Plenty to happen in the next fortnight – then Monte is ‘go!’
We’ve got a fortnight until the WRC bursts back to life. In that time, big things will happen:
Red Bull, Sportsman and the FIA must get on the same page regarding the WRC’s promotion and TV coverage.
Nasser Al-Attiyah will be in the thick of the action on the Dakar.
The all-new FIA European Rally championship will kick off in the snow of Austria.
In the meantime the entry list for Monte Carlo is rather promising, with Citroën fielding Sébastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo with support for Bryan Bouffier in a fourth DS3 WRC. Volkswagen has its new Polos ready for Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. M-Sport has two teams and four Fiestas for Mads Østberg, Evgeny Novikov (running DMACK tyres), Juho Hänninen and Thierry Neuville.
The remaining WRC entries are for Martin Prokop’s Czech Fiesta, another Fiesta for Julien Maurin and a lone MINI WRC entered by Lotos for Poland’s former JWRC contender Michal Kościuszko.
In the first ever WRC2 class, there’s a works Škoda Fabia for Esapekka Lappi with a sister car entered by Škoda Deutschland for Sepp Wiegand. Leading the competition against the Czech cars will be Italy’s Luca Betti in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Four more S2000s (three Peugeots and another Fabia) will also take the start, as will a phalanx of Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and Subaru Impreza WRXs, including a new-build R4 car for Ireland’s Eamonn Boland.
In the WRC3 classes a total of eight Citroën DS3 R3Ts will meet the challenge of a single Peugeot 208 R3T, six Renault Clio R3s will take on a lone Honda Civic R3, R2 is populated with Citroën C2s, Peugeot 208s and Ford Fiestas, there are five Suzuki Swifts, a pair of Citroën DS3 R1s, a Renault Twingo R1 and a smattering of Monte Carlo ‘randoms’ – including Czech driver Martin Rada in an Alfa Romeo 147!
This weekend’s Rallye de France – Alsace marks the end of an era for one competitor in the WRC. The new five-year partnership between Abu Dhabi and Citroën Racing has effectively called time on Qatar’s involvement in top flight rallying for the foreseeable future, and the French event will see Nasser Al Attiyah take his curtain call in the series after nine seasons.
For more than a decade, Qatar has been spending on sports like there’s no tomorrow. But then, this is a nation that can afford it: even without oil – of which there’s plenty – Qatar’s gas reserves alone equate to tens of millions of dollars for every single Qatari national.
The Qatar government is therefore aiming of turning this wealth into opportunities that will last even longer than its fossil fuel supply – the most visible result of which being an enormous investment in sports.
The small Gulf nation has built the Losail Circuit to host MotoGP, it hosted the 2006 Asian Games and the 2011 Pan Arab Games, it hosts the PGA European Golf tour, it is home to the Aspire Academy for sporting excellence, it has a five-year shirt sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona and it will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
All of Qatar’s sports funding is governed by its Olympic committee, with the overall aim of bringing the Games to the Middle East in 2020. One of the biggest Olympic stars that Qatar has yet produced is none other than Nasser Al Attiyah himself, who won bronze at the London 2012 Games for skeet shooting, his first medal success in his fifth Olympiad.
Although nowhere near the sums that it has spent elsewhere, Qatar has invested significantly in rallying. With strong support since first appearing in the WRC in 2004, Al Attiyah won the Production class in 2006 and graduated to an S2000 Fiesta in 2010 before the establishment of the Qatar World Rally Team at the start of this season – effectively a government-funded drive with Citroën.
At the wheel of his silver DS3, Al Attiyah achieved his best-ever finish in the WRC with fourth place in Portugal. Now Qatar has elected to pull the plug on its WRC aspirations after its single season at the top level, opening the door for neighbouring Abu Dhabi to buy in to a five year deal with the works Citroën Racing team.
For 2013, Al Attiyah is going to focus his energies on competing in Raid events. Having won the fabled Dakar event in 2011 with Volkswagen, he is now building his own buggy with seven-litre Chevy V8 power that will take in a full season of cross-country action around the world. He is also aiming for a sixth consecutive appearance at the Olympic Games when they take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.