While it is true that Mike Shaw has taken the rally section of the site over, I would be remised if I did not have a chance to chime in on the 2013 season that is just a few short days away. The teams and equipment have reached Monte Carlo as we prepare for the historic Monte Carlo Rally set to begin 15 January.
2013 introduces a couple of items that will make this season so very fun to watch. First, Sebastien Loeb is set to only run four events over the course of 2013. While I originally entertained the idea of the Frenchman winning a 10th title, he is not competing enough to take home a title this year. He will be in Monte Carlo, which means that naturally he is the odds on favorite to win, but then we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
The second variable that is present for 2013 is the introduction of Volkswagen. VW has taken a very sensible approach to the WRC, but they have made it clear that their main purpose is to end Citroen’s run of dominance. While Ford has been trying to do this for the better part of a decade (and failed), VW enters the WRC with money…and lots of it! Their talent level at both engineering and driving is top notch too. Without the car even touching a stage, I firmly believe that even if Loeb would have remained, VW would have pushed him to the brink if not defeated him and the Citroen dynasty. Monte Carlo will give us a slight glimpse of what could have been.
So what about the other two cars? There will still be Ford Fiestas running on stage. Even after Ford announced their withdrawal as a presenting sponsor with M-Sport, Malcolm Wilson was able to work a deal with Nasser al-Attiyah who brought large amounts of money in the form of Qatar sponsorship. The driving talent is not bad. It is a whole new look as JML left for VW and Petter Solberg was not retained following a less than stellar 2012 campaign. Who is the biggest winner out of this deal? Mads Ostberg of course. The Norwegian was able to secure his first victory last season after a Mikko Hirvonen DQ. Ostberg ran well for most of the year through and will have pace with top equipment. He is not capable at this time however of taking titles. That is the biggest issue now at M-Sport. They have a stable full of young talent in Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov, and Thierry Neuville; yet not enough to claim either a driver’s championship or team championship.
Citroen for the first time in over a decade is in a position of weakness talent wise. Granted it is impossible to replace a talent like Sebastien Loeb, both Hirvonen and Sordo will have their work cut out. Hirvonen has to be the early season favorite to represent Citroen, but VW and Sebastien Ogier in my mind are the favorites for both championships. Mikko must rise to the occasion and show what we seen when he lost the title by one point a few seasons ago.
So my picks are simple. Ogier and Volkswagen will sweep both titles in their first season of competition. Citroen will be asked for the first time in a long while to elevate their game going forward and M-Sport will be there to pick up the leftovers when the dust settles.
Regardless, I am very much ready for 2013 and I can’t wait for the cars to roll off the ceremonial start in under one week’s time!