THE stars and cars of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship have made a dazzling debut at Britain’s Autosport International show, less than two weeks before the season starts at the historic Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Thousands of fans were at the Birmingham event on Saturday as manufacturer teams representing Citroën, Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Toyota introduced new driver line-ups and new-look cars for the first time.
Attention focused on six-time champion Sébastien Ogier, whose off-season move to Citroën with sponsor Red Bull has brought not only a fresh look to the French team but also hopes of regaining the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships. Ogier was joined in the new colours by former Toyota young gun Esapekka Lappi.
But the other teams also revealed all-star challenges ready for 24-27 January and the snow and ice of Monte-Carlo, the opener in an expanded 14-round series that ends at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November.
Toyota, which clinched the manufacturers’ title at Rally Australia last November, brought Ott Tänak, Jari-Matti Latvala and new signing Kris Meeke to the show.
Runner-up in 2018, Hyundai presented Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo but not the off-season’s most sensational recruit, nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb, who was away contesting the Dakar Rally in Peru.
After steering Ogier to championships in the past two seasons, M-Sport Ford revealed a youth-orientated squad comprising Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, with fellow juniors Gus Greensmith and Pontus Tidemand also nominated for limited programs in the elite class.
The Birmingham launch foreshadowed yet another enthralling contest in the WRC’s 47th season, after 2018 was declared one of the best in memory when Ogier, Neuville and Tänak fought until virtually the final stage at Rally Australia.
“New driver line-ups and team management changes previewed at Autosport International will boost the tremendous momentum already behind the FIA World Rally Championship as the world’s most challenging international motorsport series,” Rally Australia Clerk of the Course Wayne Kenny said.
“If it’s possible to surpass 2018, when we had a three-way title showdown and record attendance of more than 83,000 at Rally Australia, I think the ingredients are here in 2019.
“Ogier, Loeb, Meeke, Tänak, Neuville, Latvala and Evans – all winners – are just some of the incredibly exciting drivers competing this year and the outright WRC cars will be even faster after their off-season development.
“It’s a long journey from Monte-Carlo and through the rest of Europe, Great Britain and Central and South America until the show arrives for its 27ths time Down Under, but all the signs are there again for a brilliant climax in the Coffs Coast forests in November.”