IndyCar Mid-Ohio Preview

The NTT IndyCar Series returns this weekend for its fourth doubleheader with the Honda Indy 200 at Lexington’s Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The undulating twists and turns of the thirteen-corner, 2.2-mile road course has seen the circuit become one of the favourite locations on the calendar for drivers and fans alike.

What’s more, with just five races remaining, it’s up to the few remaining title challengers to step up this weekend if they wish to keep the championship alive.

Scott Dixon heads into this weekend on 416 points, a 96-point advantage over Josef Newgarden, with Patricio O’Ward and Takuma Sato realistically the remaining two contenders, albeit around 150 points behind.

Scott Dixon (Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media)

Looking Back to 2019 Mid-Ohio and beyond.

The 2019 running was won by current championship leader Dixon in spectacular fashion. The New Zealander had rookie Felix Rosenqvist charging in the closing laps. In the final pass through turn two they had wheel contact. Both cars bobbled, but the drivers kept them straight, which led to a thrilling run to the chequered flag as Dixon drove with tires that had lost their effectiveness.

The margin of victory was 0.0934 seconds, the closest IndyCar finish at Mid-Ohio and third closest on a road course in IndyCar history.

Dixon and Chip Ganassi have proved a dominant force at Mid-Ohio in recent years. ‘Mr Mid-Ohio’ has a staggering six wins at the Sports Car Course, likewise Ganassi have won there 11 times, giving them a vast amount of confidence heading into the weekend.

Other drivers who have enjoyed success at the circuit have been Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud with a win apiece. Alongside them, look out for likes of O’Ward, Jack Harvey, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay who have all had relative success at the track in the junior categories.

Pato O’Ward (Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media)

What should I look out for this weekend?

Dixon is the bookies favourite to win the IndyCar championship due to his commanding lead. However, the focus on this race will continue to be on his realistic championship rivals to see whether they can make a dent in that points deficit. Out of those only Newgarden has won here before, and he may be the most obvious challenge to the Kiwi.

O’Ward will be coming into the weekend following some magnificent but bittersweet performances having narrowly missed out on a handful of wins this season. The Mexican has been a consistent qualifier and regularly puts himself in the frame to challenge for the win. It’s often been strategic calls that have stripped those opportunities away. He’ll be looking to rectify that here to claim his maiden IndyCar win.

Sato, perhaps coming down from his second Indy 500 win, was in the fight arguably in both races last time out at Gateway. He’s somehow found a run of form that’s put him in his highest championship spot in his career. Although challenging Dixon in the standings is a tough order, to compete well against the likes of two-time champion Newgarden and up-and-coming superstar O’Ward will be all the incentive Sato needs to prove that experience sometimes trumps youth.

Another driver with something to prove this weekend will be Andretti’s Rossi. His crushing performance in the 2018 running race saw him and the team take a dominant victory from pole with an incredible tyre strategy. Rossi has demonstrated that he has the speed and his team have the strategies to come out on top in Mid-Ohio and he’ll be determined to do so again to try and draw himself closer to the top five in the championship, after a season plagued by bad luck.

Rinus VeeKay (Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media)

In terms of the battle for the coveted ‘Rookie of the Year’ title, VeeKay currently leads that fight, 13th in the standings on 181 points. His closest rivals are Alex Palou on 160 and Askew on 155. All three drivers have enjoyed a mixed bag of success and rotten luck, showing promising qualifying and race pace. VeeKay certainly has the momentum coming into the weekend and will be looking to replicate the win he had at the circuit during his time in the Pro Mazda Championship.

Just a mention about Colton Herta. What a season he’s been having. I wrote about his incredible qualifying performances during my preview for Gateway and touted him as someone to watch out for. He then went on to finish in fourth and sixth across both races of the doubleheader putting him in fifth place in the championship on 250 points. In only his sophomore year in IndyCar he’s certainly proved that he’s a superstar in the making, and now has the consistency to mount a title challenge in the future. I wouldn’t put it past Herta to do something similarly impressive this weekend to try and break into the top four.

