Three rounds down, 11 more to go

The forty-fourth season of the World Rally Championship kicked off late in January with the historical Rallye Monte-Carlo. February brought Rally Sweden, while Rally Guanajuato Mexico was held early in March. So far, all eyes have been on defending world champion Sebastien Ogier and the Volkswagen Polo R WRC. With three consecutive titles to his name, the 32-year-old Frenchman looks to once again take top honors in 2016. However, that’s easier said then done, even for a driver as talented as Ogier.

Competitors like Mads Ostberg, Kris Meeke, Dani Sordo, and Hayden Paddon are all looking to challenge Ogier’s dominance, while teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen present an internal threat with VWs of their own.

If you missed the opening three rounds of the WRC, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Just click past the jump for a rundown on how 2016 is shaking out so far.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 WRC Season.

Round 1 – Rallye Monte Carlo


Since 1911, the “Monte” has challenged the world’s best drivers with technical mountain roads and unpredictable conditions, drawing throngs of motorsports fans and celebrities to witness the vehicular heroism. But beyond the history and spectacular French Alps backdrop, this opening round sets the tone for the entire WRC season, quickly separating the leaders from the also-rans with merciless precision.

Suffice to say, the Monte is no easy first test. Surfaces are highly variable – what starts as dry tarmac at lower elevations can quickly become slick with altitude, eventually freezing over in ice and snow near the peaks. This makes tire strategy absolutely critical, forcing teams to sacrifice time in certain sections in order to gain time elsewhere.

After a dominating performance by Sebastien Ogier and Volkswagen last year, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2016 was the first opportunity for a challenger to step up and begin his title bid.

After a dominating performance by Sebastien Ogier and Volkswagen last year, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2016 was the first opportunity for a challenger to step up and begin his title bid.

At the outset, Northern Irishman Kris Meeke looked strong in his Citroen DS3, setting the fastest time in Wednesday’s muddy shakedown test, two-tenths ahead of Ogier. Meanwhile, Spain’s Dani Sordo took position in third, trailing Meeke by 3.4 seconds.

That changed with the first competitive stage, where Ogier immediately jumped ahead of the pack by 4.1 seconds. The Frenchman actually grew up in the surrounding mountains, and looked quite comfortable climbing and descending through the narrow and twisty rock-lined roads.

Meeke tried to close the gap, but lost time with a spin in a hairpin. However, Stage 2 saw Meeke retaliate in impressive fashion, rocketing ahead of Ogier by 11 seconds for his first stage win of the season.

The two battled for the rally lead, exchanging positions in a heated contest that lasted for several days, with the unpredictable grip levels tempering each driver’s zeal to stay in front.

But it was a slushy Stage 12 on Saturday where Meeke finally conceded to Ogier with an off. While Meeke managed to limp his car to the finish, his gearbox was damaged by a rock, forcing a retirement.

WRC 2016 – Mid-Season Recap
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There was more drama on Saturday when Jari-Matti Latvala also slid off the course, bumping into a spectator in the process. The spectator was unhurt, and Latvala claims he was unaware he even made contact, but he nonetheless received a one-rally ban and a 5,000 euro fine for continuing without stopping.

Back at the front, Ogier carried on with a comfortable lead, easing his Volkswagen Polo R home for the win without much drama, even taking victory in the closing live TV Power Stage for the maximum possible points. Taking second place was Ogier’s teammate Andreas Mikkelsen, who finished nearly two minutes behind the Frenchman, while Belgium’s Thierry Neuville rounded out the podium in his Hyundai i20.

For Ogier, it was a dream come true. Not only was it a win in his homeland and his 33rd career victory, but it was also his third consecutive Monte Carlo first-place finish, putting his name amongst rally elites like Sandro Munari, Walter Rohrl, Tommi Makinen, and Sebastien Loeb.

Round 2 – Rally Sweden


Up next for the rally circus was the icy, snow-filled forests of Sweden, the only “true winter round” of the season. Rally Sweden is traditionally a favorite amongst the competitors, especially for local drivers like Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen, as it’s known for it’s high banks and even higher speeds.

Usually, studded tires allow the cars to dig into the frozen ground, offering big grip. However, a particularly balmy winter left the stages of Rally Sweden 2016 remarkably snow-free. Without the white stuff, the tire studs get torn away by the gravel underneath, resulting in significant losses in traction. While Ogier protested that the rally should be canceled due to the poor conditions, the organizers decided to move forward with the event, putting together a truncated course.

Luckily, there was still some good ice pack at the off, which meant the drivers could get down to business without much worry. Ogier set the pace early on, followed by Mikkelsen and Meeke in hot pursuit.

