The 2015 motorsport season begins…now

So it’s January…the motorsport world may seem quiet—after all, F1 is still months away, as is Indycar, WEC and the WTCC and NASCAR is even a month away—though 2015’s motorsport season is already officially upon us from this very weekend. The 32nd Internationale Jännerrallye starting off the season, situated in the Mühlviertel region of upper Austria. You can expect tough conditions for the competitors, with a combination of snow and ice covered routes.

The history of this rally began in 1969, running through to 1986 before the it took an extended hiatus, returning in 2000. Since 2012, the rally has hosted the opening round of the FIA European Rally Championship with recent winners including Robert Kubica, who claimed victory in the 2013 edition, and Skoda factory driver, Jan Kopecký.

This edition sees forty-two entrants from the ERC, with the national class attracting a further 33 entrants. In the ERC class, favourites for the victory including Peugeot academy factory ERC driver, Craig Breen of  Ireland, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, racing for the LOTOS rally team in a Ford Fiesta RS and Robert Consani who will enter an independent Peugeot 207 S2000.

In the National class, Raimund Baumschlager entering a Skoda Fabia S2000 is my favourite for victory. The event gets underway on Sunday, with the ceremonial start, carrying the most part of the rally into Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Meanwhile this Sunday, the legendary Dakar Rally gets underway.’ The epic 9000km event takes in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, in its modern era, with the start and finish situated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The first section on Sunday takes in 663 km road section to Villa Carlos Paz, which also incorporates 175km’s of special stages.

As far as the car contingent of Dakar 2015 is concerned, the factory Peugeot and MINI teams have to be favourites, however Dakar can always bite hard, so nothing is ever assured. Peugeot is entering three Red Bull sponsored Peugeot 3008 DKR entries.

Heading up that Peugeot entry, will be Stéphane Peterhansel. Peterhansel first claimed victory on the Dakar back in 1991, followed by a further five victories with Yamaha on two wheels, before swapping to four wheels. The switch led to victories with Mitsubishi in 2004, 2005 and 2007, Two further victories would follow with the X-RAID MINI team, marking ten victories on the Dakar, before a controversial 2014 team order rule, relegated him to second.

That controversy is said to be one of the catalysts in his switch to Peugeot along with long time co-driver Jean Paul Cottret. The second Peugeot is piloted by WRC rally legend, Carlos Sainz, alongside Lucas Cruz. King Carlos has won the Dakar with Volkswagen back in 2010. Finally in the third Peugeot, is Cyril Depres who is making the switch from bikes to cars after claiming four Dakar victories with Yamaha, alongside him will be Gilles Picard.

The Mini All4 Racing team will see Nani Roma and Michel Perin, last year’s winners in the car class, heading the entry, alongside Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel. Other entries in the car class include American Robby Gordon with a Hummer and WTCC driver, Tom Coronel entering a Suzuki. The event will all together see 567 crews in four classes of competition, Cars, Bikes, Trucks and Quads, and will run until January 17th.

On January 9th comes the 2015 Hankook Dubai 24h. A relative newcomer to the endurance-racing scene, the Dubai 24h was formed in 2006, and has grown in popularity and prestige in recent years, held on the Dubai Autodrome.

The primary class, named A6 is designed for GT3 specification cars. Favourites for the overall victory in the class are Black Falcon with two Mercedes Benz SLS AMGs entered and Stadler Motorsport who claimed overall victory in last year’s event, again entering a Porsche 997 GT3. The event sees everything from GT3 to 24H specials and Clio cup cars competing throughout its field.

It also see’s a unique BOP style in many of it’s classes, in that a lap time is set, in which competitors have jokers available, to break if required but ultimately should be aiming towards per lap, with cars in the class, selected for the proximity of being able to achieve that consistent lap time. It is controversial, I agree, though as it isn’t used in the main A6 class, it is in my opinion, an acceptable way to balance some of the smaller classes.

Next comes the return of the World Rally Championship for 2015, getting underway on January 19th, the most famous WRC round of them all, with the Monte Carlo Rally. Sebastien Loeb is scheduled to make a guest appearance for Citroen, meaning battle will be joined before the nine times World Rally Champion, and his apparent successor for VW, Sebastien Ogier.

Many questions will be answered during this rally and as the season progresses, but Monte is one of my favourites, the terrain, the history and the prestige of this rally are spectacular. Every rally fan has a memory of the Monte Carlo rally, may that be Paddy Hopkirk slinging a Mini Cooper around the hills above the principality, to the fire spitting Group B rally era or the modern era of rallying, it is still a rally to behold.

Finally the month of motorsport is rounded off, by opening the door to the next, with the Rolex24 at Daytona, scheduled for January 25-26 2015. One of the world’s most celebrated Sportscar races opens the 2015 account on Daytona’s speed-weeks, whilst giving us one of the worlds leading motorsport events.

I’ve got to say here, last year’s Daytona24 wasn’t one I enjoyed personally, a mix of issues related to the “merger” between ALMS and Grand-AM in the weeks and days before the event, a horrific accident for Memo Gidley, who is thankfully recovering well now, and post race controversy left me, feeling more frustrated and concerned, then happy and excited about the new IMSA era for Daytona and the wider Tudor United Sportscar Championship.

Thankfully, as the season progressed I stuck with the championship, and saw it evolve and improve, it still has a long way to go, as a series but it has left me with a sense of renewed optimism heading into this years edition of the fabled race. Balance of performance will still be a talking point, particularly within the Prototype “P” Class, with new P2 models entering the series for the first time, though hopefully this edition of the Daytona24 can be more focused on the racing, and the bewildering sight of cars on Daytona’s iconic banking in the midnight hours than on the series politics, at least in the public spotlight.

So that rounds off a look at motorsport in January, I know most people see the racing season as starting in March or April, but quite honestly, it hardly ever stops, and this is one of the good times of the year to try a new discipline of motorsport. Thank you for reading.

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