Rallye Monte Carlo, Seb Ogier leads after day one.

First stage of the event and there was lots of drama in the Thoard – Sisteron 36km opener! There was no snow and ice in the first 12km and then broken ice for a couple of km’s.

Seb Ogier, early leader of Rallye Monte Carlo, Photo credit, M-Sport

Seb Ogier was first in, and spun in the stage! Ott stopped 11km into stage, but got going again and Thierry was another to stop, but got going again as well. Both had slid wide into snow banks. Another to spin was Jari-Matti and he managed to spin twice! Elfyn picked up a puncture at about 12km into the stage, so they had to change the tyre. The Citroen duo of Kris and Craig both spun as well, Kris losing a minute or so.

 

Esapekka completed the stage third fastest, with a good run though, whilst Andreas was the closest challenger to Ogier, just 7.7 seconds off the Fiesta WRC pilot!

 

1st    Ogier      23’16”6

2nd   Mikkelsen  + 7”7

3rd   Lappi         + 19”4

4th   Sordo        + 19”7

5th   Breen        + 24”6

6th   Tänak        + 37”9

7th   Latvala      + 48”9

8th   Bouffier + 1’15”6

9th   Camilli    + 1’43”3

10th Meeke   + 1’44”7

 

Stage two, Bayons – Breziers 25,49km stage which includes a rise of 1184 metres above sea-level to the summit of Col de Sagnes! Ogier won the stage with a very good clean run through with Thierry going second fastest and Ott third. There were a few changes in the leaderboard with Dani moving ahead of Esapekka and into third. Kris and Thierry are a long way off the lead sadly, over two minutes away for the Citroen pilot and over four for the Belgian. That’s a big ask for them.

Classification after Day One

1              S. Ogier J. Ingrassia                          Ford Fiesta WRC                           38:09.8

2              A. Mikkelsen      A. Jæger               Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC                +17.3

3              D. Sordo               C. del Barrio        Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC                +25.6

4              E. Lappi                 J. Ferm                  Toyota Yaris WRC                               +37.4

5              O. Tänak               M. Järveoja          Toyota Yaris WRC                               +42.4

6              J. M. Latvala        M. Anttila             Toyota Yaris WRC                              +55.4

7              C. Breen               S. Martin                Citroën C3 WRC                             +1:02.3

8              B. Bouffier          X. Panseri             Ford Fiesta WRC                             +1:51.0

9              K. Meeke            P. Nagle                  Citroën C3 WRC                              +2:12.7

10           E. Camilli              B. Veillas               Ford Fiesta R5                                  +2:42.2

17           T. Neuville           N. Gilsoul               Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC           +4:18.2

 

What will happen tomorrow?  There are six stages and 144.88 km’s of action!

 

Rallye Monte-Carlo Preview 2018

Its time for a new season! Will this year be as amazing as last? Who knows what will happen in 2018?! First up, we’ve got the iconic Rallye Monte Carlo, an event being run for the 86th time, that really challenges the drivers, with ice and snow-covered stages!

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 2016 -WRC Monte Carlo (FRA) – WRC 18/01/2017 to 22/01/2017 – PHOTO : @World

Reigning champion Seb Ogier has won this event four times and will be targeting a fifth! If you’re looking for challengers, then last year’s early leader Thierry, plus Andreas and Kris are the drivers likely to be there. Jari-Matti and Ott in the Yaris will also be challenging near the top. Any number of these drivers could stand on the podium.

 

Here’s the full details of the stages.

 

WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY

4.00pm: shakedown (Gap)

 

THURSDAY 25 JANUARY

5.50pm: Start day 1 (Monaco – Place du Casino)

9.43pm: SS 1 – Thoard – Sisteron (36,69 km)

10.51pm: SS 2 – Bayons – Bréziers 1 (25,49 km)

11.56pm: Flexi Service A (Gap – 48′)

 

FRIDAY 26 JANUARY

8.00am: Start day 2 and Service B (Gap – 18′)

8.51am: SS 3 – Vitrolles – Oze 1 (26,72 km)

10.04am: SS 4 – Roussieux – Eygalayes 1 (30,54 km)

11.37am: SS 5 – Vaumeilh – Claret 1 (15,18 km)

12.52pm: Service C (Gap – 33′)

1.58pm: SS 6 – Vitrolles – Oze 2 (26,72 km)

