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GP Week : Issue 123
On the plus side we have a new, exciting eco-friendly rally car formula and a strong base for alternative classes, but we also normally have very small overall entry levels and an almost total absence of genuinely private drivers. And for all the dramatic changes aimed at making rallying visibly more welcoming, still the amount of free - to-air TV coverage is limited. The most impressive success of the 2011 season has been the new 1.6 litre turbo direct-injection World Rally Cars which have already shown a surprisingly high degree of reliability even though only Citroen and Ford remain engaged full time in the series. The arrival of the BMW Minis is very significant, being the first time in almost four years a new manufacture has homologated a World Rally Car, and the additional commitment given by VW to enter the championship in 2013 was further encouragement. Finally the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel has got a lot brighter. The three current WRC manufacturers have interpreted the FIA’s regulations in different ways and, notwithstanding the domination in the results of Citroen, there are two finely matched types of car. Citroen has entered the championship with a win-at-all-cost motivation, allowing no concessions in the design and construction of the car. Grudgingly some privateers are allowed to use Citroen DS3 WRC cars in the WRC, but this oppor tunity is not widely offered. Ford, however, is involved in the WRC as part of its corporate policy to be active in as many ways as possible in the sport, with a long line of privateers entering their own WRC cars either regularly or on occasion. The arrival of Mini has been a story of success in finding ways, through clever interpretation of rules and indefatigable effort, for the Prodrive company to return to WRC life after the withdrawal of Subaru in 2008. 24 years after Prodrive successfully persuaded BMW to make the old M3 available for use on WRC events, they did it again with the Mini. And it all came at a time when the FIA were very anxious to welcome extra teams, which helped. For 2011 BMW Mini itself is not registered as a WRC team, but has blazed a trail in being the first company to run 1.6 litre turbo cars in the two categories that the FIA originally envisaged, running the same chassis of car in either World Rally Car or New Generation Super 2000 version, as was the FIA’s original intent.. Behind the scenes the 2011 WRC series has been intriguing. Replacing Dani Sordo, who moved to Mini, with Sebastien Ogier has opened up a completely new scenario for Citroen. In the place of an eminently loyal and extremely competent team driver is an unashamedly ambitious challenger. Citroen is in a deeply complex situation. While Sebastien Loeb, quite the most successful WRC driver ever known, remains undecided about his career future, Citroen is in a limbo to know how to react to his potential successor. Ford is known to have told Ogier he would be welcome with them, so to what extent should Citroen encourage Ogier this year, like favouring him when it comes to team order time, if this threatens the work of Loeb? The current policy of Olivier Quesnel, Citroen Racing Director, is to let Ogier do what he wants, on the understanding he does nothing to endanger Citroen’s championship interests. At Ford things are different. Their driver line-up remains the same – Hirvonen and Latvala – but as Jari-Matti continues to mature and become, finally, more reliable, Hirvonen has difficulty in being consistent. An apparent lack of ruthless determination to succeed seems to be a strange character defect at this level, but whether it is the consequence of Ford’s budget shortfall or of confused objectives, Ford seems to be struggling. Ford’s problem was brought into focus when the chance to demand changes to the results in their favour in Argentina was missed, after officials admitted there was an organisational confusion out of which Ford had suffered. This was disappointing. A fair result on that event would have given the team a much needed psychological boost as it would have elevated Hirvonen into the lead of the driver’s championship ... This year there are three WRC Support championships, the SWRC for Old