Dale Coyne Racing‘s Santino Ferrucci is also on an impressive run of form. A fellow sophomore and a young American ‘hot-shot’, he is easily, like-for-like Colton Herta’s closest rival. After an amazing fourth at the Indy 500, followed by a top ten finish last time out at Gateway, Ferrucci is making somewhat of a name for himself. It wasn’t too long ago that he enjoyed a run of three top ten finishes between IMS and Iowa. He’ll be hoping to draw on his prior experience of racing single-seaters in Europe to try and get a similarly strong result on the Mid-Ohio road course this weekend so that he can impress further.

Finally, keep an eye on Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey, aiming to continue what has so far been relatively strong season so far for the British driver. He’s shown glimpses of brilliances with three consecutive top ten finishes (IOWA 1, IOWA 2, INDY) and a strong showing at Gateway before an unfortunate timing with the caution ruined a race where he’d been running in the top 5. He’s currently 14th in the standings, which is by far the highest he has ever been during his time in IndyCar. This weekend he has an opportunity to push for 11th in the standings as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marcus Ericsson, VeeKay and Harvey are all separated by just 3 points.

IndyCar at Mid-Ohio will be shown live on Sky Sports F1 with qualifying set for 7:30pm (GMT) on Saturday followed by the race at around 8:30pm (GMT) on Sunday.

Alonso returns to F1 with Renault

(Image courtesy of Fernando Alonso Instagram)

When Fernando Alonso announced in 2018 that he would be stepping away from Formula 1, very few of thought he would return. With the current status-quo as it is with the last few years dominated by Mercedes with only Red Bull and Ferrari able to hold a candle to them, and Alonso growing evidently tired of being in a lackluster McLaren, it was perhaps understandable that many of us didn’t believe these rumours of the two-time champion returning to F1 with the team that took him to those two world championships, Renault.

But sure enough, it was confirmed by Renault that Alonso would make his F1 comeback next year partnering up with Esteban Ocon and replacing the McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo. The former Red Bull driver signed a two-year deal with the French automotive manufacturer which was estimated to be in the region of nearly €25 million per year. But the promise of a car being able to challenge for podiums in the coming years wasn’t convincing enough for Ricciardo, and he will now take the seat of Carlos Sainz who is off to Ferrari to replace four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

Alonso claimed he would not return to F1 unless he had a race winning car, and in a post on Instagram, he seems to be pinning all his hopes on the upcoming revolutionary 2022 regulations which will close the gap between the top three teams. With the teams having agreed to continue using their current cars for 2021, Renault certainly don’t look like a frontrunning team right now.

The experience of Alonso will undoubtedly play a part in developing their 2022 car but even so, time isn’t on his side. He will be turning 41 in 2022 which means at the very most, he has at most three years if Michael Schumacher’s three-year tenure in his comeback with Mercedes is anything to go by. Will he still be at the top of his game? Even if by some miracle, Renault are consistent front runners and he’s challenging for podiums, wins and maybe even the championship, would Fernando still be capable?

Then there’s the question of Renault’s academy drivers. With Esteban Ocon being out of F1 for 18 months prior to the Austrian Grand Prix and having only raced two full seasons prior with Force India as well as a couple of races with the Manor team in 2016, he’s far from being able to lead a team just yet so that undoubtedly factored in when finding who could take Ricciardo’s seat. However there’s still questions to be asked about where this leads the two probable F1 graduates in Renault’s academy right now.

These two drivers are Formula 2 racers Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. Zhou is entering his second season of F2, prior to his first season , he hadn’t been that impressive in the junior formula, although was runner-up in Italian F4 in 2015. He had been on the Ferrari driver academy before joining Renault’s for 2019, and despite his time in European F3 not being indicative of being potential F1 material, he stepped it up when it mattered.

Zhou scored five podiums and a pole position on his way to seventh overall, and began the 2020 season with a pole at the Red Bull Ring, and was set for his first win before his Virtuosi F2 car let him down. Plus you have to think that Zhou is also a marketing goldmine for a manufacturer like Renault, since he would be the first Chinese driver and China is always a market that brands want to sell in so it would make sense from a marketing standpoint.

Then we have Lundgaard, who won two F4 championships in 2017, finished runner-up in Formula Renault EuroCup and took a race win last year in FIA Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix. He’s now in F2 with ART and scored a fourth and fifth in his first F2 races. He has had a rapid rise through the lower ranks and undoubtedly has the ability, but perhaps it may have been too early and he could be in prime position to be in the Renault F1 drive after Alonso retires for good.

