Picture the scene, Sebastian Loeb is chillin out in his sun drenched lounge, red bull energy drink in hand, perhaps wistfully remembering all those 9 world titles. Only for Loeb to regurgitate half his zesty drink as the first images of the C3 WRC spring up on his twitter feed…
One could assume that the hype and anticipation of the 2017 world rally championship must have stirred the competitive core of monsieur Loeb. After all this is the most exciting impending WRC season for decades, so the lure for a comeback must be stronger than ever. But it seems Loeb, like a battered but legendary retired Olympian, has decided to pursue new challenges elsewhere (WRX rallycross and the Dakar). This leaves the returning works Citroen WRC team with a new proposition, Can the Northern Irish, Ogier wounding, buffed up Damian Lewis lookalike of Kris Meeke catapult the double arrow marque back to the glory days of Loeb?
Well judging by the fresh images of the new C3 WRC 2017, Meeke certainly has the keys to one hell of a weapon in his back pocket. One look at the humongous ‘indecent imagery to petrol heads’, single piece diffuser shows Citroen is pushing the boundaries with the relaxed new regulations.
The new car comes off the back of 6,000 miles of testing, and it’s clear how Citroen have evolved the DS3’s predecessor. Early testing near Versailles showed the #1 test car was sporting a DS3 evolved carbon wing and seemingly no diffuser or dive planes at all. In fact it was only when film footage of the Wales based test#9 surfaced that the finished aero package was revealed. Gone were the Broad and boxy, Vin Diesel approved arches with more elegant, brake duct equipped, composite mouldings in their place. This is presumably to help keep the shell weight down. A new but camouflaged disguised wing was also fitted. When the new car was revealed in its 2017 livery in Abu Dhabi it was clear how many subtle changes Citroen had made. There was a bigger and deeper front splitter along with external jack equipped sills. However the biggest alteration from the early test mules was the fixture of two twin dive planes. Its clear Citroen racing have used their absence as a works team in 2015 to give the C3 project full attention and priory.
But of course there is much more required than just a good car to win in the WRC, or as Toyota Gazoo WRC team principle Tommi Makinen stated ‘the car is only one component in a successful WRC program’. But yet again it seems as if Citroen has all these areas covered. The team itself has the benefit of being well funded by the oil money pit of Dubai, and having competed in the WRC since 2002 (and even earlier with the Xsara F2 kit car) the team has vast experience in the series, with only M Sport having more years under its belt. Also from May/ rally Portugal onwards the team will expand to a 3 or possibly 4 car squad. So it seems the team in management and resources has all the makings to once again dominate the championship, but there is one vital ‘component’ that is required, a dam good driver.
That’s where Kris ‘Meekes’ comes in. (Entry list typo error on Meeke’s first rally). The Northern Irishman has impressed in the past seasons, claiming his first victory in Argentina in 2015 and going on to win two more in 2016; Portugal and Finland. However if Meeke is going to go toe to toe in a title shoot out with the mighty Sebastien Ogier, he has to be consistent. Certainly Meeke cannot afford a slip up like Corsica last year, or any bad luck he was lumbered with in Monte Carlo and Sweden. Or as Meeke himself reflected ‘on your game every meter’.
However if Meeke is ever going to win a world title, next season may be his best shot. ‘Gogier’ (Go-Ogier) may initially become ‘Slowogier’ in unfamiliar territory with M sport, with very little experience or testing of the new Fiesta. Whereas Meeke can go in all guns blazing and try to get a ‘good rhythm’ from the word go. That will be the crucial determination of the 2017 season, Meeke will have to rack up the points like Stephen Hawkins on Mastermind to stand any chance of upsetting Ogier’s gleaming tally of 4 back to back titles.
To round up then it seems impossible to overstate the impending excitement of the 2017 season. Thankfully it looks certain that the running commentary of ‘another Ogier victory’ may dissipate, like in 2016, and allow a more varied winner list. As for the drivers title, if Ogier becomes bewildered at M sport by the lack of French Croissants and Meeke drives the Citroen like he stole it, then we may just have the odd chance of crowning the 3rd British WRC winner and Citroen regaining their rally winning mojo.
Image sources: Autocar/Autosport Facebook