The promotional body of the WRC has stated they would like to have four manufacturers in the pinnacle of rally racing for 2011. Unless something drastic happens, I believe it is safe for us to assume that Ford and Citroen will make up half of the quota. The question is who else is willing to make a program in the series now that the rules have been cast in stone? There are rumored teams out there and we are going to break a couple of them down now and look at who the most likely candidates are.
Proton: Who? Proton is a Malaysian manufacturer who has their hands on some pretty nice vehicles including a large share in the Lotus International. The company has been putting together a very nice looking rally car that is based off of the super 2000 regulations and has ran it in the IRC. However, due to the size of the company I believe this is a one series team and will not be making a jump from the much more stable IRC.
Skoda: Skoda has been there before and could very well be there again before all is said and done. I put this group in the very real contender category at the moment. They are cleaning house currently with their IRC challenger and have made it no secret that a return to WRC competition could be in the works. If the team want to run two cars, they could swing it I do believe. One thing that has made them skeptical is the modified super 2000 regs for 2011. Skoda said they would only really commit if it was straight S2000 rules. While they continue to think about it there are still a few in the works that may jump ahead.
Peugeot: The French based outfit has also competed at the highest level once before. They have a rich rally pedigree and have been running a number of cars in the IRC. They have been however silent when dealing with a WRC return. While they are fully capable of the move, I am not going to put them in the contender slot just yet. I am not sure they would want to attempt a comeback unless they were in a position to challenge the Citroens and to be honest I don’t think any manufacturer is currently in that position.
Abarth: Fiat has also shown significant interest in a WRC comeback and unlike the other teams, they have a potential lineup that could prove rather impressive. Abarth and Petter Solberg have been in talks over running a S2000 for the new Super 2000 cup. There have been no formal deals inked but Fiat are definitely in the contender list. They have the money to run both rally series and potential drivers like Kimi Raikkonen that could bring in good investment money. I don’t think Kimi will be in a factory ride, but I could see him eventually moving in that direction with more expirience behind the wheel. This is a team I would really keep an eye on.
Volkswagen: Another team that has dipped the toes in the IRC water and had a good product. They have not enjoyed huge success but are still relatively young. VW could call on knowledge from Audi and have a decent car. I am just still having a hard time putting them back into the series. Others have reported that they are pretty sure VW will sign a deal but I am not going to put them into either category at this moment because I myself am still undecided.
Subaru: The team left just one year ago, but we all know that the product they deliver on the show room floor revolves around rally racing. They have been very clear that once the economic downturn ends, they may make a move back into the series and I hate to break it to them, but I see a light at the end of the dark economic tunnel.
So these are the teams that are all in the pot that could fill the other two manufacturer slots. We will have to wait and see who commits in the coming months and see who comes with the teams. There are a lot of great drivers on the market and some great ones coming through the ranks as well. Time will tell and we will be there covering the teams every step of the way. Let the rally silly season begin.