3.11pm: SS 7 – Roussieux – Eygalayes 2 (30,54 km)

4.44pm: SS 8 – Vaumeilh – Claret 2 (15,18 km)

5.49pm: Flexi Service D (Gap – 48′)

 

SATURDAY 27 JANUARY

6.57am: Start day 3 and Service E (Gap – 18′)

8.08am: SS 9 – Agnières en Devoluy – Corps 1 (29,16 km)

9.16am: SS 10 – St Léger les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve 1 (16,87 km)

10.31am: Service F (Gap – 33′)

11.57am: SS 11 – Agnières en Devoluy – Corps 2 (29,16 km)

1.08pm: SS 12 – St Léger les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve 2 (16,87 km)

2.23pm: Service G (Gap – 33′)

4.09pm: SS 13 – Bayons – Bréziers 2 (25,49 km)

5.29pm: Service H (Gap – 48′)

10.17pm: Parc ferme (Monaco)

 

SUNDAY 28 JANUARY

6.49am: Start day 4

 

8.32am: SS 14 – La Bollène Vésubie – Peira Cava 1 (18,41 km)

9.08am: SS 15 – La Cabanette – Col de Braus 1 (13,58 km)

10.55am: SS 16 – La Bollène Vésubie – Peira Cava 2 (18,41 km)

12.18pm: SS 17 – La Cabanette – Col de Braus 2 (13,58 km)

 

1.58pm: Parc ferme (Monaco)

3.00pm: Prize giving (Place du Palais Princier – Monaco)

That’s a total of 17 stages, covering 388.59km in total.

 

Flashback to 2017 

Thierry Neuville had built a commanding lead over the first two days, but after running wide during the final stage on Saturday and breaking his suspension, Sébastien Ogier came through to take his fourth victory!

 

This is last year’s result.

 

  1. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 4:00:03.6
  2. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:15.0
  3. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:57.8

 

Okay, let’s hear from the teams then.

 

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Malcolm Wilson OBE

“Last year saw us enjoy our most successful season in motorsport and that’s something that we want to see continue in 2018. The hard work has not stopped and everyone has been working around the clock to ensure that we start our title defence on a high.

“We have completed two comprehensive test sessions and the feeling amongst the team is more determined than ever. It might not be possible to make huge gains within the regulations, but we have been working with our partners to enhance what was already an extremely strong package.

“Every team is capable of securing the ultimate prize this year and I am expecting the competition to be closer than ever. It’s so difficult to predict who will even come out on top this week, and that in itself is fantastic for the sport.

“In Sébastien, Elfyn and Bryan we have three very competent and intelligent drivers who are all more than capable of securing a Monte-Carlo victory. That has to be our aim so let’s see what happens. Like every rally fan, I am very much looking forward to the start of this exciting new season.”

 

Sébastien Ogier

“We start the new season with an event that is always a real highlight for me – Rallye Monte-Carlo. As my home event, I always want to give my best and challenge for the top results.

“We started something great here last year and want to try and build on that in 2018. We will need to work hard as the competition will be very tough. Every team has a winning car and a winning driver so everyone is a threat and we need to be ready right from the start.

“It’s such a challenging start to the season – the ultimate test with extreme conditions that can see us go from dry Tarmac to pure ice and snow in the space of a single stage. It’s certainly not easy, but that’s what makes a good result here so rewarding.

“We’ll start this year with what could be the biggest challenge of the entire rally – Sisteron, in reverse, in the dark. It doesn’t get much tougher than that, but that’s Monte. It’s always a challenge and that will be the case from the very first stage this year.”

Sebastien Ogier, Rallye Monte Carlo 2017, Photo credit, Alastair Cummins

Elfyn Evans

“Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of those events that every driver looks forward to. I’ve always said that it offers some of the best Tarmac roads in the world, but at this time of year the conditions make it a true challenge and the ultimate test of strategy. To do well, you really do need to get absolutely everything right.

“We’ve just completed two days of testing in mixed conditions. The road was constantly evolving which is great when it comes to getting a flavour for everything we’ve come to expect on a rally like this, but it can also be a bit of a double-edged sword at times – making it difficult to judge which direction to go in terms of set-up.

