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This year the World Rally Championship season opens as usual with the Monte Carlo Rally, run in a familiar format, in what will be the 611th rally counting for the World Rally Championship since the series began on this rally in 1973. Service will again be at Gap, the start on Thursday evening in Monaco before travelling up country to Gap via two night time stages. The stages on Friday and Saturday will be run close to Gap, the Sunday stages will again be in the Alpes Maritimes region north of Monaco. Different this year will be the involvement of the official teams. There are now only three official WRC teams (Hyundai, Toyota and M-Sport), but changes in activity at WRC2 level with works team participation for the first time from Hyundai (in a joint partnership between Markko Martin and Ott Tanak). M-Sport and Citroen (through PH Sport) are also present, but no WRC activity from Skoda, last year’s WRC2 Pro champions. Last year’s division between the Pro and the Amateur teams in WR2 has been changed: the WRC2 Pro division is now called WRC2 and the Amateur division WRC3. The old WRC3 Junior category is now called the Junior WRC. The FIA policy of renumbering vehicle engine capacity class structure is in full force, with R5 cars called RC2, the previous R2 cars become RC4 and R1 cars are now RC5.

Monte Carlo provides a picturesque location for a world rally.

Over three weeks after entries closed the FIA finally has approved the publication of the entry list which included 11 World Rally Cars (including Lithuanian driver Deividas Jocius, but the entry by Armando Pereira has been withdrawn), five entries on WRC2, 13 in WRC3 (non-championship “R5” cars) and only one R-GT sports car (Caprassse’s Abarth 124 Rally). Total entry is 88 cars, compared with 84 last year and 67 in 2018. Surprises include that Citroen Racing did not themselves enter Ostberg’s car (this is PH Sport) and Tanak will not run with the competition number 1 (reserved for the reigning World Drivers’ champion) but instead under last year’s number 8. The last time a WRC started without a car running #1 was Rally GB in 2013, the year when the reigning world champion, Sebastian Loeb, proclaimed his semi-retirement! The FIA say that Tanak requested NOT to be given number one, but regulations state that the running order on the first day of the event is based on last year’s driver championship standings … The extent that driver team alignments have changed since last year is exceptional. Of the top ten seeded drivers at Monte Carlo, only three are with the same teams as last year, and in the cases of Tanak and Ogier, they are with their third different team in three years. Many non-regular driver programmes still have to be clarified, but of the eight drivers who at one time were expected to drop away from the WRC, there are strong expectations that five will end up with some competition drives this year, but one driver (Kris Meeke) has announced his retirement from the WRC.

Sebastien Ogier in full snow mode on his pre-Monte Carlo Rally test. Photo: Seb Ogier/Twitter

Team by Team

Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT

A very strong three-car team with one team newcomer, Ott Tanak, with seven times Monte winner Sebastien Loeb and Thierry Neuville. The arrival of World Champion Ott Tanak is the big Hyundai 2020 story and it brought controversy as he announced he did not wish to follow FIA’s policy of running all year with competition number 1, being happy with last year’s number 8!

Ott Tanak has switched teams to join manufacturers' champions, Hyundai.

Visible changes already noticed on the team’s 2020 i20 Coupe World Rally Car include the exhaust pipe which now emerges in the centre of the rear of the car, rather than on the right side of the rear, also a re-shaped rear diffuser and a much flatter design of roof scoop. Tanak has chassis 21 (Sordo’s Catalunya car, Martin Kangur is ice note driver), Neuville has 22 (Loeb’s car in Spain, Bruno Thiry) and Loeb has a new chassis number, 23 (Patrick Magaud). For the first time, the team is officially engaged in the WRC2 series with 22-year old Nikolay Gryazin and 23-year old Ole Christian Veiby in at least eight events under the name Hyundai Motorsport N. These cars will operate out of Estonia under the new RedGrey team run jointly by Ott Tanak and Markko Martin. Technical R5 changes include new pistons and liners giving increased power and torque, new door mirrors and cooling ducts from the gearbox and brakes. Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (#11 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) Neuville said: “Rally Monte-Carlo kicks off the season and we are straight into the dark stages. It’s a very tough event, and tyre choice is crucial. It’s a difficult event in which to compete; there’s a lot of hesitation and you need good pace notes, as well as accurate information from your weather crew. With different altitudes in the stages, high concentration is key. Conditions are constantly changing and the most dangerous thing for us is black ice. We have been competing in Gap for a few years now and we know which sections are in the shade all day and will be slippery, but there will always be some surprises waiting for us in Monte.” Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) Tänak said: “The start of a new year begins with probably the most demanding event of the season. To make it even more challenging, we have a new team and a new car to learn while tackling the tricky conditions. It will never be an easy job, but it is important to get a good start and to score some points. With the event held at the end of January, the conditions are normally inconsistent, and a lot depends on the altitude. In the lower conditions you can have dry tarmac, then the higher you go it starts to freeze. With the extreme conditions, it's normal to find some unpredictability in this rally.” Crew Notes: Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (#9 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) Loeb said: “You never know what to expect at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It could be fully dry, wet or feature a lot of snow, which changes the driving conditions. It can even change between the stages and the road sections, which means tyre choice is even more important. You need to find the right rhythm to be fast without taking major risks. This rally you need to approach with your head; it’s not just flat out, it’s a question of reflection. My previous experience feels like a long time ago, so the rallies feel newer to me than other drivers. We only had one day in the car before Monte-Carlo last year, so hopefully with our current knowledge of the car we will be able to get an even better result than last year.”

