The period between Wales Rally GB in November and Monte Carlo in January is the silly season of rallying. Like the silly season in other team sports such as football, we see drivers change teams, classes or even motorsports completely! Though round 1 of the WRC still is a few weeks away (Jan 22-25), a lot of news has reached the surface regarding WRC and WorldRX.
Volkswagen, the dominating team of last years WRC keeps their lineup for this season. This means that Sebastien Ogier will have the best opportunity to defend his title, though Jari-Matti Latvala might be the man this year. Andreas Mikkelsen is given more time to develop, but I think he must produce wins to keep his seat in the future.
M-SPORT Ford have recently published their new livery for the 2015 season. While it is very similar to last year in terms of sponsors, the front end is now bright white. Inspired by both Colin McRae and Hannu Mikkola, M-Sport really used their rally heritage this time. The Fiesta WRC has also recieved the facelift that we've seen on the production model for a time now. You've probably also read that Mikko Hirvonen retired after last year, which means that Elfyn Evans gets a new teammate! Malcolm Wilson is no stranger to Estonians, and the news about Ott Tänak joining the team came quite early. Tänak has had a habit of turning the car the wrong way around, but Wilson assures that Ott is a completely new, mature person. We'll see! Bryan Bouffier is also back for a drive in Monte Carlo.
Citroën, or DS as they are now called also continue with the same lineup as last year. Kris Meeke was a certain driver quite early, and though Mads Østberg was looking for better offers he signed for another year. "Wait a minute?" you might say now, thinking about the entry list in Monte Carlo. Because Citroën has found a driver in the WTCC, that they think might do better than Østberg in Monte. His name is Sebastien Loeb, and will make a one-off entry in Monte Carlo marking the launch of the DS brand. Youngster Stèphane Lefebvre will drive at least two rounds in a DS3 WRC, while competing in WRC2 elsewhere. The DS3 will also undergo several changes in 2015, some of them will be visible at the first round. The new, Petter Solberg inspired rear wing will be one of them, paddle shifters another.
Hyundai will not rotate drivers as much as they did last year, and Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo will make sure that Hyundai is a force to be reckoned with in 2015. No news about a third car yet, but i hope that we see that in future rounds. EDIT: Today Hyundai revealed that Hayden Paddon will drive a Hyundai this year, starting with Rally Sweden.
Now for the part that is a bit more interesting, and rather uncertain: privateers. Drivers that aspire to get a works seat, but has to do all the work themselves while trying to impress the Wilsons and the Mattons. While Martin Prokop might not have a works seat as his ambition, he collected enough points in 2014 to go another season in the Ford Fiesta WRC. Robert Kubica would love to have a works seat, but has to settle for another year in his Lotos Ford Fiesta WRC. After a difficult first year Kubica wasn't quite sure about continuing in the WRC, but we see him at the start of Monte Carlo anyway. I'm sure this year will be better for the Pole.
Henning Solberg also had one of his better seasons last year, and the Norwegian is ready for another season of driving fast. Hennings seasons always develop in one direction or another, so saying anything about how many rallies he will do is impossible. He's entered for Monte, and Sweden is his best rally so we'll certainly see him there. Adapta Motorsport will run his car, possibly in collaboration with M-Sport in a development deal. Supposedly he's turned down a "free ride" in the WorldRX offered by Liam Doran and the Monster Energy RX Team, because of his commitment to WRC. We'll see in April, where he is.
His brother Petter Solberg won the World Rallycross Championship last year, and will defend his title this year. There has been a lot of rumors about him getting back into the WRC, and he doesn't deny that he wants to do some rallying. Stating in his blog that if a good enough offer comes on the table, he will drive a few rounds. Sweden seems to be out of the picture, since he's entered in the historical class along with his wife Pernilla as a codriver. He also wants to do the X-Games to measure forces against the GRC pack, and another take at the Race Of Champions! A busy year for the younger Solberg!
Well, back to what's certain. We'll see a couple of privately entered Citroën DS3 in Monte Carlo, as both Yurii Protasov and Sebastien Chardonnet enters. Both of them familiar sights in lower classes, and theres no saying if this is for a full season or not. It's still good to see drivers stepping up to the top class! Also stepping up is the Italian Lorenzo Bertelli, with a Ford Fiesta WRC. Unlike Protasov and Chardonnet, Bertelli will try to do a full WRC season this year.
While I must admit that the top class is the most interesting for me, WRC2 is also shaping up to be really interesting this year. Craig Breen, Stephane Lefebvre and Anders Grøndal is the drivers I have the most anticipation towards, but this is open. Who do you hold as a favorite?
I know I haven't got everything that's new into this post, but that's why it says part 1 in the headline. I haven't mentioned any of the news regarding rallycross, and all of the stuff that I've missed will come in part 2. If you want me to add anything here, please tell me in the comments.