“Overall, I would say that we had two pretty good tests and that we are feeling fairly well prepared. Monte can always be a bit of a lottery and it can go either way, but we’re definitely ready to get the season started. We want to start the year on a high, so we’ll give it our best and see what happens.”

 

Bryan Bouffier

“Since learning that I would be driving the Ford Fiesta WRC, Rallye Monte-Carlo could not come soon enough! It’s one of my favourite events and having the opportunity to do it in one of these new generation world rally cars – the championship-winning car – is a dream come true.

“I have a lot of experience at Rallye Monte-Carlo which helps when it comes to reading the road and adapting the pace to suit the conditions, but this event is never easy. It’s one of the toughest events on the calendar and to do well you need to drive a clever rally by making the right calls on the tyres and finding the right balance between pushing hard and being more cautious.

“As one of the ‘French’ events, I feel at home at Rallye Monte-Carlo and am really looking forward to it. First and foremost, we want to have fun. We’ll start in a relaxed frame of mind and if we could help the team by scoring some good points for the manufacturers’ championship it would be amazing.”

 

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Pierre Budar

“The new season is upon us, which obviously means both excitement and uncertainty. After claiming second place in Germany and winning in Spain in the second part of 2017, which confirmed the growing strength of the team, I am determined to continue the work begun by Yves Matton, so that the team picks up in 2018 where it left off at the end of last year. This is especially the case since the C3 WRC has been further improved during the off-season, with intensive work put into widening its operating spectrum. Kris Meeke has the required experience to fight at the front at this unique event, as he showed in 2016, whilst Craig gained a lot of confidence from last year’s appearance and is determined to use it to push for a good position. They both also know that you can’t approach this rally just like any other: you must remain composed and treat the stages with the respect they deserve to avoid getting caught out by one of the many tricky sections.”

Citroen C3 WRC, Rallye Monte Carlo, Photo credit, Citroen Racing.

Kris Meeke

“Monte is probably one of the season’s hardest rallies, because of the constant changes in grip, but I’ve always really enjoyed it. I’ve also been quick here. I won the event in the Junior WRC class in 2005, I picked up a podium (3rd) on my full-time return to the WRC with Citroën in 2014 and I fought for the win in 2016… So, I think that we can do a good job here, especially since our off-season tests were held on roads that are fairly representative of what we’ll be facing during the rally, with a good variety of weather conditions. The test sessions also enabled us to keep improving the ability of our C3 WRC to adapt to changes in road surface, particularly by heading back to the Col de Faye, which is where we were least comfortable last year.”

 

Craig Breen

“Monte-Carlo is a rally that I love. It’s a unique challenge, something you don’t get on any of the other events. Until 2017, however, I never felt sufficiently confident in the kind of changeable, slippery conditions you get here. But last year, with the old car, we surprised ourselves. With a bit more horsepower, we could have aimed for the podium, so that gives me confidence. I’d like to think we can do it this time around, even though I’m not the most experienced driver in the line-up. Especially in that based on what we learned in 2017, we come into this event better prepared and with a C3 WRC that is even more versatile.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Tommi Mäkinen

“This time last year, we didn’t really know where we were as we prepared for the debut of the Toyota Yaris WRC. In the coming season, I believe that we can be a lot more consistent, which is really what we need in order to fight for the championship titles. That is our aim after our learning season last year. The break since Rally Australia finished has not been very long but we have been very busy trying to make our car even better. Rallye Monte-Carlo is always a tough event to start the season with. Although I won it four times during my career as a driver, I didn’t prepare for it very well back then: I would not even think about rallying, and just go skiing instead! Our three drivers have been doing much better preparation, with a lot of testing, and we hope for a good result.”

 

Jari-Matti Latvala

“We learned a lot last year during our first season together. We discovered where we needed to improve, and we are now ready for the second year and I think we should be very competitive. We have a very good driver line-up: all of us managed to win in 2017 and when everybody is aiming for victories it is usually good for the team. We already achieved a good result on Rallye Monte-Carlo on the debut for the Yaris WRC last year, finishing in second place, which equalled my best result there. Then, it was important to have a clean rally and the same will be true this year, but we also want to have good speed.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Rallye Monte Carlo 2017, Photo Credit Alastair Cummins

Ott Tänak

“There is a lot of excitement ahead of my first rally for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. The team did a really good job last year: even though it was their first season they were already very competitive. I could see how much potential there is and I wanted to make sure I was part of this team in the coming years. Our target is the same: to win the championship. I am just getting used to the team but already I feel very welcome and the preparation has been going really well. In Monte Carlo we will see how we are compared to the competition. For sure, it is one of the most challenging events on the calendar. You don’t know what to expect: whether it will be snow or ice, wet or dry.”