Ott Tanak quickly came to grips with the Hyundai i20 WRC. Photo: Ott Tanak/Twitter

Veiby said: “We are looking forward to taking to the first stage in Monte-Carlo in the i20 R5 ’20 and to begin our first season with Hyundai Motorsport. It will be the first time we have run the car in a competitive scenario, and we are confident we can utilise our existing experience of the R5 category to bring home a good result.” Gryazin said: “After weeks and months of preparation, we are raring to go for Rallye Monte-Carlo. It will be no easy task, but we have done everything we can to ensure we are ready for the challenge ahead. We are excited to work with Hyundai Motorsport and to show what the i20 R5 ’20 is capable of doing throughout the year.” Team Principal Andrea Adamo added: “Our participation in WRC 2 reaffirms our commitment to WRC, while allowing us the opportunity to demonstrate the competitiveness of the new spec i20 R5 ’20 on the world’s most famous stages. We wish the crews the best of luck, and we are convinced their capabilities will bring them much success throughout the year.”

The 2020 Fiestas have already won the best looking car prize. 📷 @mattyjim1

M-Sport Ford WRT

Three cars are eligible for WRC points, for Esapekka Lappi (chassis 11, Evans’ GB 2019 car, ice note crew Mikko Heikkila), Teemu Suninen (9 his Sardinia 2019 car, Juuso Pykalisto) and Gus Greensmith (4 Suninen’s GB 2019 car, Antoine l’Estage). All the cars are last year’s fully rebuilt for this season, in the same specification as 2019 and all cars essentially identical. There is an engine upgrade expected in the second quarter of the season. Commercially there is increased support from Castrol, no other changes. The Lithuanian driver Deividas Jocius is also entered by M-Sport, but not eligible for WRC points and drives chassis 8, Suninen’s Spain 2019 car. All four have new style colour schemes. Essential management changes include Bernardo Fernandes will be Lappi’s engineer. Lappi and Suninen shared three days testing in the first week of January, Greensmith had one day at the same time. M-Sport has also entered WRC2 cars for Adrien Fourmaux (3, Jan Solans’ Spain 2019 car) and Rhys Yates (30, a new car) and ‘Pedro’ (12, his Spain 2019 car) in WRC3), all Mk II versions. Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (#4 Ford Fiesta WRC) Lappi said: “Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started. Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.

The M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC will receive some updates later in the season. Photo: Drew Gibson

“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage! You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.” Crew Notes: Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (#3 Ford Fiesta WRC) Suninen said: “I’m really looking forward to this season and straight away I could see that Esapekka and I would work well together. We had a very similar set-up on the test, and it looks like we want to take the car in the same direction. “I tested on dry asphalt and had a really good feeling, but for the more tricky sections where there is a lot of ice and snow I will have to rely on my experience. This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!” Crew Notes: Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmonson (#44 Ford Fiesta WRC) Greensmith said: “Monte is a special one for me. It’s where I claimed my first victory, and there’s no other rally than gives me more satisfaction behind the wheel. Knowing that I will drive these amazing stages with the Ford Fiesta WRC this year is beyond my wildest dreams! “Everyone wants to win here, and the changing conditions make it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. The smallest mistakes pay a heavy price, but I do think this is a strong event for me. I’ve always relished tricky conditions, but experience is something you need here too. I’ll have to make up for that, and hope to produce a strong performance to kick off this 2020 season.” Team Principal, Richard Millener, said: “I’m really looking forward to this season and excited to see what we can do over the next 12 months. We’ve got a young team, but it’s also a very experienced and ambitious one and I think we have every chance of bringing home some victories this year.

