Petter's guide to the 2009 World Rally Championship
Hello and welcome to my first column on autosport.com of the season. I'm really looking forward to talking to readers of both Autosport and autosport.com through the year. It's going to be an interesting season in the WRC and one which, as I sit here and type, I still can't believe I'm not starting.
Believe me, I'm doing everything I can to try and forget that Rally Ireland - the opening round of the WRC - is going ahead without me. It's the first time in so many years, I have tears in my eyes just thinking about not being in the service park. But, hey, I'll be back in Norway, so let's make a show there.
But now, it's time for my thoughts on the season ahead.
Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb © LAT
Okay, there might not be many manufacturers in the championship this season, but there are going to be lots of cars out there. I hope it will be good.
Citroen is doing a good job with a lot of cars, Ford as well. Citroen and Sebastien (Loeb) won last year and it wasn't easy for them - it's going to be the same this season. It's going to be a big fight.
Mikko (Hirvonen) can match Loeb on gravel everywhere now and if (Jari-Matti) Latvala can find some more consistency then he can be up there as well. And in the middle of Ford and Citroen, I'll be there with my small team trying to make some action in Norway and as many more rallies as I can manage for the rest of the season.
This week, though, it will be really interesting to see how my old teammate Chris Atkinson will get on in a Citroen.
Obviously, it's great news for me to see Norway back on the calendar, that's my home rally and one when where I want to really put on a big show for the home fans. As well as Norway, there are a lot of other rallies returning to the championship, like Ireland this week, of course, Cyprus, Portugal and Australia.
Australia's a really interesting one as well - this is not going to be anything like the event we all knew in Perth. This is a brand new rally running on the other side of the country, on roads which nobody knows about. On top of that, there's also a first time out in Poland. There are a lot of unknowns about this year, which is going to make it a really interesting one
How do we get the manufacturers back into WRC?
The rules have to come more simple and clearer so it's easier and cheaper for the manufacturers to come along. And we certainly need the excitement back. There doesn't seem to be any buzz or excitement around the WRC right now, it's been missing for a while.
You know, we need people doing big donuts in front of all of the spectators - this is the sort of thing that's going to get people interested in our sport again.
And the service park, let's make more of a show there - take the rally to the people. This is all part of the game of getting the manufacturers back to the sport. And live television, that's something we really need. I watched this on the Monte Carlo Rally recently and I don't really see how the World Rally Championship cannot have live television when somebody at the IRC pushes a button and off it goes.
Kris Meeke in an S2000 Peugeot 207 on the IRC Rallye Monte Carlo
There's so much talk about the technical rules and regulations for the cars in the coming seasons.
Let me tell you, I don't give a... er, I'm not concerned with what the rules say. Let's just make this sport good again and let's make it cheap for the manufacturers. We need the manufacturers to come back. It's not complicated, get the cars in and then just let us drivers attack like hell in those cars. Once we start fighting for the rally wins, then nobody will worry about the cars.
There's talk of the cars not being spectacular, of course they will be with the best drivers in the world in them. We can make a show and we can make a fantastic show, we just need the manufacturers.
I watched the Super 2000 cars in Monte Carlo and, yes, they do need a little bit more power. In the hairpins, they're needing a bit more action, so maybe the turbo would not be such a bad thing - but these are details. It's more important for us to have the manufacturers and the live television in the sport than anything else.
Who will win in 2009?
Maybe it will be Solberg in the old car... I don't know, Loeb will be strong again, of course he will. But Dani Sordo has picked up his pace last year and Mikko Hirvonen showed last year that he will be there fighting for the wins.
But let's see how I can go in the Xsara WRC in Norway. If I can match Loeb in Norway then I can match him anywhere this season. Let's get through Norway, analyse that rally and then you and I can talk about things after that.
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