Since we are talking about Renault juniors, it would be an insult if we didn’t talk about the driver who was perhaps in the best position for that seat alongside Ocon.

Lundgaard may have remained in F3 for a title charge in 2020, but that ART F2 drive had already been paid for by Renault so he was promoted into the seat that most likely would have been occupied by 2018 GP3 champion Anthoine Hubert.

Having won two sprint races last season in F2 at Monaco and Paul Ricard with BWT Arden, but tragedy struck at Spa-Francorchamps when Hubert was fatally injured. I would have put a lot of money on Hubert being champion in F2 this year had he been in that ART seat, considering the past two champions George Russell and Nyck De Vries raced with ART as well.

(Image taken from F1 2020 Game Play)

Nevertheless, it’s the return of Fernando Alonso with Renault for 2021. I can definitely imagine a few more iconic moments from him, especially in the Drive to Survive season focusing on the 2021 season, the combination of Fernando and Cyril Abiteboul is going to make for some interesting moments for us, that’s for sure.

Haas F1 Team Takes First – 2020 Contender Reveal

Haas F1 Team gave the Formula 1 world a pleasant surprise yesterday by revealing its 2020 contender early. The VF-20’s new livery presents a welcome return of the design elements of the team’s first years in contention. The return to the gray, red, a different, lighter gray (I suspect we could be forgiven for thinking it white), and black color scheme presents a welcome evolution of the team’s 2018 livery as well as a return to the branding of Haas Automation.

Haas F1 Media

In the press release accompanying the reveal, it is entirely unsurprising that neither Haas Automation founder and team chairman Gene Haas nor team principal Guenther Steiner mentioned the debacle that was Rich Energy’s sponsorship. The usual nods to lessons learned were suitably dispensed, along with the hopes that 2020 will see an evolution of 2018’s form in both design and results.

The livery suits the 2020 design well. For the sake of Haas fans, here’s hoping that the on-track performance will match its visual appeal.

The VF-20 will make its physical debut as scheduled on 19 February 2020, the opening day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean in the cockpit.

Haas F1 Media

 

[Featured image – Haas F1 Media]

W Series: Gilkes wins by 0.03 seconds in reverse grid thriller at Assen

Sunday morning’s race ended in a nail-biting final lap showdown which saw reverse grid pole-sitter Megan Gilkes hold off the charging Alice Powell to win by just 0.03s.

The grid was based on a full reversal of the championship points, including all twenty race and reserve drivers. The race, which did not offer points, saw Megan Gilkes and Sarah Bovy start on the front row, while championship contenders Beitske Visser and Jamie Chadwick lined up 19th and 20th.

The race came down to an intense final-lap battle between Gilkes, the youngest driver in the field, and the experienced racer Powell who had overtaken her way through the field from 17th on the grid. Despite Powell’s relentless attempts to take the lead, Gilkes put up a robust defence each and every time, leading to a side-by-side finish, with Gilkes coming out on top by the smallest of margins. Sabre Cook rounded out the podium.

Credit: W Series Media

Gilkes, Bovy, and the American driver Cook, who had a great start to move from 8th to third, held their own out front for the first half of the race. Shea Holbrook, who had started third, struggled for pace and fell down the order, eventually spinning and bringing out the safety car. At the restart, Gilkes came under pressure from Bovy in second, but managed to stay in front.

Alice Powell was among the early movers, jumping from 17th to 9th by the second lap, and refusing to stop there, continuing to climb the order until the very end. Emma Kimilainen also put in a commendable drive, finishing 5th from 15th on the grid and battling for a podium in the process.

Lap 4 saw championship rivals Visser and Chadwick battling over 14th position, with Visser coming out on top, and Chadwick then falling back behind Fabienne Wohlwend. Undeterred, Chadwick was able to battle her way through to finish 8th, while a poor getaway in a safety car restart meant Visser had to settle for 14th.

The race saw two safety car periods, with Gosia Rdest and Shea Holbrook failing to make the finish.