Paddon failed to find any extra time against Ogier, and by the end of the rally, the defending world champion was 29 seconds ahead, giving the Frenchman his second win in as many rounds for 2016

The snow finally dropped after the opening few stages, leaving rally teams scrambling to adjust. Even Ogier was susceptible to the variable conditions, having a narrow escape in Stage 4 when he briefly understeered off the road before returning to the course. Mikkelsen was less lucky, dropping several positions after an off.

Even more unfortunate was Kris Meeke. After putting together a bid for the rally lead in Stage 8, the Northern Irishman found a rock that managed to break his steering, forcing an unhappy restart.

Cleaning up was New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon. As the snow started to return to the Swedish roads, the Hyundai driver managed to clinch several stage wins, catapulting him to second place going into Saturday. Meanwhile, Mads Ostberg held onto third.

Running first on the road, Ogier would contend with poor surface conditions, while Paddon, who was running ninth on the road, started to close the gap to the rally leader, with just 8.8 seconds between them by the end of Stage 12.

WRC 2016 – Mid-Season Recap
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But it wasn’t to be. Paddon failed to find any extra time against Ogier, and by the end of the rally, the defending world champion was 29 seconds ahead, giving the Frenchman his second win in as many rounds for 2016. Third place went to Mads Ostberg, who surged ahead of Mikkelsen after the VW man went tumbling off the road on Stage 14.

Round 3 – Rally Guanajuato Mexico


From frigid trees to the dry desert gravel, WRC went to Mexico for Round 3 of the 2016 season. Known for its hot temperatures and high altitude, Mexico would prove to be a challenge for both the cars and drivers. Less engine output means each mistake could come at a very high cost, while razor-sharp rocks could make for a swift retirement. Upping the stakes was the addition of the 80-km Guanajuato stage, the longest single stage of the season, and a sure test of the car’s reliability and the driver’s consistency.

At the outset, Ogier was the clear favorite. However, the Frenchman failed to post the fastest time at shakedown. That honor was instead bestowed to Andreas Mikkelsen, followed by Theirry Neuville in second. Ogier took third.

Neuville would continue his momentum into the competitive stages, posting the fastest time for the nighttime street circuit launch of the rally. Unfortunately, the Belgian driver found less success after moving onto the gravel, clipping the scenery on Friday, breaking his suspension and placing him towards the back.

Ogier struggled as well. Tasked with clearing the roads, the Frenchman didn’t have the grip needed to keep pace with Jari-Matti Latvala, who stormed to the lead early on from his position in eighth on the course.

The defending world champion managed to close the distance, but remained a minute adrift, handing Latvala his first win of the season

By the end of Friday, Latvala had established a healthy 32-second lead over Ogier, with Dani Sordo trailing in a distant third. Latvala was confident but cautious, saying, “We have to be patient. You don’t need to take everything in one stage.”

The strategy worked wonders for the Finnish driver, as he extended his lead to more than a minute after Saturday’s stages. Ogier continued to lose time to Latvala, but managed to maintain a sizable gap to the third-placed Dani Sordo, who experienced a slew of technical difficulties.

Charging hard from fourth was Andreas Mikkelsen, who threatened the Spaniard’s podium spot with less than 15 seconds between the two by the end of Stage 13. Unfortunately, the push was for naught, as the Norwegian ended up at the bottom of an embankment on Saturday.

At the front, Latvala continued his dominant run, taking victory in each of Saturday’s stages, leading Ogier by more than 90 seconds going into the final day of the rally. However, the 80-km Guanajuato stage took its toll on the Finn’s rear brakes, slowing his pace. The defending world champion managed to close the distance, but remained a minute adrift, handing Latvala his first win of the season. Dani Sordo finished with a comfortable third.

Predications for Round 4 – Rally Argentina

After three rounds, Ogier remains in a commanding lead for the championship title with 77 points to his name. Second is Mads Ostberg with 39 points, while Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo follow with 33 points each. Hayden Paddon is fifth with 29 points.

Last year, victory in Argentina went to Kris Meeke, with Mads Ostberg taking second and Elfyn Evans in third

Last year, victory in Argentina went to Kris Meeke, with Mads Ostberg taking second and Elfyn Evans in third. Ogier was a back marker, suffering from engine problems that put him out of the running early on.

WRC 2016 – Mid-Season Recap
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While Ogier’s competition shouldn’t bet on additional technical difficulties, their hopes will no doubt be buoyed by the fact that the Frenchman has yet to clinch outright victory in Argentina.

That should make for one very interesting rally. If Ogier once again fails to get a win, my money is on Ostberg. He’s been a consistent front-runner this season, taking fourth in Monte Carlo and two third-place finishes in Sweden and Mexico. Of course, we won’t know for sure until the final stage is run later this month.

Let us know in the comments what you think (or hope) will happen.

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