FIA WRC 2013 mid-season review

As the motorsport calendar reaches its mid-point, takes a look at the championships in a mid-season review. Today it’s the turn of the World Rally Championship.

‘Thanks’ to the departure of long-time WRC superstar Sébastien Loeb, the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship was always going to be an open book. The Frenchman and co-driver Daniel Elena claimed every title going between 2004 and 2012, and Loeb’s semi-retirement has paved the way for the next generation.

The 2013 season has been one of new beginnings, with WRC Promoter GmbH – a partnership between Red Bull and the Sportsman Media Group – coming on board, and Volkswagen joining the fray and raking up success after success in their maiden year.

But the first round of the season saw a familiar victor – Loeb won Rallye Monte Carlo for a record-breaking seventh time, one of only four events the Frenchman entered in 2013. The rally was hit by heavy snowfall the length of the route, and provided an early taste of the strong performances Volkswagen would prove itself capable of as the season progressed.

Rally Sweden saw Sébastien Ogier claim Volkswagen’s first win on what was the team’s second outing; 30 seconds behind was Loeb with another strong showing for the defending World Manufacturers’ Champions. In Mexico and Portugal Ogier continued his run of victories for Volkswagen; giving chase at both events was Mikko Hirvonen for Citroën.

In Argentina Loeb was back behind the wheel for Citroën and took top honours, flanked on the podium by Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. At the next round in Greece it was Latvala’s turn to stand on the top step for Volkswagen, the team’s fourth victory in six events. The Acropolis Rally proved to be a low point for Ogier, who finished in 10th after running into difficulties on the opening stage.

But the Frenchman was back on winning form in Italy and Finland, chased at both rounds by M-Sport’s Thierry Neuville. Currently equal second on points in the Championship standings, Neuville is one of several impressive upcoming young talents in the WRC.

Work to strengthen the rallying career ladder is continuing apace, with the FIA Junior WRC Championship providing the stars of the future a level – one-make – playing field on which to prove their potential. After the Junior WRC, drivers move up to WRC 3 for two-wheel drive cars, and on to WRC 2 for four-wheel-drive, with the ultimate goal being the WRC. Both WRC 2 and WRC 3 Championships have attracted their share of young talent: to date, 2013 has seen 39 registrations in WRC 2 and 14 in WRC 3. And while you couldn’t call him a new talent, former Formula One driver Robert Kubica has impressed mightily, this time on the world rally stage. Competing in the WRC 2 Championship, the Pole already has two category victories to his credit.

New to WRC 2 this year is the Group R5 car, which has been given a ready to race capped sale price of €180,000 to ensure that the class remains as affordable as possible for private teams. Not only are there set maximum prices for 49 of the car’s components, but the price itself has been enshrined in the R5 Homologation Regulations. No fewer than five manufacturers have already registered an interest in homologating cars in this category.

Meanwhile, Hyundai has announced it will be joining the Championship in 2014, and testing is currently underway on the i20 WRC. The future of the FIA World Championship promises to be bright.