 

Esapekka Lappi

“This will be my first full season in a World Rally Car and the approach needs to be a bit different to before: I need to be a bit more consistent. I still need to gain some more experience: during the first part of the season there are rallies I do not know so well, and Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of those. It is an event where experience can really help, so my aim has to be to do all the stages. Later in the season there are the rallies where I have confidence and where I should be most competitive. The preparation is good: we have just been trying to improve the car and ourselves.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Michel Nandan

“We are as well prepared for this new season as we can be with renewed ambitions for the championship. The performance of our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in the final rounds of last season, especially winning in Australia, gave us a good springboard for winter development. We have taken the car and crews to France and Spain for seven days of testing in the past month, in an effort to replicate conditions that we expect in Monte. The beauty of this opening event is its unpredictability, so we have to be prepared for anything. Autosport International brought together all the manufacturer teams for a unique event, one that perfectly showcases the WRC’s community spirit. We know our rivals will be formidable and relentless, so we have to be on top of our game at all times. Bring on round one – let’s hope it’s another classic Monte.”

 

Andreas Mikkelsen

“It’s an amazing feeling to be starting a complete WRC season with Hyundai Motorsport. Last year was a bit frustrating, so I am looking forward to a consistent year with lots of rallying and aiming to be in the championship fight. Monte, of course, is an incredibly difficult challenge to start a new year with all kinds of conditions, including night driving where black ice can catch anyone out. Alongside Anders, I can’t wait to get our 2018 campaign underway.”

 

Thierry Neuville

“Excitement for this new WRC season is at fever pitch. The launch event in Birmingham put us all in a very positive frame of mind, and ready to attack the year ahead. Monte-Carlo is a very special event, one at which even the slightest error can be rally-ending. We saw last year, having led the event comfortably right until the penultimate day, that a small mistake put us out in a very frustrating manner. That’s what Monte is all about; it’s a tough challenge to start the year. We will aim to put all the lessons learned from our participation in the recent editions of this event to good use.”

Thierry Neuville, Rallye Monte Carlo, Photo credit, Alastair Cummins

Dani Sordo

“I am pleased to be starting my fifth season with Hyundai Motorsport at one of the most demanding events on the calendar – Monte-Carlo. We have developed a strong working relationship and although my schedule for this season is just seven events, I will aim to get as much out of them as I possibly can. I have a new co-driver for this season, Carlos, so there will be some areas we need to refresh, but we are optimistic we can deliver a positive result in this debut rally of the new year. We have to expect the unexpected at Monte-Carlo, and it will definitely be a tough fight against our rivals.”

In recent weeks it has been snowing, and this means that the teams and drivers will have a big challenge in getting the right strategy in terms of tyres. With the first stage on Thursday evening, the shakedown held in Gap at 4pm on Wednesday afternoon will be crucial in allowing the teams to really judge how their cars are behaving on these unique roads.

 

We’re all set for an amazing year then! Who will take victory?

Autosport International Show WRC interviews 2018

I got the opportunity to speak to the stars of the WRC during the launch day of the Championship.

2018 WRC Launch, Autosports International Show, NEC – Birmingham, UK, 11/01/2018

Here’s what they had to say.

 

First of all, I asked Citroen driver Craig Breen to sum up his 2017 season. This is what he said.

“It was a good first season in the world championship, close to a full season. The car wasn’t as good as we’d hoped, and we had to work hard on development in the middle of the year. Even still, it was a good year I’m quite happy, we showed some good speed and some rallies we were quite consistent finishing six times in fifth, so I was happy with that.”

I then asked him about his stellar drive to fifth in Monte Carlo in a 2016 DS3, and of course driving a C3 WRC there this year.

“Yes, Monte was a surprise with the old car, it was nice to do it, to get familiar with the event. Yes, I’m really looking forward to it, first time out with the big car there, and really excited!”

I then asked him which events he was most looking forward to this season.

