Pit Stop – WRC Preview – By Lewis Brearley

The exciting new era of the WRC kicks off this week. For the first time since the 2008 season there are three teams gunning for the title; there’s a new group of impressive young drivers at the top teams and by November there will be a new WRC champion crowned; guaranteed.

The season kicks off this week with the traditional season-opening Monte-Carlo Rally. Champion team Citroen arrive with their totemic leader, Sebastien Loeb, present for one of his four outings this season.

Loeb will not chase a tenth straight championship which leaves his long time understudy Mikko Hirvonen as their new team leader.

The flying Finn is the most experienced driver in the leading pack this season and possesses greater consistency than his rivals showed last year. With the might of Citroen behind him, he is the smart tip for the title.

Across the French garage is another of Loeb’s former understudies, Dani Sordo, the tarmac expert. While he was beaten comprehensively by Loeb when they were team-mates, experience is everything in the WRC, and the Spaniard enters 2013 as much of an unknown quantity having been outside the title-chasers for the past two seasons.

Expect a couple of opportunities for wins, but a title tilt seems far out of the question.

Citroen’s nemesis Ford, boast an all new driver line-up and team name.

After Ford pulled the plug on works support for the squad, Qatar stepped in to allow the team to continue. Team boss, Malcolm Wilson then took the refreshing decision of a long-term view by hiring the three most exciting under-25s in the WRC: Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville.

Ostberg will lead the team’s championship ambitions and with luck will challenge for the title. However, the driver’s levels of inexperience probably mean a couple of rally wins are the optimal result for Ford in 2013 with 2014 being a more likely year for Ford title glory.

The new boys in town are Volkswagen. They arrive as favourites because they come equipped with a huge budget, the largest resources in the sport, a year’s experience as a Skoda outfit and an awesomely talented driver line-up.

If the team have done their sums correctly and their drivers deliver on their potential, even Citroen will struggle to stop the Germans.

Sebastien Ogier was Loeb’s toughest ever team-mate and is likely to emerge as VW’s number one over the full season. He has the speed of Loeb and the consistency of a veteran and to some pundits is already the French heir apparent to the WRC crown.

His team-mate, the scintillatingly fast but reckless Jari-Matti Latvala needs to learn to stay on the road if he is to win more than a couple of rallies this year. However, if he does so, he’s another very dangerous asset for the German team.

The season looks set to be the most competitive in years with three makes of car all driven by rally drivers with the potential to grab any success that comes near.

A wave of new talent has arrived and Hyundai are joining in 2014. The upcoming season promises to be just the beginning of a glorious new era for the WRC.

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