Tag Archive | "WRC"

Rally Aces To Contest Monaco Porsche Cup

As all F1 fans already know, the Monaco Grand Prix takes place on the weekend of 25/6th May. This legendary race is ably supported by supplementary events including the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup which is not the place you’d usually find WRC Rally drivers, yet it is so.

When at the Citroen Works Rally team, the now semi-retired Sébastien Loeb was often at odds with his younger team-mate and namesake, Sébastien Ogier, the current championship leader. Loeb still drives the occasional WRC event for Citroen but Ogier jumped ship and is now successfully campaigning the mighty VW Polo.

More often than not it was the younger Ogier who threw all his toys out of the pram whilst simultaneously taking the ball home because of the bias he felt was given to his legendary compatriot. Now the rivalry is being renewed but not on the WRC tour. Both drivers will be guest piloting Porsches in the support race at the Grand Prix. So instead of spikes there will be slicks; instead of the Col de Turini substitute Casino. This is the first time both drivers have gone head-to-head on a race circuit.

Loeb of course has previous form in race cars and has been expanding his driving career into endurance racing with a Le Mans win being his main objective after achieving a second place in 2006 in a Pescarolo-Judd. The legend has it that Loeb practices for the race on a Playstation 2. Ogier, on the other hand, is new to this and he has had only a couple of weeks to get used to the high-powered Porsche and its unpredictable handling.

No doubt more experienced hands are making sure he doesn’t attempt the Scandinavian Flick or handbrake turns at La Rascasse or Mirabeau and remembers that there will be a whole bunch of other cars at close quarters to contend with.

The Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup has been the only GT racing series to be held at Formula One weekends since 1993 during which time the cars have developed immensely. This years version is the new 911 GT3 Cup developing 460 bhp from the 3.8L Boxer engine. This car is something of a handful and it remains to be seen how Ogier will fare amongst the much more experienced field. So if you see a car overtaking on verges and pavements then you’ll know who it is.

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WRC Argentina – It’s That Man Again!

World Rally Championship drivers are at the top of their sporting craft. These guys can do more things with a car than we mere mortals can do with a knife and fork. When the legendary Sebastien Loeb announced his semi-retirement the other drivers must have thought it was Christmas – now at last they had a chance of winning a rally!

This came to pass when Seb Ogier won in Portugal a few weeks ago in the exciting new VW Polo. Last weekend it was the turn of Rally Argentina – considered by many to be the toughest of the ‘gravel’ events. Guess who shows up with a Citroen DS3? That’s right; the wheelmeister returns, yawns, jumps into his car and proceeds to win Rally Argentina for the eighth time. Ogier came second and Jari-Matti Latvala came a creditable third in the other works Polo. Citroen’s official number one driver Miko Hirvonen was unplaced; he seems strangely out-of-sorts these days.

Rally Argentina has everything. The special stages feature water-splashes, tight hairpins and high-speed straights throughout the rocky back roads. It is well organised and the stages are absolutely packed with hardcore fans. Many drivers were caught out and clearly demonstrated the strength of their roll-cages. The amount of punishment these cars can take is incredible. Next stop Greece at the end of May.

This is an exciting sport. The mixture of aerial and roadside shots coupled with live in-car coverage makes for great viewing, but there’s a problem. We learn that the FIA’s chosen promoter, the Sportsman Media Group (jointly with Red Bull), believes that the WRC is ‘boring’. Apart from what follows you’ve got to wonder why they took it on. They must have known what it entailed surely? Basically, it’s a time trial. One competitor at a time, but it is most certainly not boring.

SMG seem reluctant to sell this ‘boring’ product to TV companies. In a bizarre turn they seem to think that the answer is to sell ‘live’ coverage – but only of the final power stages. Often, by this time, the overall result is decided. The situation is confused and the comments above only really hint at the colossal muck-up they are potentially making of this Championship.

What do you suppose the car manufacturers will think of all this? Citroen, Ford, new boys Volkswagen and next year’s entry from a works Hyundai team are all in it to boost car sales, simple as that. The FIA are not noted for making sensible decisions and SMG seem to be on a suicide mission. It‘s not looking good.

We’ll see if there’s any resolution when we get to the Greek event. Mr S Loeb won’t be there to show the others how it’s done so let us hope for an open and exciting rally that will demonstrate that the sport can transcend the stupidity of the organisers.

