15 LOEB LEADS ON HIS DAKAR DEBUT – THEN CRASHES
WHEN: JANUARY 4 WHERE: TERMAS DE RIO HONDO, ARGENTINA
It was a big year of firsts for Sebastien Loeb. A first year away from Citroen for over 10 years, a World Rallycross debut and, firstly, a maiden visit to the gruelling Dakar.
Driving for the works Peugeot squad, the comfortable favourite before the event, he was out to an early lead. And despite his lack of rally raid experience, no one
WHEN: JULY 3 WHERE: LONDON
Formula E’s two-year spell in the heart of Battersea Park could hardly have ended in greater controversy.
First there was the longrunning battle that pitched the series and local Wandsworth Council against Battersea residents, who were against the park hosting the race. Crunch meetings led to a threatened court case, which was only dropped when FE agreed to see out the 2015/16 season and never set foot in the park again. That is was really all that surprised at the Frenchman’s pace. He is a nine-time World Rally Champion after all.
What happened next, was a surprise. After leading for a week, Loeb lost it. Something he did so rarely in a WRC Citroen.
“There was a dip and I didn’t see it, so we arrived on it, fell in and it threw the car off balance a shame, because Battersea hosted another superb season finale. Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi came to London with just a point between them, and after a wheel-banging personal duel in Saturday’s race, di Grassi wiped out his title rival at the start of Sunday’s finale. Both dragged damaged cars back to the pits and returned in their second machines in a fight for fastest lap: which Buemi edged to win the title by just two points. SM and we rolled,” Loeb explained after the incident.
So that was that, his first Dakar ended in retirement, but with the consolation of his pace being the benchmark before the end of his challenge.
Loeb’s team-mate Stephane Peterhansel took his 12th Dakar win, Peugeot’s first since 1990. JB
WHEN: APRIL 1 WHERE: BRANDS HATCH
There was a cloud of smoke and some spluttering engines firing in to life. It was March 31, just a day before the start of the 2016 British Touring Car Championship season.
Just 87 days after the build had started, Team BMR had created four Subaru Levorg models and they performed a quick 15-minute shakedown ahead of the opening exchanges at Brands Hatch in Kent.
Double champion Jason Plato and engineer Carl Faux hatched a plan back in 2014. They looked at the BTCC regulations and realised that the rear-wheeldrive car and its low-slung boxer engine would be a perfect fit. Initially, they centred their ideas on a WRX model, but the Levorg was the preference of the Japanese firm, which came on board as a backer of the attack.
There were some initial problems with the engine not being able to breathe properly and some faulty fuel lines. Once they were ironed out, the car flew, particularly in the hands of Colin Turkington.
Despite missing a round of the series at Thruxton due to technical problems, the Northern Irishman eventually placed fourth in the standings and the car is destined to be a strong championship threat in 2017. MJ
WHEN: MARCH 5/6 WHERE: MID WALES STAGES
It’s almost unthinkable now that Britain lost its national rallying championship. Once thought of as on par with the WRC in the late 1980s, it was a shadow of its former self, an unspectacular and poorly supported affair.
Fast forward to March and it was back with a bang. Fourwheel-drive R5 machinery provided the excitement, two of the world’s best young drivers brought the punch.
It was clear Elfyn Evans was the It’s every rally fan’s worst nightmare. In May, the Motor Sports Association confirmed that there was a stalemate between it and Natural Resource Wales for a new deal to go rallying in Welsh government-owned forests. NRW claimed that the cost of repairing the forests was far in excess of the reparations they received from the MSA, and decided that the fees would need to rise by just under 100 per cent in order to sign a new deal.
Luckily, after a long drawn-out process, by September a deal was done with the hero of the story, Rally4wales. The not-for-profit campaign will replace NRW in repairing roads after rallies in 2017, meaning costs for competitors will barely rise.
There’s still a long way to go to solve the problem and many variables to be ironed out. But the prognosis is good.
The irony of the situation is that although club-level rallying was almost lost in Wales, it’s England and Scotland that have been impacted the most.
With Rally4wales, fees aren’t set to increase. But before that deal, the MSA concluded agreements for England and Scotland, which constitute a three-year deal in which fees rise in five per cent increments to 15 per cent by year three. JB
WHEN: OCTOBER 26 WHERE: INGOLSTADT, GERMANY
It came as a shock to everybody, not least the Team Joest employees and drivers, but there was a certain amount of inevitability about this one in hindsight.
As much as the Volkswagen Audi Group wanted to cushion the impact of its ‘dieselgate’ scandal with a brave face, the hefty financial losses were always going to have a far-reaching impact. Audi Sport was simply an innocent victim of the boardroom budget axe.
But the logic is there. The main villain in VW’S saga? Turbocharged diesel engines. The powertrain some EU countries are striving to ban? Same answer. Perhaps endurance racing’s most successful powerplant of all-time? Audi’s turbocharged diesel engines.
It’s a sad coincidence that the brand that redefined sportscar racing more than any other built its name solely around technology that almost overnight became a hate target.
Team Joest had already spent the development budget for the 2017 car, believing it had at least another year. The next-generation R18 was built and ready, but will now likely languish in a corner.
It had been a tough World Endurance Championship campaign for Audi anyway, having been excluded from the first race at Silverstone for excessive wear to the winning car’s skid plank.
The brand did at least bow out with a one-two in the season finale at Bahrain, leading to emotional scenes around the paddock as the sport bid farewell to a true giant. RL
WHEN: JULY 31 WHERE: JYVASKYLA
When Kris Meeke hit the front at this year’s Monte Carlo Rally, I made a quick call to ‘Quick Vic’. I thought it would be worth getting the views of the last British driver to win the winter race through the Alps – even if Vic Elford’s Porsche 911 victory had come almost half a century earlier.
That story was spiked when a stone obliterated the underside of the DS 3 WRC.
No stone was turned in Finland six months later, when Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle scored what was arguably the biggest result in British (and Irish) rallying history.
That there was nobody to call, no previous British winner to put Meeke’s efforts into context, just strengthens to that claim.
Meeke was, quite simply, magnificent in Finland. Forget running order, road sweeping, all that nonsense, he just drove faster than anybody else that week. Or ever in Jyvaskyla, actually: let’s not forget he and Nagle set a new record for the highest average speed for the WRC’S fastest of all the fast rallies.
The cornerstone was Ouninpohja, where he demolished three-time winner and local legend Jari-matti Latvala. FIA rally director and proud Finn Jarmo Mahonen puts it far better than I could: “You could hear Jari-matti’s spine break at the end of that stage…” DE