Featured image: W Series Media

Kimilainen wins at Assen as W Series title battle heats up

Emma Kimilainen won from pole after a close battle with Alice Powell, who led much of the race, as championship rivals Jamie Chadwick and Beitske Visser fought for third place.

In her second race back after injuries kept her out of action earlier in the season, Kimilainen took pole in Saturday morning’s qualifying session with a time of 1:34.758. 

Powell set the second fastest time, despite having the same car that had suffered a number of issues last time out at the Norisring, due to a rule that meant, while normally drivers swap cars at each round, she had to keep the same car going into this weekend.

Championship leader Chadwick put in the third best time, with her closest title rival and local favourite Visser joining her on the second row of the grid.

Further back on the grid, Norisring winner Marta Garcia and Lichtenstein’s Fabienne Wohlwend qualified 7th and 8th. Meanwhile, Vicky Piria lined up 12th after suffering a fiery failure, cutting her qualifying session short.

W Series Media

As the lights went out for the start of Saturday’s championship race, Kimilainen made a sluggish start, handing Powell the lead, and almost allowing a charging Chadwick through. Meanwhile, Visser dropped to fifth behind Caitlin Wood. Further back, Garcia tapped the rear of Tasmin Pepper, who then spun, making contact with Miki Koyama, bringing out the safety car on the opening lap.

After the safety car period, pole-sitter Kimilainen pressured Powell throughout the race, with Powell eventually making a small mistake and running onto the kerb with 10 minutes remaining, allowing Kimilainen past. Kimilainen then quickly built up a sizeable lead, crossing the line 5.7 seconds ahead of Powell in second.

Chadwick rounded out the podium, despite seemingly lacking in pace to Powell and Kimilainen ahead, but was able to hold off a strong challenge from title rival Visser, who finished in fourth and pulled off the move of the race, making an early decisive move to pass Wood down the inside.

Wohlwend, still in mathematical championship contention at the start of this race, is now out of the title fight after running wide and damaging her front wing, forcing her to pit. Garcia is also now out of contention after finishing in ninth.

Tomorrow’s race, which will not award points, will see an experimental reverse grid based on today’s race results. After today’s penultimate championship race, Chadwick leads with 98 points, with her sole remaining challenger Visser on 85 points going into the final round at Brands Hatch on 11th August.

W Series Media

Marta Garcia takes maiden W Series win from pole

Marta Garcia stormed to her first W Series victory from pole position at the Norisring as championship leader Jamie Chadwick had to settle for third place.

The battles began even before qualifying had started, as W Series staged an FP2 shootout between Canadian Megan Gilkes, and the reserve drivers Vivien Keszthelyi and Sarah Bovy, to determine who would enter the race. By setting the fastest time of the three, in seventh place, Keszthelyi was given permission to race.

Garcia took pole with a time of 50.712s, with Chadwick just 0.081s behind. Fabienne Wohlwend and Gosia Rdest set the third and fourth quickest times to line up on the second row of the grid. American Sabre Cook displayed her best pace of the season, qualifying in tenth place. Emma Kimilainen, returning after injuries caused by a first-lap crash with Gilkes at Hockenheim, qualified in eighth, but felt that even more could have been possible after being caught out by a red flag.

As the lights went out, Garcia made a confident getaway and led throughout, never looking in danger of losing her lead. Beitske Visser made a decisive start to jump from fifth to second, where she remained throughout, with Chadwick and Wohlwend falling back to third and fourth respectively.

Chadwick seemed to struggle for pace in the race, coming under pressure from Wohlwend behind. However, in the closing stages, Chadwick seemed to find some hidden pace, hunting down Visser ahead but unable to find a way past.

The race was far from incident-free, with Rdest damaging her front wing on the opening lap, and Sarah Moore and Shea Holbrook both suffering damage after coming together.

Kimilainen made a solid return to the series, finishing in fifth place after coming out on top of an exciting battle with Jessica Hawkins, and challenging Wohlwend for fourth, as well as setting the fastest lap of the race, at 50.975s.

Alice Powell had a commendable drive, having fought her way back into the top eight after starting from the back due to a gearbox failure in qualifying. However, her luck continued to run dry as she suffered a fuel pump failure in the closing stages of the race and was forced to retire. Sarah Moore and Jessica Hawkins also retired from the race.