“Finland, we’ve done well in Finland in the past, bagging a podium with third place in 2016. Portugal as well, Germany too.”

I then asked him if the team had got a good handle with the cars technical aspects.

“Yes, its definitely getting better and better with every test session and it’s going in the right direction and the team have already tested for Monte Carlo and have another two-day test next week.”

 

I spoke to Paul Nagle next, co-driver with Kris Meeke.

I started by asking him which events he was most looking forward to.

“Corsica was the first that he mentioned, saying we should have won that last year and the car gave up. Looking forward to going back to places that we won (Mexico and Portugal). It would be good to get a result in Monte and Sweden, solid results would be good, then Argentina as well (where they took their maiden victory).

I then asked him if he thought they had the pace in the car to challenge as last year was a mix, with a car that was hard to handle.

“We had the pace on tarmac, but the car was a handful. We improved as the year went on, getting more consistent results.”

Finally, I asked him about Sebastian Loeb joining the team for three events.

Autosport International Show, January 2018, Photo credit, Warren Nel

“It’s a good thing, he’s nine times world champion, brings a lot of experience, plus a lot of profile and support to the team and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Kris Meeke was next up. I said to him that Paul was really positive for the season.

He said, “Its nice to start with a clean slate, and 2017 wasn’t the year we’d hoped for, yet we were able to take two victories. It could have been more with Corsica and Portugal. We certainly struggled in certain areas, I made a few mistakes, probably through my usual trait of trying too hard, when things aren’t right. We identified things that where we were inconsistent and needed to improve, even looking to improve myself as well. We’ll take each event as it comes and hopefully we can try to be in the mix for the title, and give it their best shot.”

I then asked if they’d got a handle on the car.

“Yes, it turned around quite a bit, for sure the car was strong on tarmac, bar Monte Carlo, on gravel we certainly improved after we changed our suspension supplier to Ohlins, and that improved everything. However, there are still areas we have to work on, so we’ll wait and see.”

We then got the surprising news that Mads Ostberg had signed to drive in Rally Sweden for the team!

He said, “Well, for now its just for Rally Sweden, and that he’s working with Yves Matton to drive more events. I’m motivated to work with Citroen, it was some of the best years of my career, it’s a good mix and I’m happy to be back.”  He continued, “I had eight or nine podiums whilst there.

He’s yet to drive the car, but the amount of test time is already agreed.

Mads continued, “I’m happy with the programme that is ahead of me for Rally Sweden.”

He had a real up and down Rally Sweden in the One Bet Fiesta WRC. I asked him for his memories of it.

“We were doing well and in the podium position, then we lost the wing, then we had the gearbox problem and then also had a puncture! I got the longest jump on Colins Crest as well!”

 

Now it was time to talk to the Hyundai team, and I started with Thierry Neuville’s co-driver, Nicolas Gilsoul.

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
2018 Birmingham Team Launch
10-11 January 2018
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

I asked him what his hopes were for the new season.

“I think it’s quite clear. We missed the title last year, it’s our main target this year. He said less focus on the wins and more on the title itself and look to get the optimum result each time.”

Asking him if he was disappointed at all with the results, he said,

“No, not at all. A few had said that, and there is a little frustration, but that’s completely gone now and actually its been a fantastic season. If you check the numbers, you can see we have a lot of stage wins, more than Ogier and Tanak together, and except mid-season on a few rallies we struggled, for example we had a mechanical problem in Sardinia, in Finland the car was not competitive, we lost a wheel in Germany, three rallies in a row where we were not competitive or suffered mechanical problems, so except for that it was a very good season. Thinking of the problem at the start of the season, for sure, it should not happen, but I never count the corners through the year but we need some jokers, it’s close to impossible to drive at full speed to not do a mistake and sometimes its only a little mistake and its okay, and sometimes its not and you lose a wheel, or you break something and it’s over.”

I suggested that this is what he and Thierry wanted to do, to conquer these moments and overcome them.

“Yes, it’s a combination of things, to be really strong together, we are winning together and losing together and it’s the same for the team, for example three years ago when it was looking like we were not wanted by the teams we started to complain about the procedures, but it’s not the right way. The most important is to analyse what’s happened, to define what’s happened, to try and win through and solve the problem.”

