After a dominant 2022 campaign to become the youngest-ever world champion, Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera will aim to become only the sixth driver to successful defend the championship crown.
A combination all fresh driver line-ups, revised Rally1 cars and a new calendar promises an intense fight for the 2023 title.
New driver line-ups
One of the wildest silly seasons has resulted in all three Rally1 teams heading into 2023 with changes to their driver rosters.
M-Sport Ford - Ford Puma Rally1
Drivers: #8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja, #7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul, #9 Jourdan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (Monte Carlo, Mexico, Sardinia and Kenya)
The driver merry-go-round was triggered by 2019 world champion Ott Tanak leaving Hyundai with a year remaining on his contract. The Estonian has secured a return to M-Sport, where he began his WRC career in 2011, and will lead an all-new two car full-time driver roster.
French rising star Pierre-Louis Loubet will fill the second seat after impressing during a seven-round campaign for M-Sport last season. The 25-year-old will team up with Thierry Neuville’s former co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul. A third Puma will be driven on selected events, with privateer Jourdan Serderdis locked in for Monte Carlo, Mexico, Sardinia and Kenya.
M-Sport is still hopeful of securing nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb for selected rounds this year after scoring a win in Monte Carlo last year as part of a four-round programme.
Hyundai Motorsport - Hyundai i20 N Rally1
Drivers: #11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe, #4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm, #6 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (sharing third car), #42 Craig Breen/James Fulton (sharing third car)
Hyundai has filled the void left by Tanak by signing one-time WRC rally winner Esapekka Lappi from Toyota, where he was sharing the third GR Yaris with Sebastien Ogier in 2022. The deal will see Lappi return to a full-time top flight WRC drive since a season at M-Sport in 2020.
Craig Breen was also vying for the seat, having exited M-Sport one year into a two-year deal following a dismal 2022 campaign. But the Irishman has secured a deal to share the third i20 N alongside the experienced Dani Sordo, effectively replacing Oliver Solberg following his departure from the team. Hyundai stalwart Thierry Neuville will continue to lead the squad.
Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Drivers: #69 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen, #33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin, #17 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais, #18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston
At reigning champions Toyota, Lappi’s surprise departure prompted a promotion for Takamoto Katsuta. He will now share the third GR Yaris with eight-time world champion Ogier, who will run a second partial campaign.
Katsuta will drive a fourth GR Yaris at rounds where Ogier is driving the third car. The latter will compete with new co-driver Vincent Landais, a pairing which debuted at the 2022 Rally Japan season finale. World champion Kalle Rovanpera and Elfyn Evans complete the line-up.
Entry List Rally1
#69 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#17 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1 **
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1**
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#6 Dani Sordo/ Candido Carrera - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1*
#42 Craig Breen/James Fulton - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1*
#8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#9 Jourdan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1 ***
#37 Lorenzo Bertelli/ Simone Scattolin - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1 ****
* Sharing the third car
** Sharing the third car when Ogier is absent
*** Contesting Monte Carlo, Mexico, Sardinia and Kenya
**** Rented a Toyota for Rally Sweden
New team boss for Hyundai
Hyundai has appointed former Renault Formula 1 boss Cyril Abiteboul as its new team principal of its WRC and customer racing programmes.
Abiteboul will effectively replace Julien Moncet, who was the team’s de-facto leader in 2022 following the departure of long-time team principal Andrea Adamo at the end of 2021.
This will be the Frenchman’s first foray into rallying having spent the majority of his career working in Formula 1 having led Caterham (2012-2014) and Renault up until its rebrand to Alpine in 2021.
“I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that we are targeting both championship titles in WRC,” said Abiteboul.
“The team has previously won the manufacturers’ crown twice, but never the drivers’ title. Both tell a different story, yet they are equally important.
“The team won five rallies last year, and the goal is to improve on that. Again, I am taking that with humility; I can’t say how many we will win this season as I am still new to the world of rally. First I need to understand the lay of the land, and then determine the contribution I can make.”
Revised Rally1 cars
WRC teams have spent the off-season refining Rally1 machines ahead of a second year with the new hybrid rules.
Reigning champions Toyota have not stood still. The pronounced air boxes that adorned the flanks of the car to cool the hybrid unit have been replaced with a much smoother more aerodynamic design, as it was found the 2022 design overestimated the amount of cooling required for the hybrid unit. This has resulted in a re-design of the rear fenders and arches. The rear wing has also been tweaked to compensate for the new aero package.
In addition to the the aero changes, Toyota has elected to upgrade its 1.6 litre engine to improve the delivery of power and its torque.
Hyundai has also revealed noticeable aerodynamic changes to its i20 N. The 2023 car features updated bodywork to the front and rear of the car. The bonnet has been flattened and extended, while the front arches have also been modified. The team has also opted for a heavily revised rear wing and wing mirrors.
The new-look extended front end has turned the nose of the car into effectively an extra splitter. At the rear, a new rear wing has been designed with last year’s central wing and end plate option transformed into one continuous wing covering the maximum width of the car.
