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The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship will start off with the traditional opening round next week, the Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo. RallySport Magazine's Martin Holmes previews the much-awaited 2018 season. This year the event is to run one week later than last year, the last week in January. It will be the 86th time the event is held, the longest running event in rally sport.
Though the top end of the sport is well represented by all four registered WRC teams, lower down there is a disappointingly and surprisingly low quality level of competitors.
The list was withheld until M-Sport were finally able to nominate the crew of their third entry (Bryan Bouffier), while Citroen will only run two cars on this event. There are only six crews entered in WRC2 (Skoda Motorsport only entering one car, for Jan Kopecky, and two from M-Sport for Eric Camilli and Teemu Suninen), with four cars in the two-wheel-drive WRC3 category. Three cars are entered in R-GT, all Abarth 124s. Skoda’s two supported drivers, Kalle Rovanpera and Ole Christian Veiby, are among the list of non championship drivers, but both are run on this occasion by independent teams and not registered for the WRC2 championship. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIAyGeWjjkw The event is again centred on Gap, where all the servicing takes place apart occasionally from remote tyre changing and refuelling points.
Even in smaller details, the route of this year’s rally is unusually little changed, the most significant being that the famous Sisteron stage is being run in the opposite direction, which means essentially downhill.
The time schedules are also similar to last year. After the Wednesday afternoon shakedown, run close to the service park in Gap, Monte Carlo will provide the start on the Thursday evening and does not see the cars again until Saturday evening. Sunday will see two loops of stages in the nearby Alpes Maritimes region, before the finish back in Monaco on Sunday afternoon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU_ur_gBxKo As customary it will be impossible to forecast the weather conditions accurately until very close to the event, though teams report there has been more wintry conditions than usual on the stages during testing. Once again the tyre suppliers (this year Michelin, DMack and Pirelli) are permitted to offer four different tyres (asphalt pattern soft, super soft and winter pattern tyres with or without studs), but always mounted on 18 inch wheels.
It is the only event in the WRC where there are four different options. Normally tyre changes are only allowed at the service park in Gap.
For British rally fans there is the allure of the 50th anniversary of the last British victory on this event, by Vic Elford in a Porsche. Sadly, the days when winter weather frustrated rally drivers, who then flocked to the south of France in their hundreds are gone. This year only two British drivers are taking part, Kris Meeke (Citroen C3 WRC), and Gus Greensmith in a Ford Fiesta R5.

Team by Team

M-Sport Three Fiesta WRC entered by the newly named M-Sport Ford World Rally Team are a new car (chassis 9, seen previously at the WRC launch in Britain) for Sebastien Ogier, last year’s cars for Elfyn Evans (3, ex-Tanak and then Evans in Poland), and for guest driver Bryan Bouffier (4, ex-Evans), all in identical specification.
Drivers’ national flags are on the roof vents for quick identification. Red Bull signage is on Ogier and Evans cars, personal signage on Bouffier’s, including Yacco and Royal Bernard.
Simon Jean Joseph is “ouvreur” (ice-note crew) for Ogier, Gwyndaf Evans for son Elfyn, Pascal Enjolras for Bouffier, Franck Lions for Camilli, Jusso Pykalisto for Suninen, and Antoine l’Estage for Greensmith. Pre-Christmas testing on clear asphalt, later testing on clear asphalt and snow. Team chiefs for 2018 are Team Principal Malcolm Wilson, Chief Rally Engineer Chris Williams, and Richard Millener is WRC Programme and Sales Manager. 2018 Hyundai i20 WRC Hyundai Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT enter three identical i20 Coupes for Andreas Mikkelsen, a new chassis 9, and last year’s cars for Thierry Neuville (8, his car in Australia) and Dani Sordo (7, Mikkelsen’s car in Australia) in the development specification as used by Neuville in Rally GB and Australia. The car seen at NEC was a replica show car.
Quick identification flashes on roof scoops continue to be Mikkelsen (yellow), Neuville (black), Sordo (red) and Paddon (green).
Team driver ”ouvreurs” are Bernt Kollevold for Mikkelsen, Bruno Thiry for Neuville, and Enrique Ojeda for Dani Sordo. A variety of weather conditions were experienced in testing, run firstly north of Nice in mid December, then in January closer to Gap, and finally one day in Spain for snow and ice. Leading team personnel continue to be President Gyoo-Heon Choi, Team Principal Michel Nandan, Team Manager Alain Penasse, and Bertrand Vallat Chief Designer. 2018 Toyota Yaris WRC Toyota A new driver in the team! Ott Tanak will be the first non-Finnish rally driver in Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT.
Three new cars with identical specifications (Jari-Matti Latvala chassis 006 with red quick identification stripes on the side mirrors, Tanak 007 white, and Esapekka Lappi 008, no colour).
The car seen at NEC was test car T1. Since last year the main technical differences have been aero changes to the front, including an easily detachable front bumper for when pieces are damaged. Snow conditions for pre-Christmas testing, mixed conditions in subsequent tests, always in Hautes-Alpes region. “Ouvreur” drivers Toni Gardemeister for Latvala, former team driver Juho Hanninen (who remains with the team as test driver) for Lappi, and Martin Kangur for Tanak. Team chiefs for 2018 are Team Principal Tommi Makinen, Sporting Director Kaj Lindstrom and Chief Engineer Tom Fowler. Citroen Goodbye Yves Matton, Team Principal of Citroen Racing, who is moving to the FIA. Welcome Pierre Budar, formerly Citroen Racing’s Development Director, Customer Racing Vehicles.
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT enter only two C3 WRC cars for Monte Carlo, the old chassis #4 for Kris Meeke, last used by Meeke in Deutschland, and chassis #11, the car previously used once by Breen in WRGB, both in identical specification.
The car sent to NEC for the launch of the 2018 WRC season was a show car replica. No individual quick-identification car markings. For Monte Carlo many changes to improve performance, efficiency and driveability. Stephen Whitford will work as Meeke’s “ouvreur” and Mikko Hirvonen for Breen. All the original testing was done around Gap where conditions were without snow and ice. Other team chiefs for 2018 are: PSA Motorsport Director Jean-Marc Finot, Technical coordinator and customer competition manager Didier Clement, and Technical Director Christophe Besse. Rally programme for Sebastien Loeb due to be Mexico, Corsica and Catalunya, but for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi not yet settled.

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