1. New events and returning classics
The 2020 calendar is one of the most diverse and exciting in decades. Africa, the Far East and the South Pacific all come back into play as the Safari Rally, Rally Japan and Rally New Zealand return.
The Safari will be first of the returning trio, with a Nairobi base for what’s certain to be one of the most testing and tricky events of the season. Finally, after 18 years, the fastest rally cars will return to roads which helped create the WRC legend.
Talking of legendary roads, New Zealand’s North Island stages are some of the drivers’ absolute favourites. The smooth, fast and beautifully cambered tracks outside Auckland will provide an outstanding spectacle in one of the world’s most sport-oriented countries.
Japan’s Aichi-based asphalt rally will bring the curtain down on the season. And what a way to end. The Japanese fans are some of the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world and will offer a warm welcome and plenty of support in November.
2. Musical chairs
- The music has stopped and the seats are all taken. Ott Tänak at Hyundai, Sébastien Ogier at Toyota, Elfyn Evans joining him and taking Kalle Rovanperä with them. Esapekka Lappi in M-Sport overalls. In driver terms, it’s not quite all change this year. But it’s not far off.
- It’s been a few years since we’ve had a service park reshuffle like this and watching the crews settle into their new teams and new cars will be fascinating.
How, for example, will Lappi manage a third new car in four years? Same for reigning champ Tänak. For Ogier, it’s a fourth different frontline World Rally Car in five years.
The new suits are one thing, but the most important thing by far is who can get up to speed with their new steed quickest of all.
3 Elfyn’s big chance
One of the biggest movers was Briton Elfyn Evans. Prior to joining Toyota Gazoo Racing, the 31-year-old had demonstrated extraordinary brand loyalty. He has started 86 WRC rounds. all of them in a Ford Fiesta of one flavour or another.
The decision to leave M-Sport – his home (quite literally for a couple of years as he lived and worked at the team’s Dovenby Hall base) since 2013 – was not an easy one for Elfyn. But he’s made the jump and he’s got to make the most of it.
He’s back alongside six-time champion Ogier, with whom he worked so well in 2017 and 2018. And he’s in the Yaris which set the pace in terms of fastest stage times, stages led and rallies won last season. The stage is set for the Welshman.
Wednesday: part 2