Spanish driver Nil Solans was crowned the 2017 FIA Junior World Rally champion and secured a full 2018 season WRC2 drive in the process after a season long battle with Nicolas Ciamin.
The 2017 JWRC season saw a range of changes before the year began, with M-Sport being announced to be returning to the series, providing drivers under the age of 30 the opportunity to compete in identical Ford Fiesta R2-T’s over six rounds across Europe with the cars being ran on an ‘arrive and drive’ basis.
After providing their own championship alternative in the form of the Drive DMACK Trophy between 2014-2016, the Cumbrian team returned to the JWRC after the previous three seasons of the series using Citroen DS3’s. DMACK also made the move across to the revised series providing tyres for all competitors.
Another tweak to the regulations for 2017 saw the series award prizes at various points across the season. Rather than giving the driver at the top of the standings one main prize, the competition would be split into ‘stages’ that awarded the driver with the most points on every two events the opportunity to compete with M-Sport on two WRC2 events in 2018.
Ultimately however despite the change, Solans dominance would mean he was still the driver to earn effectively a full season R5 campaign in 2018 with M-Sport after taking the three prizes across 2017, as well as being the overall champion that earnt him the seventh and final round entry for next season.
As the season got underway on the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse in France in April, the championship would then support the WRC in Italy, Poland, Finland, Germany and then finally finishing the year in Spain.
Four drivers competed in full season campaigns, with Solans and Ciamin being joined by Terry Folb, and Julius Tannert while Swedish driver Denis Rådström entered five of the six rallies.
Round one was a sign of things to come as the Spanish sensation Solans dominated throughout the event, eventually taking the win ahead of Ciamin with Folb in third. Solans would also earn four bonus points thanks to four fastest stage times across the opening weekend of the season.
With Solans out in front, the battle for second was close throughout the event and second and third place may have been reversed if not for a driveshaft failure for Foib, who had been in second at the time.
Next for the crews was a trip to Italy for Rally Italia Sardegna where Solans would make it two wins from two events and continued to prove why he would ultimately become the champion and follow in the footsteps of Sébastien Loeb, Dani Sordo and Elfyn Evans.
Solans began where he left off in France and went on to claim the victory by over 45 seconds ahead of Ciamin again who took second with the top three being rounded out by German Julian Tannert with the Spaniard securing the first part of the ‘stage’ award after the event in Italy.
The midway point of the series, ORLEN 74th Rally Poland, again went the way of the youngster who had now made it a hat trick of wins so far in 2017. Despite the victory, things very nearly went wrong for Solans as he suffered a puncture on the penultimate stage but managed to hold on for the win ahead of Dennis Rådström.
Ciamin rounded out the top three after fellow French driver Terry Folb dropped down to fourth after suffering a puncture on the penultimate stage of the event.
Round four at the end of July was Neste Rally Finland and the Solans domination of 2017 was to be broken in an event that saw just about everything over the course of the rally.
At the front of the field was Ciamin who had finally gotten the better of Solans by over three minutes to earn his first win of the season, with the championship leader leapfrogging Rådström into second on the event on the final stage of the weekend after both had suffered problems earlier in the rally.
The change in position earned Solans more vital championship points and as a result would claim the second of the three pair of prize drives in WRC2 in 2018, helping him to cement his status as the man to beat in JWRC in 2017.
The penultimate round of the year, ADAC Rallye Deutschland was won by the driver on home soil, Julius Tannert, as he took full advantage of a rare mistake by the championship leader Solans.
The pair were battling at the front of the class, but Solans ran wide on a corner on the Grafschaft stage that damaged the left front of his Fiesta R2-T and would force him to retire from the rest of the day’s action.
With just four cars entered in Germany however, the Spaniard’s good fortune when leading the championship continued as the other two competitors in the class, Folb and Ciamin, both also suffered problems and Solans managed to salvage a second place finish by the end of the rally, again proving consistency is key when trying to win a championship.
Last up on the 2017 calendar was RACC Rally Cataluña, and saw Solans leading by 23 points over Ciamin with a theoretical 44 points still to play for including bonus points for stage wins.
However, Solans mathematically would have to simply finish in last place and as long as his French rival won eight or less of the stages would still be crowned champion.
At the end of day one, Ciamin was doing everything he could to stop Solans from claiming the title and led by 22.1 seconds, but the French driver’s title bid would all but end on day two.
Ciamin dropped down the leader board quickly, giving Solans the lead and ultimately a clear run to the championship title, as well as the added bonus of claiming the final R5 prizes that will give him a full season campaign in WRC2 next season. The Spaniard was able to cruise on the final day and make the most of winning the championship in front of this home fans.
Despite this seasons regulations changes, 2018 looks set to be another year of transition for the JWRC, as plans have already been announced to offer the outright winner of the championship next season a free Ford Fiesta R5 built to the latest specification as well as the calendar changing from six events to five and incorporating the new event on Rally Turkey.