo are both signed with Hyundai till the end of the 2018 season after the Spaniard confirmed a few weeks ago that he would be driving for the Alzenau-based team for another two seasons.
While there are two i20’s filled for Hyundai, the question is who will be driving the third i20?
Thierry Neuville is rumoured with a Citroën drive for next year, but it remains to be seen if the Belgian, who was responsible for claiming Hyundai’s first-ever WRC win at the 2014 Rallye Deutschland will stay with the team for another season.
In terms of the 2017 WRC car, Hyundai will be using their three-door variant of their New Generation i20, based on the coupe version of the i20 for next season.
As with Volkswagen’s 2017 WRC car, the 2017 Hyundai i20 has also been putting the mileage in. Their first test of the new 2017 i20 was in Southern France in June where they tested their new 2017 WRC i20 for several days.
The following month, Hyundai tested their 2017 i20 in Finland in July before Rally Finland had begun. It remains to be seen if Hyundai can dethrone Volkswagen to become the top manufacturer in the WRC depending on if results come their way next year.
M-Sport World Rally Team
Eric Camilli has a long-term deal with the M-Sport World Rally Team in place, which all but seals his position in the team for next season. Who will be partnering the Frenchman for the 2017 WRC season?
Ott Tänak and 2016 MSA British Rally Champion and WRC2 Championship Leader Elfyn Evans are rumoured with return drives to the Cumbria-based team for next season. Mads Østberg, who currently drives for M-Sport with Camilli this season is left without a drive. Therefore, it leaves the Norwegian with limited options for a 2017 WRC drive.
Meanwhile, with their 2017 Ford Fiesta RS WRC testing programme, M-Sport have conducted a series of preliminary tests in Cumbria in August, as well as holding a test programme in Spain.
2009 Junior WRC Champion Martin Prokop, as well as Team Principal Malcolm Wilson OBE were behind the wheel of M-Sport’s 2017 WRC car before Wilson headed with the team for Rally Finland in July.
This comes after 12 months of development for the 2017 Fiesta RS WRC, which is more powerful and has a central differential for improved handling.
M-Sport have not won a rally since their début in the WRC in 2006. Is 2017 is the year the Cumbria-based team will win a rally in the new 2017 Fiesta RS WRC? Only time will tell.
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Citroën have taken a year out of their WRC programme to focus on developing their 2017 DS 3 WRC. But who will be driving for the French manufacturer next year?
Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke has a three-year deal with Citroën Racing till the end of 2018. But it remains to be seen who will be driving alongside Meeke in the sister DS 3 WRC for the 2017 WRC season.
No more than four drivers are rumoured for the second Citroën Racing seat which involves current driver Stéphane Lefebvre who is recovering from his injuries from the previous round at Rallye Deutschland in August.
Whilst the other three drivers that are rumoured with a Citroën WRC drive for 2017 alongside Lefebvre are Khalid Al Quassimi and Craig Breen, as well as current Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville, who are all rumoured to be linked with a drive for Citroën Racing next year.
Testing for the 2017 Citroën DS 3 WRC has gone according to plan since its first test of the 2017 car in April in Southern France, which has seen the 2017 DS 3 WRC being tested on both gravel and asphalt surfaces.
The question for next season is can Citroën go back to the halcyon days of Sébastien Loeb and reclaim more rally wins and WRC titles with their 2017 offering? The French manufacturer cannot be counted out against the established likes of Volkswagen, M-Sport and Hyundai in the WRC field.
Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team
Last, but by no means least is the return of Toyota to the World Rally Championship in 2017.
Whilst we have no clue of who’s driving for the Japanese manufacturer, which boasts four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Mäkinen as its Team Principal, the driver line-up is the most intriguing part of their 2017 campaign.
DMACK’s Ott Tänak, WRC2 Leader Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Škoda Factory WRC2 drivers Esapekka Lappi and Pontus Tidemand are all potential candidates for the two Toyota Yaris WRC seats next year.
Toyota are viewing the 2017 WRC season as a development season, not fighting against the likes of Volkswagen and Hyundai.
In testing, they covered 5,000 kilometres of road testing, which bodes well for the Yaris WRC’s reliability.
Toyota did their very first shakedown of the 2017 Yaris WRC in Puppola, Finland, which is not too far from their workshop. They have also undertaken testing in Finland and most recently in Portugal and Spain.
If 2017 is a development season for Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team, then 2018 may be the year that Toyota will be in the hunt for regular rally wins and potential WRC titles.
That’s our round-up so far of the 2017 WRC teams and drivers’ market round-up, but keep your eyes peeled as there will be more developments surrounding who will be driving for which team in the coming months on TCF.