Following her maiden win, Garcia is one of four drivers still in championship contention in third place with 60 points, with Chadwick continuing to lead the standings with 83 points. Visser follows with 73 points, and Wohlwend is in fourth with 41 points.

Featured Image: W Series

Zak Brown: “There is a lot to be excited about” in 2019

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said he believes fans of the team have “a lot to be excited about” in the 2019 season, after a challenging 2018 campaign.

McLaren finished sixth in the constructors’ championship on 62 points, with the highlight being a fifth-place in the Australian Grand Prix courtesy of Fernando Alonso. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne had a best finish of P8, which came in the Mexican Grand Prix.

In a year when they believed their new Renault power-unit would propel McLaren up the order, it is difficult to call 2018 anything but a disappointment for them.

“2018 was a difficult year,” Zak Brown said, “but one where we’ve implemented a lot of change. We’ve learned a lot, we understand the mistakes we’ve made, and we’ve worked hard to make sure we don’t replicate those moving forward. We did finish sixth in the championship, so on paper it was a step forward from 2017, but it certainly wasn’t a season of the calibre that anyone at McLaren or our fans would have expected.”

Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Tuesday 27 February 2018. Zak Brown
World Copyright: Steven Tee/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _R3I3944

Brown is optimistic about the team’s chances in 2019 though, highlighting in particular the numerous personnel changes they have made. “We’ve brought in Gil de Ferran,” he said, “who brings an unusual mix of a racer’s instinct with strategic acumen, promoted Andrea Stella to lead our performance development and analysis group, brought back Pat Fry as engineering director to lead the design of the MCL34, and of course appointed James Key as our technical director to give us the singular technical leadership that has been missing.”

Speaking of the development of their 2019 car, Brown added, “Everyone is working extremely hard. We have a good understanding of what we need to do to improve our race car. The changes we’ve made over the last five or six months, both in our structure and leadership, are already in play and beginning to take effect.

“We need to get back to the basics, come out with a stronger car next year, and continue on the rebuilding journey to get us back to winning races. 2019 should be another step forward in that direction.”

With Fernando Alonso retiring from F1 and Stoffel Vandoorne moving to Formula E, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will be driving for McLaren next year. Sainz made the move to McLaren from Renault, whilst Norris will be making his F1 debut.

 

Featured image – Mark Sutton/McLaren

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso prepared for “very emotional” last race in F1

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is certain that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be a “very emotional” race for him, as he hangs up his helmet in F1 and moves on to pastures new.

“Abu Dhabi will certainly be a very emotional race for me, as it will be the end of a long and happy 17 years in Formula One,” he said. “The time has come for me to move on, but I’m looking forward to ending the season – and my F1 career – on a positive note.”

In a career spanning more than 300 races that began in a humble Minardi all the way back in 2001, Alonso won two world championships along with 32 wins and 97 podiums, in stints driving for Renault, McLaren (well, the first stint at least) and Ferrari. His last win was at his home race around the Circuit de Catalunya in 2013, with first an underwhelming 2014 Ferrari and then a woefully underpowered McLaren Honda making his pursuit of further victories difficult and then virtually impossible.

Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, USA
Sunday 21 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Sam Bloxham/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _W6I8618

Despite this, Alonso is not severing all ties with McLaren once he retires from F1, and plans to fight as hard as ever in Abu Dhabi.

“I’m also pleased that my relationship with McLaren will continue with the Indy 500,” Alonso added, “and there will be more new challenges together. There are very exciting things ahead, and I’m enthusiastic for what the future will bring. For now, I’m not ruling anything else.”

“I’m fully focused on this weekend in Abu Dhabi, and making the most of every day – in the car, with the team, and with my family and friends. Abu Dhabi is a tough circuit, but we don’t have anything to lose, so both Stoffel and I will be fighting hard as always.”

Alongside Alonso, Abu Dhabi will also be the last race at McLaren for Stoffel Vandoorne. Speaking of the duo, McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferran said, “The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will certainly be a significant end of the season for everyone at McLaren, as we bid farewell to Fernando and Stoffel in their final Grand Prix for the team. They have been incredible team-mates and ambassadors for McLaren and for the sport, as well as great guys to work with.”

Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, USA
Sunday 21 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, at the team photo call.
Photo: Glenn Dunbar/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _X4I9809

 

Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren – Digital Image _2ST7317

Robert Kubica joins Williams for 2019 F1 season

Williams have announced that Robert Kubica will race for the team in the 2019 Formula One season.

The signing comes eight years after Kubica last appeared on the grid, with the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix being the Pole’s last outing in a stint in F1 that yielded one win, before a rally crash in February 2011 left him with severe injuries to his arm.

As his recovery progressed he made a return to rallying and competed in the World Rally-2 Championship, ultimately claiming the title with five wins to his name and dovetailing his campaign with sessions in Mercedes’ F1 simulator.

Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _31I9371

After stints in the ERC and various GT series, he then signed with the ByKolles LMP1 team to race in the World Endurance Championship in 2017, having tested alongside the team’s regular drivers at the end of 2016. However, after pre-season testing, Kubica announced that he would not be participating in the upcoming season.

Instead, he took part in tests with the works Renault F1 team and with Williams over the course of 2017, his first taste of F1 since his accident. He had long been in the frame for a full-time race seat at Williams for 2018, having participated in the 2017 post-season test for the team alongside Felipe Massa, Lance Stroll, and Sergey Sirotkin. He finished third in the group in terms of lap-times when fuel and tyres were accounted for and, with Massa retiring and Stroll already signed, Williams ultimately went for Sirotkin, who also brought with him a larger budget. The deal with Kubica, that many believed to be near completion, fell through, although he was still signed as test and reserve driver.

Over the course of 2018, Kubica participated in five test sessions as part of his role and a further two Friday practice sessions, alongside regular work in the team’s simulator.

Speaking of his signing for 2019, Kubica said, “Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during what was a difficult period of my life over these last few years. It has been a challenging journey to make it back to the Formula One grid, but what seemed almost impossible is now beginning to feel possible, as I am excited to be able to say that I will be on the Formula One grid in 2019.

“Being back on the F1 grid next season will be one of the greatest achievements of my life, and I’m sure with hard work and commitment we will be able to help motivate the team to achieve good things together. Thank you again to everyone who has supported me and believed in me. I will finally be back on the grid behind the wheel of an F1 car, and I cannot wait to get back racing.”

Kubica will race alongside British rookie George Russell, with current Williams driver Lance Stroll expected to make the move to Force India and Sergey Sirotkin’s future uncertain.

World Rally Championship Calendar 2019 and Driver Line up’s.

On the 12th of October the calendar for next year’s championship was announced, and it contained some surprises. First up, there are fourteen rounds, one extra compared to the last few years. This coming season will be the forty-seventh season of the championship.

 

Here’s the full schedule.

 

Monte Carlo Rally January 24-27

Rally Sweden February 14-17

Rally Mexico March 7-10

Tour de Corse March 28-31

Rally Argentina April 25-28

Rally Chile May 9-12

Rally Portugal May 30-June 2

Rally Italy June 13-16

Rally Finland August 1-4

Rally Germany August 22-25

Rally Turkey September 12-15

Rally GB October 3-6

Rally Spain October 24-27

Rally Australia November 14-17

 

The first surprise is the addition of Rally Chile two weeks after Rally Argentina, clearly as a double-header. It does make me wonder why they didn’t include Rally Mexico in that, rather than coming back to Europe, and then heading back to Southern America…. Anyway, the other big surprise is that there’s no returning Rally Japan. The rumours suggested it would return, but that looks more likely to be in 2020 along with a return of the championship to Africa with a round in Kenya with the Safari Rally.

 

The schedule looks pretty similar to this year though, apart from the addition of Chile. Adding a new round will bring an interesting dimension to the championship, with all new stages. Recently, the Dakar has run through part of Chile, so it’ll be interesting what the organiser decides in terms of the stages.

 

The summer break is in the usual place with a seven week between Italy in June and Finland at the start of August. Wales Rally GB remains at the start of October, which for the first time this year featured stages on closed roads. Once again, the season starts in Monte Carlo and ends down-under in Australia.

 

Also, we’ve had a number of driver changes and announcements. First of all, Seb Ogier is returning to Citroen Racing and young Finn Esapekka Lappi is switching from Toyota to drive the other C3 WRC.

