The 2017 Rallye Monte Carlo is the opening round of the 2017 World Rally Championship (WRC) season and promises to be the beginning of a new era in rallying.
This is down to the all new WRC regulations which aim to inject excitement into the sport. This means that the cars have been given the full Lance Armstrong mix of performance enhancing drugs, legally of course. The power outputs have gone up to 380+BHP, weight is decreased by 25kg and the cars are adorned with wild aerodynamic spoilers, additions that make the cars faster, lighter and gripper. The hope is that these additions will bring back the excitement, glamour and spectacle of the Group B era and revive its popularity with motor racing fans.
Biggest Driver Shake-up in Years!
The 2017 season also sees a much changed line-up with what has been the biggest driver shake up in years and the introduction of a new manufacturer. Much of this is down to the withdrawal of Volkswagen which saw three of the best drivers in the series left stranded without a drive. Although all three would end up with a large amount of Christmas cards, no-one was more popular than reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier who desperately tried to get a deal together to compete.
It was Malcolm Wilson’s persistence and promises that saw the Frenchman head to Cumbria and place the number 1 on the side of a Red Bull liveried Ford Fiesta WRC for 2017. This acquisition has left M-Sport in a position that it has not had in years, possessing a world class driver and a good chance of finally clinching Ford’s first driver’s championship since 1981.
The winner of the last three Monte Carlo rallies, Ogier is odds on favourite to crown the new partnership with his fourth straight win. Alongside Ogier will be Ott Tanak. The Estonian has always had raw natural speed, but up against the best driver in the sport, this is the perfect opportunity to full demonstrate his potential.
Off his fellow VW team-mates, Jari-Matti Latvala was recruited to lead new-boys Toyota‘s return to the WRC. Toyota’s arrival was a much needed addition as not only did they take VW’s place in the championship, but also showed that the WRC’s new regulations are capable of attracting new manufacturers.
The Japanese giant is hoping that Tommi Makinen, along with his all Finnish drive line-up of Latvala, Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi, will allow the Yaris WRC to follow in the success of the Celicas and Corollas.
Only Latvala and Hänninen will compete in the South of France and Makinen states that the rally is all about just finishing and trying to gather data to improve the car in their first rally.
The only team to remain unchanged is Hyundai, as Thierry Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo will hope that they can building on the old i20’s success with the all new i20 WRC.
Citroen also arrive as favourites. The French manufacturer spent most of last year testing and honing the new C3 WRC to the full, so expect Kris Meeke to make all of the experience to count in bid to secure Citroen’s 10th victory on this illustrious round.
The Northern Irishman lead much of last year’s rally before retiring through mechanical failure, but he is sure to be Ogier’s closest rival on the event.
However, Andreas Mikkelsen was unable to secure a top-line drive and has instead dropped down into WRC2, where he will lead Skoda’s WRC2 title bid.
Yet as he himself admits this is only a temporary step down while he plots a return to the big time.
WRC2 & WRC3
The Norwegian will partner Czech driver Jan Kopecky as Skoda look to retain the crown that the departing Lappi claimed last season. They will have stiff competition from M-Sport’s Éric Camilli in his Ford Fiesta R5. With a full season of top-line WRC competition under his belt and plenty to prove, the Frenchman will be a threat to the Skodas.
Other possible rivals will be former Monte Carlo rally winner Bryan Bouffier and former European Rally Champion Giandomenico Basso, both in Fiesta R5s.
WRC3 will be a contest between four R3 spec Renault Cilos all entered by RenaultSport with their only competition coming from two privately entered R2 Spec Peugeot 208s.
Unpredictable Opening to a New Era.
Unlike previous years, the 2017 Monte Carlo Rally surrounded in uncertainly. The brand new cars, new teams and of course the legendary mix of snow, ice and tarmac will mean that the rally will be a fascinating affair.
The rally starts on Thursday 19th January with the ceremonial start in Monaco on Thursday evening. The crews then make their way up to the rally’s base of Gap (Sébastien Ogier’s home town) tackling the first two stages in complete darkness on the way.
The next two days will be spent in the Mountains around Gap before heading back to Monaco on the final day taking in two stages before the ceremonial finish in the principality on Sunday 21st January.
Follow the event with daily updates via The Checkered Flag.