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Rally Portugal This Weekend

After their foray over the ocean the World Rally teams are back in Europe for the Portuguese round of the Championship this coming weekend. Following their spectacular return to the sport Volkswagen have got off to a blistering start running second only in the manufacturers stakes to the mighty works team from Citroen. VW’s Sebastien Ogier heads the leader board for drivers after a string of successes in the early rounds, backed up by Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, all driving Polo‘s.

Following the snow of Sweden and the rocks of Mexico the teams are back on more familiar territory with Portugal offering the traditional loose gravel stages. With a mixture of open roads and tight technical sections this event tests drivers to the max – especially when it rains, turning the surface into a slippery nightmare. The abrasive gravel takes a toll of tyres and the teams have to seriously factor this in when planning their campaigns.

The usual format applies except for this year there will be a marathon leg when teams will have to compete over four consecutive special stages without any service interval. This will push the cars to extremes and show up those whose preparations have been less than thorough.

Citroen are fielding three of their smart DS3 cars this time with Mikko Hirvonen and Danny Sordo being joined by new boy Khalid Al-Qassimi. Overall the event is fully subscribed with seventy two entries over the various categories. A star entrant is the Formula 1 star Robert Kubica making his debut in this event driving a DS3 RRC. There are 6 M-Sport Ford drivers, all piloting Fiestas. Ostberg, Novikov and Neuville are the rising stars and the ones to watch for a surprise result.

Last year’s Portugal Rally had it all. Thunder and lightning and fog, missed opportunities and unfortunate exits; most notably that of the great Seb Loeb who misunderstood a pace-note and turned left instead of right. This is not something you really want to do at high speed on a gravel surface!

Fans always hear about the drivers and it is a shame that the co-drivers remain the unsung heroes. They have a complex job to do interpreting pace-notes, reading the road and keeping everything on track and all whilst trying not to be riveted to the seat with fear. In-car TV coverage means that armchair rally stars can get a driver’s eye view of all the action. In the UK this means tuning into ITV4 on Thursday (18th) evening for the highlights show. This channel will be showing all the rallies but it looks as though they are being flexible about which night it will be on! Make the most of it anyway because in the UK that’s all we get!

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Blink And You Will Miss The WRC

The third round of the World Rally Championship has come and gone without a single UK broadcaster picking up the rights to show it – or so we thought. The good news is that, without any sort of fanfare, ITV4 have at least found the money to broadcast an hourly highlights show of every rally this year. IT STARTS TONIGHT!

If you’re interested in this branch of motor sport you will already know that Sebastien Ogier has just won Rally Mexico in his new Volkswagen Polo. That’s his second victory as he has already captured the Rally Sweden crown. The legend that is Seb Loeb won the Monte Carlo in January but as he has semi-retired it has left the field open for the other major teams and drivers.

Rally used to be big in the UK, in the days of the late great Colin McRae, but interest has waned as Loeb and the mighty Citroen team have dominated the sport so completely over the last decade. It would be churlish to suggest this was the only reason for the loss of interest but it is probably fair to say that the WRC had become a bit boring. Let us hope that major sponsorship and promotion from Red Bull will help to bring rally back from the brink of extinction.

Now that the fast Frenchman has backed off and some exciting new drivers are coming to the fore we can but hope that the sport will pick up. The return of VW and the impending resurrection of a Hyundai team will hopefully rejuvenate the formula. The advances in TV technology for broadcasters means that coverage can be much more immediate. The on-board footage is tremendously exciting.

The challenge for ITV4 and television in general is to find that added ingredient and portray rallying in a much more positive light. There are certainly problems with live coverage because of the international venues, world weather and so on but, as Eurosport showed a couple of years ago at the night-time Monte Carlo stages, it can be done and done well. There shouldn’t really be a problem for Rally Wales later in the year.

The ITV deal at least means that fans can enjoy a one hour highlights show of each of the remaining eleven events. They will be shown early on Tuesday evenings immediately following each rally with a repeat on Saturday mornings. ITV4 have done a marvellous job with the BTCC so let’s hope that the response to this coverage from fans will be immediate and that we can maybe hope for even better next year!

Next round Portugal 11-14 April – highlights ITV4 Tuesday 16/4.

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The Monte Carlo Rally in the WRC

Once again, this most famous of motor sport events will, in a few short days, kick off the 2013 season of the World Rally Championship as befits its iconic status. It is the longest running competition of this type in the world and sees its origins go back to 1911 when entrants were encouraged to ‘rally’ – that is to say, meet – at this historic venue. Slightly longer than last year, there will be 468 competitive kilometres of adrenalin fuelled action, run over eighteen special stages. The high spot as ever are the runs up the dreaded Col de Turini (pictured) which include a night run. Memorable.

