It's a new dawn, a new day... And Nina Simone's not the only one who's feeling good. I am too. Very good. It's Sweden and it's snowing. Snowing like mad, actually.
By the time you read this, the waiting will be over, the first shakedown times will be in and we'll have some indication as to where Citroen is in relation to Ford. Up until now, both teams have been working completely in the dark, doing their own thing, going their own way.
There won't be a massive difference in car specification and resultant performance, there can't be, such is the tightness of the new regulations. The power output and level of torque on offer from the 1.6-litre engine is strictly governed by the 33mm restrictor and the transmission is considerably more stock than it was last year.
Gone are the days of tricky differentials which could be Bluetooth-tweaked by remote engineers. It's back to the spanners now - which means a much longer and less precise operation to change the car's cornering capacity. Fully active cars have been missing from the WRC since 2005, but for this year the electronic centre differential has gone as well.
In terms of transmission, these cars are a real throwback to the early 1990s. Is that a bad thing? Shouldn't this sport be about the cutting edge of technology rather than employing fairly rudimentary mechanicals? Possibly, but right now, one thing is certain: the manufacturers can't afford it.
Opening up regulations to the kind of space race which left the French firms forking out millions upon millions of Euros in the early noughties is not an option right now.
But have no fear, the lower-tech cars will not - the drivers assure us - be that much slower, and they will be more spectacular. It's what the marketing world calls a win-win. And actually, courtesy of being lighter, smaller and less powerful, they will probably be quicker through twisty sections dealt with in the lower part of the sequential gearbox. But once the drivers move north of ratio number three, having half the amount of torque and not quite the power of the old two litre engines will undoubtedly leave the new cars lacking at the top end.
Physically changing gear is also a returning novelty. Now that the cars are devoid of hydraulic assistance, the finger-flicking paddle days are done. Moving up or down a gear means a solid pull or push with the right hand.
This will take the drivers back to a time when they had to time gear changes. In the old cars, nudging the paddle was enough to go up or down regardless of what you were doing with the engine and brakes. Not now, coming down the gearbox for a corner, left foot hard on the brakes, will require the drivers to be blipping the throttle in order to flex the engine to mate the cogs. The driving has been put back into the driving.
The new Citroen DS3 © Sutton
And don't the cars look gorgeous. I'm not putting a question mark there, because that's not a question - it's a statement of fact. Both the Fiesta and the DS3 WRC look much quicker, sexier, leaner and meaner than the flabby c-sector kit they've replaced.
Driver-wise, there's just the one big change in the top two: Dani Sordo out (and off to Mini) and Sebastien Ogier in at Citroen. It's a shame, Sordo is a super bloke, a really genuine guy, but he just wasn't quick enough. Sebastien Loeb liked him as well. He liked him because he was nice and, in Loeb's own words, because he knew his place in the team. Loeb's actual words were: "It was easier for me [to have Sordo as a team-mate]. I knew how it would be. I was in front of him immediately from the start of the season and he accepted easily to be the second driver."
Ogier refuses to follow in Sordo's shoes: "I'm determined not to become the number two," if you want it verbatim from the younger of the two Frenchmen.
The two aren't best mates and they won't be, but whether this motorsport rivalry will be Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae at Subaru or Alain Prost versus Ayrton Senna at McLaren remains to be seen. Either way, there are going to be some interesting moments chez Citroen this season. For now though, everything and everybody is equal. The Sebs have everything to play for - and they'll be playing tough.
Don't get me wrong, daggers aren't exactly drawn in the red corner, but Ford's Finns are positively harmonious by comparison. And maybe that's a bad thing. It's quite possible that the fierce competition which will kick in between the two factory DS3 WRCs will urge them to even greater heights. But there's also the ever-present danger that they could trip up.
This is a big year for Ford
Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala have a common enemy: Citroen. Latvala insists the manufacturers' award is his priority for this year. Hirvonen's priority is more simple, to forget 2010 and get back to where he was the year before.
The Finn talks excitedly about this year being a clean sheet of paper, which it is - now he's got to make his mark on that white space.
And then there's Mini. What can we realistically expect from Mini? Well, for the reasons listed above, the car's going to be in the ballpark when it makes its expected arrival on Rally d'Italia in May. With BMW doing the engine work, horses aren't going to be a problem and the car's running the same Xtrac gearbox as the Fiesta, so the transmission's on the button.
Rumour has it, the car's not loving the bumps at the moment, but Ohlins are working on that side of things.
Kris Meeke says the car's good. He's bound to, it's his job. But off the record as well, Meeke really does believe. Granted, he's not the Oracle when it comes to new World Rally Cars, but he knows what's needed to make a car go quickly and the former Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion is convinced the Countryman WRC has been well born. Time will tell.
Tyre competition returns for this year (after three seasons with nothing but Pirellis) with Michelin kind of competing against Chinese manufacturer DMACK. I say kind of, because DMACK has nothing but privateers, with the French covers sitting beneath all factory cars.
Raikkonen's WRC programme has a new look for 2011 © Sutton
Kimi Raikkonen's back for another season at Citroen. This time the Finn has bought his own DS3 WRC, running it under the team name Ice1 Racing. The star's Citroen looks cool and hopefully the former Formula 1 man will pick up where he left off at the end of last year in terms of reducing the gap between himself and P1 - and in terms of breaking down barriers between himself and the media.
In the UK, we're told there's going to be more WRC coverage than ever before on the television - unfortunately it's going to be buried on a subscription channel ESPN. Again, time will tell whether it's worth the extra tenner a month to watch. The one thing which would be worth it is Jon Desborough, the Sky Sports man who will front ESPN's live Sunday afternoon coverage from every round.
Yes, you heard right, live coverage from every round - hello to powerstage. The powerstage is a major regulation change for this year. Each rally organiser must end their event with a stage ideally between two-and-a-half and five miles long which will be filmed live. To really spice things up, points will be on offer to the tune of three-two-one for first, second and third quickest.
Across the spread of the season, the driver who pulls their finger out for the final run could bag 39 points - the equivalent to a win and a top-five finish - in addition to their season-long tally. Worth having? You bet. Worth watching? Undoubtedly.
Rally-wise, the classics in Argentina and Greece are back in a solid-looking 13-round calendar. For the first time in a couple of years, there are no curve balls on the schedule. So let's get started...
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