Gus Greensmith and Elliott Edmondson won the WRC2 Pro class in Monte Carlo last year. Photo: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

“There’s no tougher start than Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we’re definitely up for the fight. And looking at some of the videos from our pre-event test, Esapekka, Teemu and Gus are fairly rapid behind the wheel of the Fiesta – so I’d say we have as good a chance as anyone when it comes to securing a strong result next week.”

PH Sport

Citroen Racing ended their World Rally Car programme at the end of 2019 and their cars are now for sale. They will be represented in WRC2 by a single C3 entry for Mads Ostberg under the name of PH Sport (with economic advantages compared with running under the name of the manufacturer). The car is the R5 driven by Yann Clairay in Var last year, chassis 49, in the same specification as last year.

Mads Ostberg will run a Citroen C3 R5 for the second season running.

They will also enter a second R5 in WRC3 for Yohan Rossel. Morten Osterg is ice note driver for Mads, Yohan’s brother Leo is ice note driver for Johan.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Toyota Gazoo have three new drivers this year, their champion Tanak having moved to Hyundai. Elfyn Evans coming from M-Sport, seven times Monte winner Sebastien Ogier moving over from Citroen when the French company ended their WRC commitments, and Kalle Rovanpera the reigning WRC2 Pro Champion, drives a WRC for the first time on a World rally event, becomes the regular third team driver. The only unchanged driver is Toyota trainee driver Takamoto Katsuta who now becomes a regular team member, but is ineligible to score manufacturer points in Monte Carlo. Former team driver Meeke is planning to retire from active rallying completely, and Latvala is being offered an occasional seat with his independently run team, starting in Sweden. Technically the cars are similar to last year, but are said to be lighter and more powerful. Tommi Mäkinen (Team Principal) “Rallye Monte-Carlo is always an exciting event at the start of a new season, and it should be especially interesting this year with many drivers in different cars, and in our case a completely new line-up. It is a rally that we are yet to win as a team, but we have finished on the podium every time and our performance there has been strong. Sébastien’s record on this event is brilliant and he has won it in many different cars, so I am sure that he will be in the fight again even though he will still be getting to know our car. I think it will be similar for Elfyn, who has shown good speed on the Monte before. For Kalle, on the other hand, there will be absolutely no pressure, because this is a really hard rally to make your debut on and one where you need to have experience. But I am confident that as a team we can get a strong result to begin our challenge for this year’s championship.”

Sebastien Ogier is already coming to grips with his Yaris in pre-season testing. Photo: Sophie Graillon

Crew Notes: Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (#17 Toyota Yaris WRC) Ogier said: “I’m excited to start my first rally in the Toyota Yaris WRC. Every car has different characteristics and it takes some kilometres to learn about them, but so far it has been good in the tests. We want to fight for a seventh title this year, and I believe we can have a good chance with this car. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event with special emotions for me. I remember at the end of the 1990s, coming to spectate and Tommi was winning a lot – he was the first idol I had in rallying. Myself and Julien obviously have a very strong record too, and every year there is more and more pressure to try and continue that. It’s always a big challenge and one that I definitely enjoy.” Crew Notes: Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (#33 Toyota Yaris WRC) Evans said: “I’m looking forward to Rallye Monte-Carlo and my first event with Toyota. This is the first time in my WRC career that I’ve changed teams, but everybody’s been very welcoming and I’ve got a good feeling in the car, so I’m excited about the season ahead. My first time driving the Yaris WRC was in our test for the Monte in December, and quite quickly I was able to get a nice feeling and some good confidence. On this event the challenge is always the range of conditions you can possibly face. When you’re setting up the car, you need something that gives you confidence and I think we’ve got some good options with that in mind.” Crew Notes: Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (#69 Toyota Yaris WRC) “Rallye Monte-Carlo will be a special event for me. It’s a big step up from an R5 car, with a lot more power and downforce, but so far I’ve found the Yaris WRC to be quite easy to drive in the tests. Still, I have a lot to learn and I think it will take a few rallies to really adapt to the car and how everything works. I will need to think differently at the beginning of the season, and I hope that I will have the patience for this. I think Monte-Carlo is not the easiest place to start with a new car and a new team. The weather is changing all the time and you cannot always have the right tyre choice for the conditions. It will be a big challenge for us, but hopefully we can make it through.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtcvtGg854s&feature=emb_logo

More WRC news:

https://rallysportmag.com/five-toyota-yaris-wrcs-for-rally-sweden/ https://rallysportmag.com/jwrc-unclear-chile-officially-dropped-from-2020-calendar/
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