Wales Rally GB 27-30 October will feature the world’s top crews for what promises to be a longer and faster event than in recent years.
Entries for the penultimate round of this year’s pulsating WRC closed last week, with a field of 64 International cars representing no fewer than 23 nations lining up to compete against-the-clock on the 22 gruelling special stages.
Britain’s top driver Elfyn Evans has a free entry but may give the event a miss to save funds for his 2017 campaign and his closest British rival, fellow Welshman Tom Cave, has already said he is looking to next season as well and will not be rallying in Wales at the end of this month.
Crews are coming from as far afield as New Zealand, Peru and Argentina to contest what is predicted to be the most exciting and challenging in memory. With Wales celebrating its ‘Year of Adventure’, the 2016 competitive route totalling 208 miles (332km) is the longest in recent history, while a move to a new date at the end of October promises to deliver drier and faster conditions.
It could also be the fiercest-fought. The first nine rounds of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship have already produced six different winners, including two famous victories for Britain’s top gun Kris Meeke.
The Ulsterman finished second in Wales last November and is now hoping to become the first home winner since Richard Burns last sprayed the champagne back in 2000.
Leading the International entries is Volkswagen Motorsport’s multiple World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier. Having completed a hat-trick of Welsh wins last November, the Frenchman is seeking his fourth consecutive success in what is widely hailed as one of the toughest rounds on the WRC calendar.
Ogier, though, can expect stiff in-house competition from his two VW team-mates – Jari-Matti Latvala from Finland and young Norwegian ace Andreas Mikkelsen – both of whom have already stood on the top step of the podium this year.
Hyundai Motorsport is fielding an impressive three-pronged attack. Hayden Paddon became the first Kiwi driver to win a WRC round with his maiden victory coming in Argentina back in the spring; more recently, fellow i20 WRC pilot Thierry Neuville (Belgium) won in Sardinia. Spanish star Dani Sordo completes Hyundai’s trio.
With the official Citroën factory team taking a break in 2016 while it develops an exciting new car for 2017, the front-running DS3s have been entered into selected events by the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team.
In Wales, double winner Meeke will be joined by Ireland’s rising star Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre, as long as the Frenchman recovers from the injuries suffered in a high-speed accident in Germany.
Others looking to add their names to the coveted gold Peall Trophy include the Cumbrian-based M-Sport World Rally Team duo. Norway’s Mads Østberg has already proven he has what it takes to win at world championship level, while Frenchman Eric Camilli is one to watch in the future.
Ott Tänak is aboard another of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC pocket-rockets and, back in July, the Estonian came within a whisker of a breakthrough victory in Poland.
Entries from crews to make up the British national rally within the event are now filling up.