The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship hit top gear with a high-profile launch at the Autosport International show in Birmingham last week, writes Gary Jones.
Manufacturer teams representing Citroën, Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Toyota lined up side-by-side on the central stage for their public unveiling.
|All the big-name drivers, co-drivers and team principals were present to share their views on the new season, weeks before the prestigious Rallye Monte-Carlo ushers in the opening action in Monaco’s glamorous Casino Square next week, 25 January.
A packed day of WRC activities heralded the opening of Europe’s biggest pre-season motorsport show at the NEC Birmingham. Support category competitors from WRC 2 and Junior WRC also took part.
WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said there was no better place to launch the championship than at an event affectionately regarded as the beginning of the new motorsport season.
|The countdown to this year’s Wales Rally GB 4-7 October has commenced with ticket sales starting in April.
The 13-round series blasts off next week with the classic Monte Carlo Rally 25-28 January and travels the globe before reaching the legendary Welsh forests in the autumn, but with it running early in October it will miss the potential of greater ticket sales as it falls outside the autumn half-term.
“Takeover Thursday provided a marvellous opportunity to showcase the 2018 WRC to a global media audience. It was a fitting way to kick-off the new season and raise the anticipation ahead of the opening round in a couple of weeks. Let battle commence!” he said.
Major news stories included:
- WRC Promoter, the championship’s commercial rights holder, announced ground-breaking plans to show live coverage of every special stage from every rally as it happens. The new WRC All Live service will offer more than 25 hours of coverage from each round as a continuous live stream, including expert analysis from the WRC’s TV studio and breaking news, interviews and reactions from across the service park.
- Ford announced extended support to M-Sport, winner of both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles in 2017. The renamed M-Sport Ford World Rally Team will receive additional technical help from Ford Performance in USA, as well as extra financial backing.
- Mads Østberg will join Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team for Rally Sweden (15 – 18 February). The Norwegian and co-driver Torstein Eriksen will drive a third C3 alongside Kris Meeke and Craig Breen. “We’re talking about further rallies but nothing has been confirmed,” said Østberg.
- World champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were joined by M-Sport Ford boss Malcolm Wilson in opening the four-day show.
- Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja made their first official appearance in Toyota Gazoo Racing colours after joining the Finnish-based team from M-Sport for 2018.
- Dani Sordo appeared with new co-driver Carlos del Barrio. Del Barrio, who previously partnered his fellow Spaniard between 2011 – 2013, replaces Marc Marti alongside Sordo at Hyundai Motorsport.
With another year over for the AIS at the NEC there was plenty of interest in the form of motorsport involving drivers from Wales in top level World Rally Championship or the grass roots of racing in Autograss.
The main focus on this years show was the launch of the 2018 World Rally Champinship (WRC) with all four manufactures teams Ford / Toyota / Hyundai / Citroen present also with all the drivers, co-drivers and team priniples there it was to be a busy Thursday for all involved.
Elfyn Evans from Dolgellau (above) forms part of the M-Sport team in the Fiesta WRC and will compete on all rounds of the world championship series fresh after his win on Wales Rally GB last year.
Evans will have the current WRC champion Sebastien Ogier as his team mate in the M-Sport Ford Perfomance camp kicking off the season on next week’s Monte Carlo Rally in France.
The Live action arena saw huge crowds attracted to see some of the best drivers from the Autograss scene in action.
Again Wales was well represented with some drivers from the South Wales Autograss League showing their driving skills in their high powered cars.
Pictured racing on Thursday’s first heats are PAC3 Rob Corbett in the class 4 Micra, Corbett from Cenarth, Carmarthenshire who won the Men’s Nationals Class 4 championship for the 4th time, which no other driver has managed to do in that class before, he also finished 2nd in the British Autograss Series class four.
Racing in the first heat was Dalton Thomas in the CM8 Carmarthen car, who was crowned National champion in class six in the Nationals and also 2nd in the British Autograss Series.
Huw Jones CM7 was crowned BAS National Champion in class four.
Also doing well for the SWL during the 2017 season were Alice Bevans claiming Class four National Ladies’ Champion as well as Class 4 Ladies BAS Champion she also repeated the feat in class five.
Nicola Olsson won the ladies’ Nationals in class six as well as repeating the feat in the BAS. Olsson who lives near Carmarthen also claimed the overall Ladies Champion in the British Autograss Series.
This year will see the South Wales League host the prestigious Mens and Ladies Nationals at their ultra fast track overlooking the Pendine coast.
The Men’s Nationals take place on the first week in August with the Ladies’ Nationals two weeks later at the same venue.