It’s the Autosport International Show, folks. This means that there will be drunken chaos in the Metropole Hotel tonight, during which the subject of conversation will include such nuggets as:
Michal Kociuszko will contest a full season in the WRC at the wheel of his Lotos-backed, Motorsport Italia-run MINI, sans the Red Bull Mobile advertising
The Czech National Team Fiesta WRC of Martin Prokop will appear in an extended schedule of 11 out of the 13 WRC rounds this year after opting to run DMACK tyres
Ford has relevealed its definitive 2013 livery. As was pictured last month it blends the burgundy of Qatar with the green of Castrol and black of M-Sport. A late infusion of blue stops it looking quite so much like the UAE flag… although it still does!
Jänner Rallye winner Jan Kopeçky is pushing Škoda Motorsport to extend his season to give him a shot at winning the FIA ERC title
Petter Solberg will be putting his marriage vows to the test next weekend when he debuts his new Ford Esort RS1800 in a local snow rally, co-driven by wife Pernilla
Prodrive will be entering a pair of MINI S2000s in WRC2 for Ukrainian drivers Valery Gorban and Oleksii Kikireshko, sponsored by Mentos and Chupa Chups. Apparently there is more mileage in this than the confectionary giant’s previous sponsorships, including Sheffield Wednesday football club.
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!
Mads Østberg retains the overnight lead in Spain, but he’s got a cushion of just 27.2 seconds over second placed Sébastien Loeb as the Rally de España heads for two days on asphalt roads. Østberg is always impressive on gravel, but he was still at school the last time that Loeb was beaten in Spain.
No pressure then, Mads!
Ostberg shone in the dreadful weather of the opening day
The superstar in his Citroën was content to play a waiting game on the first full day, taking great pains to avoid silly mistakes in a gruesomely wet and treacherous pair of loops which saw several other lead entries slip up. Whenever the going was good, Loeb stepped it up and vaulted up the order from fourth to second but it was clear that he is simply biding his time now in readiness for the coming asphalt action.
Third place overnight is being held by the charging works Ford Fiesta WRC of Jari-Matti Latvala. In his last appearance at the wheel of an M-Sport-prepared car, the Finn put on a decent spurt and remains just 20s shy of Loeb. Latvala’s only desire at this stage in the season is to take on and beat the mighty nine-time champion in order to claim his first asphalt victory, thereby fulfilling one of the biggest aims of his career and to make a suitable parting gift to the M-Sport team.
Just behind the top three are Mikko Hirvonen in the second works Citroën and Ott Tänak’s M-Sport Fiesta. A mighty chasm of almost five minutes follows them, but remarkably sixth place in the running is held by the S2000 Ford Fiesta of Irish youngster Craig Breen.
Craig Breen is the success story of Spain so far
Breen was helped up the order by a time-consuming puncture for Jarkko Nikara in the Prodrive MINI WRC, while S2000 favourite Sébastien Ogier’s Volkswagen-run Skoda Fabia S2000 stopped on the road section before Salou.
Breen therefore holdsthe lead in the SWRC class as well as his sixth spot on the leaderboard, ahead of Hans Weijs Jr in the Qatar Citroen. Nikara is eighth, while SWRC contender PG Andersson is ninth in his Proton Satria Neo, after losing time with a driveshaft breakage in the morning and then an error in the afternoon. The Top 10 is rounded out by Russian driver Evgeny Novikov’s M-SPort Ford Fiesta WRC, which is shod with DMACK tyres for the first time.