Famous for the twisting asphalt mountain roads and an unpredictable weather mix when ice and snow are never too far away means that this is not an event for the faint-hearted. It is made worse by fans to will deliberately throw extra snow onto clearing roads to ratchet up their excitement and the driver’s fear.

This will be an especially good year as aficionados will see a new World Champion begin to emerge from the bunch. Now that the legendary Sebastien Loeb is curtailing his rallying activities after successfully securing the world crown nine times, someone else will get a look in.

The otherwise successful M-Sport team will no longer have factory backing from Ford – who decided to pull out, although they are allegedly having second thoughts – but will still mount a full campaign thanks to funds from the Qatar organisation of Nasser al Attiyah. He is presently on Dakar Rally duties. This year they are going for youth with a very strong first team line-up of Mads Ostberg, Thierry Neuville and Evgeny Novikov, three stars of the future.

It is also good to see the return to the WRC of Volkswagen, who are fielding a full factory team of Polo’s with three experienced pilots – Jari-Matti Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen and Sebastien Ogier. The car is unproven but Volkswagen’s commitment to the sport is unquestionable.

The experienced Citroen team will be back with last year’s runner-up Mikko Hirvonen and the talented Spaniard Dani Sordo. We may well also the first run out for the new Hyundai team who are intent on running a full factory team in 2014. It is good to see manufacturers coming back to this top echelon of rally sport and may well account for Ford’s second thoughts. This change of heart is however mostly down to the fact that the WRC have this year gained full sponsorship from the mighty Red Bull organisation.

All this renewed interest and high anticipation does not seem to have rubbed off on British television. At the time of writing there has been no announcements from any station about possible coverage, even though an experienced broadcast company will be covering all the events. It is very sad that this most exciting of motor sports does not get anything like the UK coverage it deserves, alas. Keep your eyes peeled on the TV schedules. This year we are in for a treat.

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WRC 2013 Gets A Polo

It still remains to be seen if the UK is going to see any television coverage of the World Rally Championship in 2013. The series kicks off with the usual season opener in legendary Monte Carlo mid-January, although without the factory sponsored Ford’s. Fiesta fans shouldn’t despair as the fantastic M-Sport team will continue with backing from Qatar.

With the semi-retirement of Sebastien Loeb (got to be the greatest ever, surely?) the field is open for other drivers to attack the Championship including up-and-comers like Mads Ostberg and Ott Tanak. Sadly we won’t see Petter Solberg. The withdrawal of Ford has meant that the great veteran Norwegian is without a drive so far. Let’s hope that someone gives him a late pass.

It’s a welcome return though of Hyundai who’ll be running an i20 test team with a view to full entry in 2014, but the biggest news of all is the return to the top flight of rallying by Volkswagen. They will be competing the full season with two works Polo’s driven by Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier, taking on the might of Citroen.

This is a chance for VW to demonstrate their sporting credentials to ordinary users; this means that their cars are not some weird and wonderful prototypes that just happen to look like the Polo, but rather the real thing that you and I buy, except, obviously, in race trim. This is no snap decision as the car has been in development for seventeen months and clearly shows that VW see a future in this most commercial branch of motor sport.

The WRC has been neglected a bit by the sports governing body the FIA, but with strong new sponsors we can only hope that 2013 will see it back to its exciting best. Potential sponsors Red Bull and Sportsman Media have already confirmed their intention to achieve maximum value from this rather over-looked competition.

To confirm their intentions VW are not content just to race cars, they want to sell us the relatives. The Polo R WRC Street (pictured) is a civilian version of the rally car. It will sport the racing livery, have WRC style bumpers and 18”rims. Power comes from a performance 2.0L TSI engine and the car should cover the 0-60 sprint in 6.4 seconds, so it’s no slouch. Sadly there won’t be a version with the rally motor in it (0-60 in 3.9 seconds!).

From freezing cold to searing heat the WRC combines extremes of climate with extremes of terrain. Fans of the sport worldwide rate it as highly as Formula 1 but for some curious reason the British media pretty much ignore it. Let’s hope, with new sponsors and a renewed interest, some enlightened channel will pick it up. If not, we’ll have to rely on the (admittedly excellent) half-hour bulletins from Motors TV, as usual.

