Four-time world champion Sébastien Ogier will defend his WRC crown as an M-Sport driver in 2017 as the British-based team officially announced its line-up this week ahead of the new season. The Frenchman has reigned supreme over the world’s premiere rallying series since 2013 but was left without a drive for the upcoming season in the aftermath of Volkswagen’s shock withdrawal from the championship. The 34-time rally winner will be partnered by long-time Ford collaborator and ex-DMACK pilot Ott Tänak in what looks on paper to be the strongest M-Sport line-up in recent memory.
Reigning world champion Ogier has tested both the new-look Fiesta RS WRC and Toyota’s Yaris World Rally Car over the winter with a view to a potential move to either squad. However, the Frenchman and co-drive Julien Ingrassia were evidently swayed by the performance of M-Sport’s brand new machinery, which boasts 380 bhp and 332 lb ft of torque from a 1.6 litre Ecoboost powertrain. Based on the new road-going hot-hatch, the Fiesta RS WRC’s body sports an aggressive new-look in line with new aerodynamic regulations that pave the way for faster, more visually striking cars in 2017. Key alterations on the 95 per cent new Fiesta include larger front and rear splitters, dive planes, cavernous brake cooling ducts and a monstrous rear wing.
A new six-speed sequential gearbox with hydraulic shift, multi-disc clutch and active centre differential funnels power throw to the wheels. Meanwhile, real-time chassis and engine performance data can be filtered through to engineers in the service park and into the cockpit via twin-dash screens for both driver and co-driver.
For his part, Ogier’s new teammate Tänak enjoyed his best season in WRC to date last year. A full programme with the newly formed DMACK squad yielded an impressive six top six finishes and the 29-year old came within spitting distance of registering his maiden WRC rally win in Poland. For the 2017 campaign, Tänak parts company with long-time co-driver Raigo Mõlder, with new man Martin Järveoja taking his place in the cockpit.
Veteran M-Sport team boss Malcolm Wilson made no secret of his excitement about the new WRC season at the official team launch earlier this week.
“We go to Rallye Monte-Carlo with the number one on the door of the Ford Fiesta WRC and the strongest driver line-up we’ve had in years. To say we’re excited about next season is an understatement. We believe we have produced an exceptional car, and we’re in the best possible position ahead of this exciting new era.”
The future of young Frenchman Eric Camilli, contracted to the British squad until 2017, is less clear, as is that of Mads Østberg. The Norwegian is currently without a drive in 2017 after parting company with M-Sport at the end of last season while a role as test driver is the most likely prospect for 29-year old Camilli.
The final pieces of the puzzle will slot into place before the 2017 WRC campaign kicks off in earnest on the hallowed ice and asphalt of Rallye Monte-Carlo next month.