THE NEW YEAR IS HERE, AND IN RALLYING TERMS THAT MEANS JUST ONE THING: THE NEW ERA OF THE WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP HAS ARRIVED AND THE FIRST STAGES ARE JUST AROUND THE CORNER!
After all the build-up and anticipation, secret tests, camouflage and spy-shots, the new breed of leaner, wider and more powerful World Rally Cars wil make their debut on Thursday, January 19 when the 13-round season gets underway with Rallye Monte-Carlo.
And that's just for starters. As well as the new cars, we'll finally get to see how this year's crop of drivers fare behind the wheel.
Sébastien Ogier in a Ford Fiesta? Unthinkable a few months ago. But it's going to happen in a few weeks. Then there are the teams; Toyota and Citroën, both back in full manufacturer spec, prepare to take on established names of Hyundai and M-Sport.
There are new regulations to get to grips with too. From three-car teams, to start order tweaks and a new super-sized Powerstage, there's a lot to take in.
To help you prepare, over the coming days we'll bring you a series of quick reference guides about the season ahead. From the new cars and regulations, to the teams and support championships, we'll tell you what you need to know. Up first...
The 2017 WRC lowdown: World Rally Cars
Lighter, wider and more spectacular than last year's models, the WRC's 2017 top-level cars have been built to technical regulations that allow greater aerodynamic freedom, more engine power and the re-introduction of active centre differentials. After extensive testing in 2016, new cars from Citroën, Hyundai, M-Sport and Toyota will make their competitive debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo. Here's what makes them special:
The new cars are 10 kilos lighter and 55mm wider than their predecessors. They are also 100 per cent more aggressive-looking thanks to new aerodynamic kits. At the front, a splitter protrudes 60mm further forward, while a rear diffusor stretches back an extra 30mm. Wheel arches are wider to accommodate the extra track, and an enormous rear wing sits 50mm above the roofline to provide downforce and extra grip at the rear. Around the car, additional grills and ducts manage airflow to keep brakes and engine running cool. Inside, the cars boast more safety features than ever. The thickness of energy-absorbing foam surrounding drivers is up from 200mm to 240mm, while repositioned seats, wrap-around head protectors, strengthened door panels and improvements to roll cage design all play their part in protecting the occupants.
Under the bonnet
Up front, the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine remains, but widening the turbo restrictor from 33mm to 36mm means power is up from around 310bhp to 380bhp. Limiting turbo boost to 2.5-bar keeps maximum torque in line the previous figure of around 430 Nm. The gearbox is a six-speed sequential unit, upgraded to cope with the extra power and operated by a hydraulic paddle shift. There are passive diffs front and rear, but for the first time since 2010 the transmission now features an active centre differential to allow the driver to tune the car’s handling to different conditions.
The driving experience?
Over to Citroën ace Kris Meeke: "It’s quite a big step from 2016. When you drive them in anger, they’re a different beast; you really have to be on your game, every metre, to keep on top of them."