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Ford have approached Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier to drive for their team in 2011. Ogier has impressed in 2010, winning his first rally in Portugal. Furthermore, he will replace the disappointing Dani Sordo in the main Citroen team for the remaining gravel rallies this year. Ogier is expected to make a decision on which team he would like to drive for in the next couple of weeks.

There is the potential for quite a lot of movement in the driver market for 2011. New rules will see both Ford and Citroen introduce new cars, the Fiesta and DS3 respectively. In 2010, Citroen have run 4 C4s on each event across its two teams, plus a privately-entered car for Petter Solberg. Ford meanwhile have entered up to eight of its Focus WRCs on any one event this year across its teams. The new rules will cause a problem in 2011, as neither Ford nor Citroen will want to run that many of its new cars.

Ford have said that if Ogier joins them he will drive a third Fiesta alongside Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, who are already under contract for next year. A further complication is that Sebastien Loeb has yet to confirm his future in the WRC. Kimi Raikkonen is also yet to confirm his future. With Citroen disappointed with Dani Sordo's performances on gravel, they could end up with no drivers next year. Hopefully they will be able to give Petter Solberg a new DS3.

Ford meanwhile may have to run Khalid Al Qassimi in a Fiesta WRC in order to keep the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority happy, who are title sponsors of the team. Add to this son of the team boss, Matthew Wilson, and drivers such as Federico Villagra, Henning Solberg and Ken Block, who all bring sponsors money, Ford could have a headache running cars for all these drivers. The best solution may be to run one Stobart Fiesta for Wilson, who is developing the new car, plus another car that could be shared by Villagra, Solberg and Block across the season. A Fiesta S2000 could be provided for them to use on other events.

There is of course the chance of more manufacturers joining next year. Prodrive have been linked to a project with Mini, while Toyota Europe are looking at joining one of the WRC, WTCC or GT1. The VW group has also been rumoured, either with its main brand or with Skoda, who already run an S2000 programme in the IRC.
 
 
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Ken Block is raising the profile of rallying in America
I was originally going to save writing this piece for Rally Mexico, when there will be a lot of hype surrounding a new driver to the series (and no, it's not Kimi Raikkonen). However, today the World Rally Championship's promoter, North One Sport, will be presenting a proposed schedule of events to the WRC Commission.

I feel that the WRC calendar should reach all corners of the globe, racing in many different environments. I'm sure that this is also the goal of the promoter, expanding into new markets.

However, the 2010 calendar is not one that fills me with anticipation of the season ahead. In addition to great rallies such as Sweden, Finland and GB are trips to countries such as Mexico, Jordan and Turkey. Rally Bulgaria is the new addition to the calendar for 2010, although I can't help but ask why?

The main catalyst for this piece, as I said earlier, was the anticipation, from media and fans alike, surrounding the arrival of the USA's Ken Block to the WRC. His arrival is not anticipated because he will be fast. To begin with, I expect him to struggle as he gets his first taste of WRC-spec machinery, driving an M-Sport-prepared Ford Focus for the Monster World Rally Team, named after the energy drink, his personal sponsor. Block is an internet star, known for his stunt driving, which saw him appear on BBC's Top Gear last year. He has been competing in the Rally America series, against ex-motocross champion Travis Pastrana. Block and Pastrana have been expanding rallying in the States, thanks to their unique style, something that has not been seen in the WRC before. Colin McRae's Dirt video-game series has also helped to increase the profile of rallying stateside, featuring Block and Pastrana. This rise in popularity, I believe, means the WRC should be visiting the USA, rather than its neighbour Mexico.

Abu Dhabi has been putting money into the sport without even having an event, thanks to its backing of the Ford team and its driver, Khalid Al Qassimi. It is running as a candidate event this year and is expected to join the calendar soon. The WRC recently expanded to Jordan, but a visit to Abu Dhabi would be a far more profitable venture for the series.

The main casualty from the WRC's failed event-rotation system is Monte-Carlo, which is now part of the rival Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Like Formula One starting in Melbourne, I've grown up with the WRC starting its year with the Monte, and Eurosport's live coverage in 2010 showed the enthusiasm for the event from the fans and the media. The Monte Carlo rally should be part of the WRC.

