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This year’s Wales Rally GB is to be the penultimate round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship and the final round in Europe. Once again the headquarters will be at Deeside, near the English town of Chester but located just inside Wales.  The cross border connection extends to a 20 minute halt in the tourist centre of Chester on the Friday evening and a spectator asphalt stage on Saturday in the English Cholmondeley Castle estate as the highlight of an extensive spectator occasion. Novelties this year include a superspecial at a trotting track in North Wales and on the Saturday evening a return back to Central Wales for two stages in darkness after visiting Cholmondeley Castle.  The spectator orientated stages apart, the rest of the event is held on traditional Welsh forest stages. The Friday is to be spent in the area to the west of Newtown with 115km stages without service, the highlight being the 35km Hafren stage done twice.   Saturday stages are largely run close to Machynlleth again starting off with 110km without service and then the stages in darkness. Sunday morning will see stages to the west of Deeside and south of Colwyn Bay and the finish will take place over 70km from Deeside at Llandudno. With the WRC2, WRC3 and JWRC titles already decided, the main titles waiting to be resolved are the Drivers and Manufacturers championships and the WRC Trophy, all of which could be decided in Britain without waiting to go to the final round in Australia three weeks later. Entries for Wales Rally GB have been released, with 17 World Rally Car entries, 23 WRC2 entries and two WRC3 entries. There are a total of 79 entries for the international event.  Together with competitors in the separate National event, the total for the two events is 160 cars. There had been hopes the expanded facility for admitting nationally homologated or recognised cars would open up the field to many cars not regularly seen on WRC events. The only noteworthy cars admitted under the new rules however are two historic Mark 2 Escorts, cars which were prominent WRC competitors in the early ‘eighties.  Other Escort Mark 2s have been entered in the National category. The National event is run over a shortened route on the Saturday and the Sunday and does not qualify for the National rally championship. Keep fingers crossed for a safe but exciting weekend of sport.  It was 50 years ago this autumn that the round-Britain (then called) RAC Rally was cancelled on 14 hours’ notice due to a sudden escalation of a Foot and Mouth epidemic. And with the decision to move the British round of the WRC next year to early October, this could be the last time the traditional experience of cold, dark and dank British forests will be savoured by fans.  Get full value from the event while you can! Team by Team Citroen The team reported no unexpected incidents in their successful Catalunya Rally, but recognise there is still work to do to improve the car on gravel.  Special challenge on WRGB are reliable wipers and effective windscreen demisting. The team has not made any pre-WRGB test in Wales, spending four days testing in Mazamet region near Toulouse preferring to maximise this year’s test allocation in order to concentrate on improving the car for the 2018 season.  Cars used on WRGB are chassis 4 for Kris Meeke, a new car 11 for Craig Breen and 8 for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi. Opinions on the Saturday night stages “WRGB is a very demanding and selective rally, but it’s very interesting for the sport and the rally”.  Optimal running order?  “If it’s dry further back is better, if the ground is just wet it’s better to be at the front. WRC Trophy contender Jourdan Serderidis drives a DS3 WRC.

Can Kris Meeke take back to back WRC wins?

Hyundai Bad memories from Spain.  The broken suspension part on all three cars was the same, the impact on the wheel nearly identical.  All cars suffered understeer, disturbing some drivers more than others.  Mikkelsen’s was required by WRC regulation to use Paddon’s transmission set-up and the entry was intended not only to bolster the team’s manufacturers’ championship hopes, but also to prepare for the next two years.  Neuville’s hydraulic problem? A broken fitting. WRGB challenges are the unpredictable weather which can bring, rain, ice and fog, with inconsistent grip.  A three day test in Central Wales forest locations, Cefn Llwyd and Drws y Nant, and then Alwen South in the Sunday stage area. Dani Sordo drives his Poland car, Hayden Paddon has Mikkelsen’s Catalunya car, while Thierry Neuville has a new car, chassis 8. Expectations?  “the Saturday night stages could have foggy conditions, which would create big gaps between the different competitors”.  Any top three running order slots are ideal.   M-Sport The only unexpected experience in Catalunya was Tanak’s asphalt specification gearbox which had an internal component failure on Saturday morning forcing him to revert to the gravel specification unit. Special challenges for WRGB are the cold, wet and muddy conditions while effective windscreen wipers and blowers will be crucial.  Tanak and Ogier tested for one day in Wales, Evans one day at the team’s domestic venue in Greystoke. Sebastien Ogier drives his Finland car, Ott Tanak his Catalunya car and Elfyn Evans his usual car.  M-Sport are running twelve WRC or R5 cars on the event. Thoughts about the night stages: “they provide an additional and unusual challenge.  They make the day longer, but WRGB has always been about the challenge”. Predictions: “If it is wet, the optimal running order is first on the road, if it’s bone dry, you want to be somewhere in the middle”. Bentley M-Sport Race Manager Matthew Wilson returns to the WRC after three years to drive an R5 sponsored by Tunnock’s. OneBet Adapta privateer, Mads Ostberg, has a different co-driver. Emil Axelsson will sit beside the Norwegian, and reports his hydraulic issue in Salou was due to not setting handbrake mechanism for slow speed operation.

Sebastien Ogier will be looking to wrap up the drivers title in GB

Toyota Catalunya experiences: Latvala’s oil leak was caused by an impact under the car. The under shield being damaged resulted in a loss of lubrication oil to the engine, Lappi’s brake trouble was due to damage to an air cooling system hose.  Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hanninen (the 2010 IRC Champion on his final WRC event with the team) are to drive their Finland cars, Esapekka Lappi his Catalunya car. Biggest challenge is expected to be adapting the cars’ set-up to the low grip road surfaces of GB.  Each driver had one day testing in the central Welsh Dovey forest area. Big recent news has been that Ott Tanak is to join the team for the 2018 season, and that Hanninen’s co-driver, 48 year old Kai Lindstrom (who was Tommi Makinen’s codriver for the two final years of his driving career), is to work with Toyota Gazoo Racing as the team’s rally Sporting Director.
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