 

Confirmed at Toyota today as their team for 2019 are Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti and the return of Kris Meeke to the sport. When Citroen terminated his contract back in May, it was a big shock. Now we will have one of the best drivers back in the sport. Let’s not forget, he is the only driver from the UK to win in Finland. At Hyundai we know that Thierry has signed for three years with the team.

Now the teams and drivers that we know are as follows.

Hyundai Motorsport- Thierry Neuville (new three-year deal) and Andreas Mikkelsen (starting the second year of a two-year deal).

Thierry Neuville

“I am really happy to sign a new three-year contract with Hyundai Motorsport. We have improved a lot in recent seasons, and it has always been my target to build continuity for my career by remaining with this team. Since 2014, we have shared many special moments together, as well as working through some more difficult times. Our debut victory together in 2014 remains a highlight, and we have since taken more wins together. There is a fantastic family atmosphere and I get on very well with my team-mates. This is very important to me. Alongside Nicolas, who has played a key role in our successes, our focus is on completing this current season in the strongest way possible, aiming to secure the titles. From there, we will continue to build, hopefully, to an even brighter future with Hyundai Motorsport.”

Citroen Racing- Seb Ogier and Esapekka Lappi.

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m really enthusiastic about the prospect of taking on this new challenge with Citroën. In fact, I can’t wait, especially as I haven’t forgotten that this is the team that first gave me the opportunity to compete in the world championship. There were various factors that influenced my decision. I really like the idea of working again with people with whom things went pretty well a few years back and I’m also excited by the chance to try and pull off the challenge of becoming world champion with a third different manufacturer. And although I’m not taking anything for granted, I am convinced that the car has definite potential and I have great faith in the people at Satory.”

 

Esapekka Lappi

“Obviously, I’m delighted to be joining the team and to be the future team-mate of Sébastien. It’s a good opportunity for me to keep developing. After having learned many things from Jari-Matti Latvala last year, and from Ott Tänak this year, I’ll have everything it takes to be even better if I also manage to draw inspiration from Seb! I’m convinced that the car has a lot of potential, as does the team, which has a long history and lot of experience in the WRC. The fact that Pierre clearly wanted to recruit me also counted a lot when it came to making my decision. It’s also going to be a great challenge, trying to win together.”

Citroen Racing confirmed Esapekka Lappi today, joining Seb Ogier.

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing- Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke.

Tommi Mäkinen (Team Principal)

“We are all very excited to have Kris joining us here at TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. We know that he is very fast, but he also brings a lot of experience. His technical understanding is at a really high level and I believe he can provide new knowledge and ideas to help us in our aim to keep making the Yaris WRC better.

I am also very pleased that Jari-Matti will continue to be part of our team. He has done some brilliant work for us and has recently been regularly on the podium again, which has been very important. Together with Ott, who has proven that he is absolutely one of the fastest drivers right now, I think we have a very strong line-up for next year, with three drivers who are all quick, experienced and can win rallies. I believe we will again have a strong team to fight for both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles.

Lastly, I am very sorry to see that Esapekka has decided to leave us for a new challenge, but we all wish him the best of luck for the future.”

Kris Meeke

“It’s a huge pleasure and honour for me to become a Toyota driver. I’d like to thank Akio Toyoda, Tommi Mäkinen and the entire Toyota team for their faith in me. Three years ago, we first discussed the possibility of me joining the team, and I’m so happy that it’s finally happened now.

Kris Meeke – Photo credit Toyota Gazoo Racing.

The performance of the Yaris WRC speaks for itself, but the team spirit here is incredible at every level, also with the Japanese culture of honour and respect. I can’t wait to get started. I’ve got no particular objectives other than to enjoy my driving again and help Toyota to win a championship.

Kris Meeke testing the Yaris WRC. Photo credit Toyota Gazoo Racing

The very first championship that I won was actually when I was aged 16 and co-driving for my brother on our local road rally championship. We clinched that title in a Toyota Corolla, so for very many reasons, it feels incredibly good to be here. I can’t think of a better place to be.”

 

We are still waiting for M-Sport to confirm what their plans are, but potential drivers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen, Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen.

We’ve still got a few surprises left this year.