Speaking about last season, he continued;

“I think last season, we didn’t start with the right mindset, because we didn’t expect it to be so competitive, and when we realised it, it was already too far through the season. Now this season we will start thinking of the championship. Now last year we mostly focused on rally wins.”

I asked them how long they’ve driven together and he said;

“Since 2011” he said. “We are very strong together, we know each other very well, we like working together and it’s easy and not boring at all, it’s still exciting, it’s good because now we are experienced and you are more confidant, because at the beginning you checking and double checking everything, and you are sometimes tired, and now it’s not being lazy, you trust yourself and you its been done and you don’t have to keep checking.”

 

Next, I had a chat with Seb Marshall, who is Hayden Paddon’s co-driver. He’s been working with the Kiwi for a couple of years now, but this will mark a first time they start a season together.

Seb Marshall, Hyundai Motorsport, Autosport International Show, January 2018, Photo credit, Warren Nel

He said “Yes, it’s nice to start a season together, and its confirmed that we have seven events this year, starting with Sweden, and gravel the rest of the year. Now the key objective is results wise with the drivers’ title not a consideration for us one of the key objectives is helping the team win the manufacturers championship, so that means that we need to score well. Last year we scored a couple of podiums and the target is that we can repeat that, and also take advantage of our road position on some events and string things together and target a win. We’ll take things as they come, take opportunities and see where we are at the end of the year.”

I spoke next to Thierry. I said to him, that it got away from him, but that it was a positive year on the whole despite the odd slip up.

He said, “It was a very positive year, the speed was there, the car was very good, the best performance of the team, we can’t complain. We just missed out on the objective, the most important, probably its not all about being world champion, but also enjoyable to do, I really enjoyed what we did we had a huge satisfaction, and I think a great preparation for the up-coming year as well, running in this position, we were one of the contenders for the title and at one point we were leading the championship, these are all things to experience and we have experienced it now we have to be constantly in this position. It won’t be easy. Looking forward to it!”

 

Next up, I spoke to Jari-Matti and his co-driver Miikka from Toyota. The second year with the team run by Finnish legend, Tommi Makinen. I started by saying, its your second year at Toyota.

2018 WRC Launch, Autosports International Show, NEC – Birmingham, UK, 11/01/2018

Jari-Matti said “Yes, it’s going to be exciting, Easier to start the second year than the first year, but there is a little more pressure of course, but you know on the other hand that the car is competitive!”

Of course, we did see Jari-Matti lead the championship after Rally Sweden last year.

Jari-Matti continued, “The first half of the season was very well and the first two races were special, it was an amazing feeling to be leading after Sweden, I knew that it would be more demanding in the high altitude races coming up, Mexico, Argentina, yes we were suffering in those, then it was getting better and I thought that wouldn’t face problems but we did mid-season, and of course it was disappointing to get them at the time when we could almost fight for the championship, but on the other hand it was the learning year and you know that they were coming, but still I prefer this way, that we had a good start to the season, it was really a bit great.”

I asked him next what his hopes were for the new season and what they had worked on over the winter.

“We have the new front bumper, the new front aero, which will give help to the turnings, work done on the engine, gears and suspension and I feel the car is better than last year. The target is to try to fight for podiums in every race.”

I then suggested that we saw a rebirth of him last year after leaving Volkswagen and asked him if that was fair to say.

He replied, “That yes that was fair to say, at Ford I was young and fast but made a lot of mistakes, then I went to Volkswagen and I was close and two times I finished second in the championship, but Ogier was always a step ahead with the consistency but then coming to the Toyota I thought start a new era just focus really for the consistency and it was going well and the target is to keep that this year as well.”

I asked him next on his feelings about Rally Finland where he retired with a problem on the Saturday afternoon.

He said, “Ah, that was very, very, disappointing, I mean my best single day performance in the morning before the technical problems, but these things can happen.”

I then asked him about the relationship between the drivers.

His reply was typically honest as you’d expect.

“In our team we are close and even with the little change with Ott Tanak coming in and Juho being test driver, to try and keep that spirit. All in all, in the rally world basically I would say all the drivers have a very good relationship, it’s not like in the racing world.”

Finally, I asked him which events he was most looking forward to this year, well, other than Rally Finland of course!

He said “For sure Sweden is important, I like Sardinia, Catalunya which I have really wanted to win for a long time.”