Meanwhile, M-Sport has unveiled a bold new look for its Puma Rally1 with an electric blue and pink livery, replacing its popular purple colours from last season. While the car looks similar to its 2022 model, the team plans to continue its development during the season.
How does the Rally1 hybrid system work?
Drivers will have the use of hybrid power during every stage, with power boosts activated by the throttle pedal, while further boosts will be unlocked through energy regeneration under braking during stages.
Pilots will be required to regenerate 30 kilojoules of energy before another boost is granted that will be used the next time they touch the throttle pedal. The extra 130 horsepower is delivered through the use of three bespoke homologated engine maps selected by teams, depending on the type of stage and conditions.
Determined by the FIA and event organisers, drivers will be required to navigate parts of road sections and around event service parks in full electric mode.
In full electric mode the car has a range of 20km, while its 3.9KWH battery, operating up to 750 volts, can be plugged in and recharged in the service park within 30 minutes. The hybrid unit can withstand an impact of 70G.
The cars are powered by a 100% sustainable fuel.
Testing reduction and other rule changes
The sporting regulations have undergone a refresh with arguably the biggest change being a reduction in testing.
WRC teams will only be permitted 21 test days (seven per driver) instead of the allotted 28 as per last season in bid to reduced costs and improve sustainability. Last year each manufacturer driver would complete a pre-event test day prior to all European rounds. The move has prompted mixed views among teams and drivers.
Also new for this year, Rally1 drivers will be restricted to using a total of 28 tyres during an event. They will also be no longer handed an extra four tyres for use in shakedown.
In gravel rallies only, organisers have removed the 15 minutes service normally held before the start of each day.
“By removing the morning service on gravel events and trimming the flexi-service window for P1 cars, we can reduce the working day by up to three hours, which will benefit team members but also the many volunteer officials, including scrutineers and service park marshals,” explained FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley.
New event joins WRC 2023 calendar
A brand new asphalt rally is among a number of changes to the 13-round calendar for the 2023 season.
The Central Europe Rally will host the penultimate round from 26-29 October and will see crews tackle stages in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. The rally based in Passau, in south east Germany, has signed a three-year deal with the WRC.
It will effectively replace Rally Spain, which drops off the schedule having been a mainstay since 1991.
Mexico’s gravel stages return to the schedule for the first time since 2020 when the event was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is part of the WRC’s return to Central and South America, with Chile also back on the calendar after making a debut in 2019. The gravel rally was due to host a round in 2020 but was cancelled due to political unrest in the region.
WRC had hoped to expand to 14 events before plans for a round in the Middle East were shelved until 2024. As a result, the calendar will include eight gravel rallies, four on tarmac and one snow based event in Sweden.
New Zealand and Belgium have joined Spain in falling off the calendar. It is hoped that New Zealand could return in 2024 following last year’s successful return after a 10-year hiatus, while the WRC has not ruled out Spain rejoining the schedule in the future.
Japan will once again host the final round of the season following its comeback last year.
World Rally Championship 2023 Calendar
Monte-Carlo - 19-22 January (Tarmac)
Sweden - 9-12 February (Snow)
Mexico - 16-19 March (Gravel)
Croatia - 20-23 April (Tarmac)
Portugal - 11-14 May (Gravel)
Italy - 1-4 June (Gravel)
Kenya - 22-25 June (Gravel)
Estonia - 20-23 July (Gravel)
Finland - 3-6 August (Gravel)
Greece - 7-10 September (Gravel)
Chile - 28 September - 1 October (Gravel)
Central Europe Rally - 26-29 October (Tarmac)
Japan - 16-19 November (Tarmac)
WRC stars return to WRC2
WRC2 is set for arguably its competitive season with the field now populated by three drivers that were competing in WRC’s top tier last year.
Adrien Fourmaux has been moved into M-Sport’s WRC2 programme while his team-mate last year, Gus Greensmith, has joined reigning WRC2 champions Toksport after being unable to reach an agreement to remain at M-Sport.
Greensmith, who will begin his campaign in Mexico, will also be joined at Toksport by Oliver Solberg after the Swede was dropped from Hyundai’s third factory WRC i20 N at the end of last year. The pair will both drive the all-new Skoda Fabia RS.
The trio join an already packed entry including defending champions Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hamalainen, who will be back at Toksport. They are also likely to face competition from 2022 title contender Yohan Rossel (Citroen), Junior WRC runner-up Sami Pajari (Skoda), while Briton’s Chris Ingram returns to the class in a Skoda.
Round 1: Monte Carlo Rally 19-22 January
The rally will be contested over 18 special stages, with crews completing 325.02km.
Action begins with shakedown and the first two stages on Thursday 19 January. The opening stage is due to begin at 2005 local (1905 GMT), before concluding on Sunday 22 January with the powerstage commencing at 1218 local (1118 GMT).
Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier hold the record for most Monte Carlo wins with eight apiece.
How to follow WRC in 2023
Autosport will be on the ground in Monte Carlo providing reports, interviews and reaction.
Motorsport.tv will also have regular highlights both during and after each WRC round in 2023.
WRC Plus All Live will provide live coverage from every stage. BT Sport will provide daily highlights shows from every event this season.