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WRC Gets Great New Promoters

Rally fans rejoice! The World Rally Championship – so disappointing in recent years – has at last hooked the right promoters to bring the sport back to the level it achieved in the old Group B days; but hopefully without all the tragedy.

After much unnecessary faffing about by the FIA, it has finally been announced that The Sportsman Media Group and Red Bull Media House have signed up to promote this great sport in 2013 and beyond. With a household name like Red Bull – no strangers to active sports promotion – on board there is every reason to hope that next year will see a massive resurgence in the popularity of this great motor sport.

This announcement has been enhanced by the further news that nine times World Champion Sebastian Loeb is to retire from active participation at the top level; although he will contest a few rounds next year for Citroen, he won’t be in contention for the title. This will be good news for every other driver as Loeb has dominated the sport for the last decade, establishing himself as, without argument, the greatest rally driver ever.

Alongside the new promoters come some rule changes. Basically, it will cost less for teams to compete which in turn means that there will hopefully be greater participation from manufacturers. Already Volkswagen have confirmed a full blown WRC Polo Team, probably headlined by rising French star Sebastian Ogier. Hyundai will make a belated return and field a rally version of its popular i20 (pictured) with the intention of full commitment by 2014.

Over the years fans have been increasingly starved of TV coverage as time has gone on. This hasn’t been helped by the total domination by the mighty Citroen / Loeb alliance. In 2012, with no real promoter other an the individual sponsors for each event, Motors TV have struggled on with ‘day after’ highlights of each events. The commentary from Colin Clarke and Julian Porter is terrific but this doesn’t make up for the paucity of media interest.

Although the in-car shots are great it would be good to see more use of the aerial helicopter coverage too. The manufacturers need top media coverage to promote their wares. The cars look like the ones we drive (on the outside at least) and the sport itself is a truly exciting spectacle.

Let’s hope that between the promoters, the FIA, the World Motor Sport Council and the car makers themselves, 2013 will be the year that the WRC once again reached the heights it has previously achieved. Let us also hope that it’s free-to-air viewing too!

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Red Bull Make A Move On The WRC

There is a conflict of opinion as to whether sponsorship in sport is a good or bad thing. Some say it has ruined many of the popular sporting activities; football, for example, where players pay and sponsorship deals make a mockery of the average wage packet. On the other hand many sports would have died a death had it not been for business investing money to promote products. Look at how the funding acquired from cigarette advertising enhanced the various F1 teams a few years ago. Certainly, F1 would not be where it is today were it not for the power of commercial cash.

So it is with the World Rally Championship. This year, with the failure of its principal sponsor, North One Sport, very early on in the season and much indecision by the FIA, the races have been promoted individually at a local level meaning coverage has been patchy. Most fans in the UK would not have seen it at all if it hadn’t been for the efforts of Motors TV showing regular highlights.

As a result, WRC teams who spend a fortune on R&D – which does filter down to consumer cars – were at one point considering their future in the sport. Without media coverage advertisers would stay away in droves and look for more appealing marketing opportunities. So it is welcome news that after much prevaricating, it looks very much as if Red Bull are going to step up to the plate and become the WRC’s prime sponsor which should in turn bring the media on board.

If it comes to pass then this is a fantastic coup. It’s a well known fact that when this company puts their efforts into a promotion, it usually succeeds. They already have the most successful F1 team and are also one of the principal sponsors of the all-conquering Citroen Total World Rally Team who, despite the best efforts of Ford, are almost certain to win the championship again this year.

Presumably Red Bull would not continue to sponsor individual teams if this becomes a reality. It may be that Citroen will have to spread the net to bring in more money next year. One thing is for sure though; Red Bull would not sit quietly by as the events in 2013 unfold. They will want to ensure that they get maximum coverage across all the media platforms. This hopefully will be good news for fans, especially in Britain, who are starved of their ration of one of the most exciting branches of motor sport.

Meanwhile, as the championship progresses, the other drivers are probably all hoping that the legendary and unbeatable Sebastian Loeb will finally retire next year to give the others a chance. It seems likely, now that Citroen have recruited Mikko Hirvonen as their number two driver. Hirvonen is not the type to sit in the shadow of another so presumably the idea is that he will be numero uno on the team when Loeb moves on. Let us hope that next season sees a revival in the fortunes of the WRC and that the fans get the coverage they deserve.

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