The 2020 FIA World Rally Championship finally gets underway this weekend with the traditional Rally Monte-Carlo, with several drivers all moving teams over the winter.
Two of the three men involved in the dramatic tussle at the top of the standings last year have switched manufacturers – defending champion Ott Tänak lines up for Hyundai Motorsport after his move from Toyota GAZOO Racing, while six-time winner Sebastien Ogier moves over to the Japanese team after Citroen decided to withdraw from the sport and he joins his third different team in four seasons.
Thierry Neuville stays with the Hyundai squad, although now faces a huge battle with Tänak and both must again be considered potential championship winners going into the first of 13 rounds tomorrow evening. He and Tänak are joined this weekend by nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb, who will again share the third car with Dani Sordo throughout the year.
It’s well and truly all change at Toyota too, after both Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke left the team in the off-season. Team Principal Tommi Mäkinen has signed Elfyn Evans from M-Sport Ford and defending WRC2 PRO champion Kalle Rovanperä to drive alongside Ogier for the 2020 season and there’s also rumours of a part-time campaign for Latvala, even if he is no longer driving full time for the team.
With Evans opting to leave M-Sport and drive for someone else but the Cumbrian firm for the first time in his career, it leaves Teemu Suninen to continue with them this year. They’ve also acquired the services of fellow Finn Esapekka Lappi to lead the team, who like Ogier was left without a drive after Citroen left the championship and could be a dark horse for a title push in 2020, providing he can get to grips with the Ford Fiesta WRC quickly.
Both Toyota and M-Sport announced plans for drivers to run partial events in 2020 and both are on the entry for this weekend – Takamoto Katsuta entered a pair of events last year and gets eight rounds this season, while WRC2 PRO graduate Gus Greensmith gets nine rounds in a top-level Fiesta after entering three events in the Fiesta WRC last year following an injury to Evans.
The final RC1 entry this weekend is Deividas Jocius, in a fourth M-Sport Ford, who makes his maiden WRC appearance and will be hoping to make the most of his knowledge of the local roads due to living in nearby Cannes.
2020 sees a similar itinerary last year with 16 stages and over 300km of stage miles awaiting the teams. The rally gets underway on Thursday evening in Monte’s Casino Square before a pair of night stages in the southern alps.
A long day on Friday follows, seeing the crews tackle six more stages totalling over 120km of stage miles with only slight changes made to last year’s route.
Saturday meanwhile then is identical to twelve months ago, with stages around the rally’s base of Gap while Sunday sees the famous Col de Turini pass again be used with the rally ending with the Power Stage on the second running of La Cabanette – Col de Braus.
WRC2/WRC3 – Different Names, But Still as Competitive
Although the WRC2 PRO and WRC2 championships have new names for 2020, the ideas behind them are the same. The WRC2 class is now manufacturer backed teams with drivers who in theory will now go up against each other more frequently, with the WRC3 name being reborn to front the privateer R5 class.
WRC2 has five entries for this weekend – two from M-Sport Ford for Frenchman Adrian Fourmaux and British driver Rhys Yates who graduates from a privateer programme last season, two from Hyundai in the form of fellow WRC2 graduates Nikolay Gryazin and Ole Christian Veiby and Citroen again run Mads Østberg in the championship, despite the withdrawal of the WRC team in a C3 R5.
WRC3 could again be very close as several drivers could all be in with a title chance come the end of the year. These include teammate to Østberg, Yohan Rossel, fellow Citroen drivers Yoann Bonato and Nicolas Ciamin and Italian Enrico Brazzoli. Another noticeable name on the entry is Stéphane Sarrazin, with the former Le Mans podium finisher again entering his home round of the WRC this weekend.
Round one of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Monte-Carlo, begins tomorrow evening and continues throughout this weekend.