So here is my proposed calendar:
1. Monte Carlo (January)
2. Sweden/Norway (February)
4. Ireland (February/March)
5. Abu Dhabi (March)
6. Argentina (April)
7. Portugal/Italy (May)
8. Greece (June)
9. USA (June)
10. Finland (August)
11. New Zealand/Australia (September)
12. Japan (September)
13. France/Germany (October)
14. Spain (October)
15. Great Britain (November)

Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below. Do you agree? Am I wrong? Do you live in the USA? Do you want a rally?

Photo Credit: Dez & John
 
 
The 2010 World Rally Championship gets underway with Rally Sweden on Thursday evening. Here is a preview of what lies ahead.

Citroen Total
Citroen retain their driver lineup of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo. Loeb is the reigning six-time champion and will be looking to add number seven. Sordo is still chasing that elusive first victory. However quick on tarmac, he's not as quick as his teammate, although could have won in Spain last year if he had been allowed to. It may therefore be easier for him to win on gravel, when Loeb or Hirvonen have problems.

BP Ford
Ford retain the Finnish lineup of the ever-improving Mikko Hirvonen and the fast but inconsistent Jari-Matti Latvala. After running Loeb so close in 2009, the only aim for Hirvonen is to win the title. To do this he must be quicker, there is no other way. He needs to make sure he can continue his impressive finishing record at the same time. Latvala meanwhile needs to turn the flashes of speed into more consistent results, while supporting Hirvonen. Khalid Al-Qassimi will also be driving for the team once again.

Stobart Ford
The Ford B-team is made up of Matt Wilson and Henning Solberg. While Wilson is very consistent, regularly scoring points, he lacks the speed to challenge for podium finishes. Solberg scored two podiums finishes last year, and will be looking to continue the improvement on tarmac he showed last year. Marcus Gronholm will drive for the team in Sweden, and will be challenging for a podium.

Citroen Junior
Sebastien Ogier remains with the team for a second season, and is joined by F1-convert Kimi Raikkonen. Ogier's aim will be to add consistency to the speed he showed at times last year and give the big boys something else to worry about. It will be a steep learning curve for Raikkonen, who showed promise in a Super 2000 Abarth Fiat on his home event last year.

The rest
Munchi's Ford will return for another season with Federico Villagra at the helm, who scored two fourth-placed finishes in 2009. Petter Solberg has his hands on a Citroen C4 for his own team, and will be looking for regular podiums and to be able to challenge for wins in places. Young Norwegian Mads Ostberg takes the unusual approach of replacing his 2008 Subaru Impreza with an older model. US internet sensation Ken Block makes his WRC debut in the Monster Ford on Rally Mexico.

Support categories
2010 sees the addition of a new category to the WRC - the Super 2000 class, or S-WRC. Reigning J-WRC champion Martin Prokop, former P-WRC champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and ex-Citroen driver Xavi Pons will be amongst the favourites driving Ford's new S2000 Fiesta that will be used in the main category next year. In Skoda Fabias are Patrick Sandell and Eyvind Brynildson. Armindo Araujo will be attempting to retain his P-WRC crown, while a new crop of drivers will be attempting to take Prokop's J-WRC title.

Calendar
14 Feb - Sweden
7 Mar - Mexico
4 Apr - Jordan
18 Apr - Turkey
9 May - New Zealand
30 May - Portugal
10 Jul - Bulgaria
1 Aug - Finland
22 Aug - Germany
12 Sep - Japan
3 Oct - France
24 Oct - Spain
14 Nov - Great Britain

You can follow the action by following us on Twitter @Frontofthegrid. Click here to vote in our poll on who you think will win Rally Sweden.
 
 
Sebastien Loeb has completed a straightforward victory on Rally Catalunya, reducing the gap to championship leader Mikko Hirvonen to one point ahead of the final round in Wales in three weeks time.

Loeb was behind Citroen teammate and home favourite Dani Sordo until late on Saturday, when he provided little resistance to Loeb's bid for victory. Hirvonen finished in third place, meaning that whoever finishes ahead out of Loeb and Hirvonen on Rally GB will be crowned champion, Loeb bidding for a sixth straight World Rally title.

Petter Solberg had a strong rally, finishing fourth in his first event in a Citroen C4, having switched from his outdated Xsara. Sebastien Ogier finished fifth, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala.

Dave has highlights of the whole event at 6pm this evening.