World Rally Championship entries hit new high
Interest in the World Rally Championship has hit a new high with more than 10 teams set to chase manufacturers' points during the course of the 2011 season which kicks off this week with Rally Sweden (10 -- 13 February).
Eight teams are currently registered for the prestigious FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers with at least two further entrants likely to sign up prior to the 26 April deadline. The last time this many teams were registered for the manufacturers' contest was 1990 when nine different squads were represented.
Of this year's eight teams, two are fully-fledged manufacturer entries -- Citroen Total World Rally Team and Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team -- while a further six outfits will run in conjunction with their parent manufacturers Citroen and Ford.
Citroen's works effort will field a brace of DS3 WRCs on all 13 rounds of the series as it chases its third consecutive title. Sebastien Loeb, the seven-time world champion, is nominated to contest all events, while French team-mate Sebastien Ogier is set to enjoy a full programme of rallies.
Ford's factory team is headed by Mikko Hirvonen, a two-time world championship runner-up. He will be at the wheel of a Fiesta RS WRC and will be joined for the balance of the campaign by fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala.
Of the six WRC Teams registered so far, five are aligned to Ford and one to Citroen, although this is set to change when the Citroen-supported Petter Solberg World Rally Team and Van Merksteijn Motorsport operations carry out their intention to register for makes' points in the coming months. A WRC Team must contest a minimum of seven rounds including two outside of Europe and register prior to 26 April.
Citroen is supporting the ICE 1 Racing operation, which is set to enter ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen on 10 rounds of the season, starting with this week's opener in Sweden.
Representing Ford is the M-Sport Stobart World Rally Team, the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team, FERM Power Tools World Rally Team, Team Abu Dhabi and the Monster World Rally Team. All teams will field a solitary Fiesta RS WRC with the exception of the M-Sport Stobart squad, which is set to run two cars on all 13 events.
Norwegians Mads Ostberg and Henning Solberg have been nominated as the M-Sport Stobart team's drivers for the opening two rallies but Briton Matthew Wilson could also figure during the course of the campaign.
Munchi's will contest nine rounds with multiple Argentine champion Federico Villagra. FERM will compete on 11 events with Dennis Kuipers. Team Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Monster's Ken Block will both tackle nine rounds.
MINI will also be in action in the World Rally Championship this season. While its two official drivers, Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo, won't be eligible for manufacturers' points until 2012, the Brazil World Rally Team is planning to register a single entry for Daniel Oliveira. It intends to run a MINI WRC from Rally d'Italia Sardegna onwards.
Simon Long, the CEO of WRC promoter North One Sport, said: "An increase in the number of WRC teams creates more opportunities for drivers to compete at the sport's highest level. This year's new regulations mean they'll be driving the very latest World Rally Cars from Ford, Citroen and MINI and I'm confident it won't be long before we're welcoming additional manufacturers, cars and drivers to the championship."
The 2011 WRC season gets underway with the first of 13 rounds in Sweden from 10-13 February.