“We will find out who is the WRC’S biggest gambler”
On the face of it, the 2017 driver line-ups for our WRC manufacturers seem more or less settled. It is unusual considering we were still three rounds from the end when news landed from Hyundai and Citroen.
In reality what this reflects is a seismic shift in the dynamic between drivers and team bosses. The reality is that drivers, all of sudden, are back in demand, and team bosses are under pressure. So Thierry Neuville stays at Hyundai, Craig Breen and Stephane Lefevere are given their opportunity at Citroen and Toyota, it’s rumoured, will continue with it’s Finn-centric obsession and employ Juho Hanninen and Esapekka Lappi. So, more or less all sorted, you might think. Well what about M-sport? OK, so Eric Camilli has never been in any doubt for 2017,. It also looks pretty much a certainty that Ott Tanak will be there too. And now comes the interesting bit – who gets the third seat at M-sport?
Number three to Camilli and Tanak might well turn out to be the most hotly contested and maybe even the most important seat of them all. Why? Well for one simple reason, it could well be the only seat up or sale at the start of perhaps the most important season the WRC has seen in decades.
For drivers on the fringes and those aspiring youngsters looking to make the step up to play with the big boys, the cost of that seat, high as it most likely will be, could well be a price worth paying. One season with the M-sport beast of a 2017 car might well be the making of a number of drivers.
And it all goes back to that interesting shift in dynamic between drivers and team bosses. There just aren’t enough top-line pilots out there. But that doesn’t matter because our manufacturer teams are settled right? Wrong...
The 2018 season offers the possibility of two or maybe even three seats becoming available to those capable of making the step up. There are continuing rumours that VW might well be looking for another driver come the end of 2017. Likewise, if the Finnish experiment doesn’t work out, Toyota might be looking. And what bout Citroen? There’s always the chance that with their clear priority of manufacturer success they might have to shake thing up at the end of 2017.
For the likes of Mads Ostberg, Teemu Sunninen, Robert Kubica, Elfyn Evans and maybe even Petter Solberg the, no doubt, enormous cheque that might have to be written for 2017 could well be rewarded by a meaty manufacturers contract at the end of the year.
I reckon Mr Wilson can more or less name his price for that seat. The next few weeks might well tell us who turns out be the WRC’S biggest gambler.
Jon Armstrong took his second victory of the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy season in Spain on Sunday. The Northern Irishman took control of the final round of the one-make Ford Fiesta R2 series on the third stage and held it in a vice-like grip until the finish.
Armstrong’s win backs up his third in Germany and bags him the final two WRC2 prize drives next season.
He and Noel O’sullivan enjoyed a largely trouble-free run through the stages, save for a starter motor issue that forced them to push the car into service on Saturday lunchtime.
“It’s been a brilliant event,” said Armstrong. “It was a case of managing the lead through the weekend, but the key was getting Friday without trouble – the weather made it so tough.”
Gus Greensmith was second. His hopes of a final-round win were dented when a rock on a second-stage line damaged the left-front suspension. The Manchester man drove well to contain the time loss – running with little or no damping on one corner for the remainder of day one, where there was no service permitted.
Max Vatanen rounded off the podium, while fifth-placed Osian Pryce took the title. The Welshman retired from day one on the final day with a chronic misfire. That cost him the chance of challenging Armstrong for the final two drives, but he did enjoy the consolation of the season-long title.
Sitting on a three-second WRC2 lead on Friday night, you kind of got the feeling Pontus Tidemand knew the game was up. The day on the dirt was his moment to open up an advantage over his factory Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky. The Czech star drove superbly on his weaker surface to lead the Swede until the day’s penultimate test.
“I have to wake up well tomorrow,” said Tidemand. “Jan will be tough on Tarmac.”
And so it turned out. Kopecky flew through the Catalan hills, fastest on every Saturday stage bar one: Querol 2, where a puncture slashed his lead from 25 to five seconds. He’d rebuilt that advantage to 14s by the close of play on Saturday and managed that advantage to finally end his run of three second places in WRC2.
“I was happy with the speed on gravel,” said Kopecky, “and the puncture was the only problem for us during the rally. It’s good to finally make the top step of the podium!”
WRC2 title-wise, last week was a good one for Elfyn Evans – and the Welshman wasn’t even in Spain. His chief rival Teemu Suninen retired from day one with turbo trouble aboard his Skoda. The Finn returned, but could only manage fifth place, narrowing the gap to the Welshman by just 10 points. Suninen now needs to finish first or second at Rally GB to deny Evans the title.
Fabio Andolfi made a winning return to his Peugeot 208 R2 after stepping up to a Hyundai i20 R5 in Corsica. Andolfi dominated the WRC3 category.