Thierry Neuville’s victory on the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse has ensued that the 2017 World Rally Championship (WRC) season will be one of the most competitive the championship has ever seen.
In the first four rounds of the season, four different drivers from four different manufacturers have taken spoils.
This means that Ford, Toyota, Citroen and Hyundai, all of the manufacturers who are competing in the WRC category has tasted victory with a third of a season completed.
The last season when four different manufacturers won a rally was 2004, the last season all of the competing manufacturers won a round was 1996 and the last season when four different manufacturers won four rallies in a row was 1989.
This is the makings of a classic WRC season.
The new WRC rules (and possibly VW’s sudden department) has resulted in each manufacturer being capable of winning resulting in one of the most open and competitive seasons the championship has ever seen.
After years of domination by a Sébastien and his manufacturer, the 2017 season is a much welcome change.
Reliability Problems Deprives Fans of Exciting Finish
Yet the drama of day two robbed spectators of a potential classic race to the flag.
While Neuville undoubtedly had the speed to win both of the first two rounds, it was more luck rather than speed that brought him victory in Corsica.
The Belgian had had a slightly disappointing day one, where he lay third 25 seconds off the lead.
He increased his pace on day two which put him in the perfect position to take advantage of the problems that affected Kris Meeke and Sébastien Ogier.
Neuville now had a slender lead over Ogier, who having sorted the set-up problems on his Fiesta WRC, started to close in.
Yet a hydraulic problem meant the champion was forced to deal with a rear-wheel drive Fiesta for the final stage of day, enabling Neuville to build a comfy 39 second lead going into the final day.
Any slim hopes Ogier had of closing that deficit were gone on the first stage of day three when electrical problems once again hobbled his Fiesta.
It also meant he lost second to a resurgent Dani Sordo, now much more at home with the new Hyundai i20 WRC.
Yet despite running with reduced power, locked diffs and no handbrake, Ogier set the second fastest time on the power stage and regained second.
Yet without Ogier’s problems fans would have been treated to a classic battle for the lead of the narrow mountain roads.
It would have also been interesting to see how Neuville would have coped with the pressure of having the four-time world champion bearing down on him.
But unsurprisingly Neuville and his Hyundai team aren’t focusing on that.
“This win is ours!” commented a delighted Neuville.
“It’s an amazing feeling to take the win here in Corsica this weekend. I am sure there are many people who share in this celebration with us, not least the whole of the Hyundai Motorsport team.
“They have been so supportive of me since Monte Carlo and Sweden, and I’m really happy.”
Hyundai Team Principal Michel Nandan certainly was happy.
“They say that all good things come to those who wait, and that phrase could not be more true for us,” he commented.
“I hope it’s the first of many, many more to come this year.”
Ogier Happy But Demands Improvement From M-Sport
Ogier knows that he missed out on a chance to repeat his Tour de Corse victory from last year due to no fault of his own.
Similar mechanical problems also inflicted the other M-Sport cars.
Elfyn Evans in the DMACK Fiesta suffered similar hydraulic problems on day one and had to limp through three stages before the problem could be fixed, costing the Welshman six minutes.
Ogier, who described his day three struggles as extremely stressful, called on the team to ensure that there is no repeat in future rallies.
“A bit too many technical problems for us this weekend, not only on our car but also on both our teammates’ cars so that’s definitely something the team has to work very hard on,” said Ogier.
“We don’t want to feel this situation again and be in this stressful situation again.”
Technical scares aside, Ogier was pleased with the car’s pace on asphalt, having matched the pace of both Meeke’s Citroen and Neuville’s Hyundai.
“I think that things are moving in the right direction for us,” said Ogier. “I said arriving here that I have a good feeling on Tarmac.
“I thought we have some performance in the tank and that was correct.
“We had the speed to fight with Thierry this weekend. We were more or less together, a few seconds behind him when we had the problem so we were in the fight for the victory.”
He leaves the Mediterranean island with an increased 13 point lead in the standings over Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala.
At the end of the first day, the Toyota Yaris WRC contained a very despondent Finn, the car was off the pace and marooned in sixth place.
Yet on day two the Yaris suddenly came alive and Latvala went on to set the fastest powerstage time, gaining him five points and snatching fourth place Craig Breen’s Citroen by just 0.1 second.
The result has confirmed that the brand new Tommi Makinen run Toyota team has indeed developed a car that is competitive on all surfaces, a brilliant achievement in it’s first season.
WRC2 Battle Denied
Like in the main WRC category, WRC2 there was the potential of a great battle but didn’t materialise.
Andreas Mikkelsen returned to Skoda for another guest drive and was expected to dominate the event, just like he had on his previous outing in Monte Carlo.
However, no-one had told Éric Camilli this and coming off a brilliant result in Mexico, the M-Sport driver took the fight to the Norwegian.
Over the first two stages, Camilli was the only driver to live with the Skoda’s pace, only 5.8 seconds behind at the start of stage three.
Sadly on the stage, Camilli slid wide and impacted a bridge, retiring for the day, which allowed Mikkelsen to cruise to another comfortable victory.
This was a shame as it would have been interested to see if Camilli could have possibly rattled Mikkelsen.
It would have been a surefire indication that the Frenchman has vastly improved as a driver over the season.
Mikkelsen Hints at WRC Future
At the end of the rally, Mikkelsen let slip that plans to return to a WRC car were in motion.
“Things are looking better on that front and I hope to be back soon,” he admitted.
“Something is going on for sure.”
While Mikkelsen is known as have been talking to all of the current factory teams, it maybe possible that Toyota is considering him as a potential replacement for Juho Hanninen.
The Finn’s 2017 season has been littered with costly accidents and this continued on the Tour de Corse, where he clipped a bridge and set part of his car on fire.
This was his third retirement from an accident in four rallies and is unlikely to have impressed team boss Tommi Makinen.
Perhaps he might have reached out to Mikkelsen as a potential replacement if Hanninen’s current form continues.
Regardless of who he might be talking who, Mikkelsen’s talent behind the wheel coupled with his desire for success will surely see him back in a WRC car soon.