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A trip across the water for some pre-season rally buzz

A bird-strike and a foggy runway jeopardised my chance of seeing the Word Rally Championship launch at the Autosport Show on Thursday. An hour’s delay wasn’t the end of the world and seeing a two-time British Touring Car champion, in Colin Turkington, also have to endure the wait, it put things in perspective. Arriving in time for lunch I took the opportunity to investigate the four World Rally Cars displayed around the main stage.

Similar liveries and limited design change since last season diverted my attention to the M-Sport team that was being interviewed on stage. In particular, the Ford Performance representative as he stated the areas Ford would help with, as it returns to the sport following M-Sport’s success in 2017. Development is probably the best word to describe its future input. In particular, Ford Performance will investigate engine development, chassis dynamics, and aerodynamic performance.

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Looking at the other three cars, there wasn’t a lot of change since last year’s final round in Australia. Hyundai updated its i20 WRC for Rally Spain last year and has kept that car going into the new season. The Citroen on display looked exactly like last year’s car and with its suspension paneled off behind its wheels, let’s hope it still doesn’t bear the scars of a difficult 2017 season.

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Toyota brought a new for 2018 Yaris WRC to the show and it certainly doesn’t hold back on the aerodynamic front, much like its predecessor. Toyota will again be fast on the high-speed Rally Finland and Sweden stages but the team will want to have more consistency this year. Updates to engine cooling systems should result in reliability improvements on mechanically tough events such as Rally Mexico and Argentina.

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There was also a surprise return to Citroen for Mads Ostberg who will start Rally Sweden in a C3 WRC. It adds more confusion to the situation surrounding the French manufacturer as they announced recently Craig Breen would be dropped for three rounds to allow Sebastian Loeb to drive. Not having an extra car available, the reason given for the reduction in Breen’s rounds.

Irish rallying had its own surprise with a certain Eugene Donnelly rocking up on the MRF tyre stand with a Hyundai i20 R5. The Irish rallying legend will return to the stages as part of a three-year development programme involving the Indian tyre manufacturer and Hyundai’s customer rally team. With the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship suffering a few blows over the past while, the buzz generated by the return of “The Genie” was greatly welcomed.

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So there you go – A World Rally Championship launch and a Eugene Donnelly car launch at the Autosport Show, are you sure we’re not still in the noughties? And it’s quite remarkable that after the plethora of Donnelly return-rumours over the years, this one has come true despite never being predicted in the first place.

Adam Hall

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