 

Then I spent some time talking to Miikka Anttila. I asked him how many years he’d been in the car with Jari-Matti and also how he found the transition from Volkswagen to Toyota.

2018 WRC Launch, Autosports International Show, NEC – Birmingham, UK, 11/01/2018

“Since 2003, I think it’s the fifteenth year already, a long time. We have a very good working relationship. The biggest part is that the team is from Finland, working so much with the Finnish people, for sure makes it a much, much easier, I mean let’s say if we went to Citroen, it wouldn’t have been so easy, and then of course already in the team there were people we knew from the past, I mean not Finnish guys, but from M-Sport times, so all in all its been really easy. When we went there, we found it was a good boost for all the people in the team, that we came from Volkswagen who’d just scored the fourth title.”

Asking him their goals for the year, I said that Jari-Matti had said lots of podiums were what they were hoping for.

“Yes, to fight for the championship, you don’t have to win everything, but you do have to be in the points constantly, when you think the 2017 season there were so many different winners, it means the car needs to be on a good level. The other thing is that it’s the second year of the team, now in this sport you cannot happen that go and win at the top level straight away. Okay, in a way, Volkswagen did that, they did enter the car 18 months before the first rally with the world rally car, they went there with the smaller car, and they faced all the conditions, whereas we faced all the conditions with the new car. If we’d joined with the old regulations, then probably the gap would have been a lot bigger, but now it was new for everybody.”

I asked him next about the development of the Polo WRC and how it compared to the Yaris when they first drove it.

Autosport International Show 2018, Toyota Yaris WRC, Photo credit, Warren Nel

“We didn’t drive the latest of the 2017 Polo, as it was October the last time we drove it, and there would have been improvements to come, but they didn’t come and the car wasn’t finalised when we did our final test. That’s why it’s a bit difficult to compare. For sure, our car was changed a lot between the first test and before Monte Carlo and there were new parts coming all the time which were decided before we joined the team, because it was already December when we joined the team.”

Finally, I asked him about Seb, former teammate at Volkswagen and what he was like to work with.

“Let’s say he was a proper competitor, in the way he is always thinking for the competition what he can improve, not always telling to others, a bit not giving all the secrets of what he has in his pocket.”

 

Finally, I spoke to Elfyn and asked him what his hopes were for this new season

Elfyn Evans, M-Sport driver, Autosport International Show, January 2018, Photo credit Mitch Oakley

He said, “Yep, massively looking forward to it, there’s a lot to do, a lot of expectations to live up to thanks to the success of the team last year, expectations are high but so are my own expectations, to be honest, I would really like to be consistently on the podium as often as we can, we’re anticipating that its going to be even more competitive year, this year so we could find that a big challenge, looking forward to it!”

I then asked him about that win that got away in Argentina.

He said “After the rally it was a second-place finish, after a tough start in the first three or four rallies, although we were starting to show good speed, we’d not been able to bag a good result for different reasons so on reflection of the rally it wasn’t such a bad result, finishing second. At the time, it was hurting pretty badly, I have to be honest after showing such good speed through the first day and fighting through problems on the second, to lose by such a fine margin was tough to accept, but like I say looking back now with everything that happened it is was it is and second at the time was a positive result”

I also asked him about #ElfynsCorner.

“Well, yes it was a surprise to be honest when it came up, I had no involvement in it what-so-ever, I still don’t, its purely a fan base thing, we enjoyed massive support on the rally, both through ElfynsCorner and otherwise, just throughout the weekend, the amount of people supporting both on and off the stages was incredible, something I’d never experienced before, okay I’d always enjoyed great support in Wales before, but never to this extent.”

I then explained that I’d been in touch with the individuals, before it all it all spiraled into what had happened. The reason they did it was because they wanted to raise your profile, they felt you weren’t valued and wanted to show their support. I gave him the names of all the individuals who made it happen and he recognized them.

Autosport International Show 2018, M-Sport Fiesta WRC, Photo credit Warren Nel

His response was interesting, “It especially hard in the UK, because we have so many successful, high level sports, it’s very difficult to build a profile, especially through motorsport, so many high-profile tennis players, football players, football is massive, whereas let’s say Ott, he’s in the top three sportsmen in Estonia!”

 

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the thoughts of the teams. We are getting really close to the start of the season, with just twelve days to go!

Pop back soon, as I’ll have my preview for round one very soon.