The 2022 WRC season may have only finished in November, but the new season starts in January, barely two months later, so the teams really need to get their ducks in a row quickly to be ready and prepared for the Monte Carlo Rally.
M-Sport confirms Loubet for second Puma WRC
Updated: Tuesday 3rd January 2022 at 16:00. M-Sport has confirmed that rising French rally star Pierre-Louis Loubet will pilot a second Ford Puma WRC for the team alongside Ott Tänak in 2023.
Loubet rallied seven times in the top category in 2022 for M-Sport, bagging three stage wins as well as leading a rally outright for the first time. He also achieved his career best result of fourth twice, in Sardinia and Greece.
For 2023 Loubet steps up to a full-time WRC drive for the first time, now working alongside Thierry Neuville’s former co-driver Nicholas Giilsoul. Loubet’s former co-driver, Vincent Landais, will team-up with Sebastien Ogier at Toyota in 2022.
M-Sport also confirmed that Gus Greensmith, who has rallied full-time for the team over the last several seasons, has left ahead of the new year. It is uncertain whether Greensmith will find another full-time drive for 2023.
Also up in the air is the possibility of a third car from M-Sport in 2023. The team appeared to pour cold water on any ideas of Sébastien Loeb returning again in the new year, with logistical issues around his drive at the Dakar rally making a Rally Monte Carlo appearance pretty much impossible. With its final driver Adrian Formaux set to step down to WRC2 after a difficult season it is still unknown if or when we’ll see another Puma on the stages in 2023.
2023 WRC drivers and teams
Kalle Rovanperä - Jonne Haltunen
Elfyn Evans - Scott Martin
Takamoto Katsuta - Aaron Jonston
Sébastien Ogier - Vincent Landais (partial)
Thierry Neuville - Martijn Wydaeghe
Esepekka Lappi - Janne Ferm
Craig Breen - James Fulton (partial)
Dani Sordo - Candido Carrera (partial)
Ott Tänak - Martin Jarveoja
Pierre-Louis Loubet – Nicholas Gilsoul
Tänak joins M-Sport for 2023
Updated: Friday 9th December 2022 at 12:30. The 2019 WRC champion, Ott Tänak, will return to the M-Sport Ford team for the 2023 season, following his release from Hyundai.
Tänak began his WRC career with the Cumbrian team in 2011 and stayed with the team until he left for Toyota at the start of the 2018 championship. He clinched his only WRC crown to-date with the Japanese outfit before a switch to Hyundai for the last three seasons.
He is the first driver to be confirmed as driving the Ford Puma WRC, which showed promise in 2022, with a win on its debut in the hands of Sebastien Loeb. Candidates for the other M-Sport drives are understood to include current M-Sport drivers Gus Greensmith and Pierre-Louis Loubet and Tänak’s fellow Hyundai refugee Oliver Solberg.
Breen and Lappi join Hyundai WRC for 2023
Updated: Friday 18th November at 9:35. Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen will complete Hyundai's driving lineup for the 2023 WRC season alongside Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo. Lappi returned to the top level of the WRC after a year away in 2022, and impressed on his outings in a Toyota that he shared through the year with Sebastien Ogier. As a result the Finn will replace Ott Tanak in a full-time Hyundai drive after the 2019 World Champion elected to leave the team following the 2022 season.
Breen completed his first full season in the WRC in 2022 with M-Sport Ford, but despite a pair of podiums also struggled to find a proper rythm with the car, resulting in six crashes through the season. He and M-Sport announced they were going their separate ways earlier this week and now it has been confirmed that Breen will share a car with Dani Sordo, with the two drivers swapping through the season.
Thierry Neuville will remain as the team's lead driver. The Belgian has finished in the top three of the championship six times for Hyundai and without Tanak seems to be the Korean brand's best chance of finally winning the title it has craved since joining the series in 2014.
The news means that only M-Sport remains as the major team yet to announce it's drivers, although the future of Ott Tanak is also bringing much mystery to a now closing silly season.
Toyota retains drivers for 2023
Updated: Friday 18th November at 9:35. Toyota will keep roughly the same driver lineup, with some minor tweaks, as it attempts to defend its double title win from 2022. Champion Kalle Rovenpera and Elfyn Evans will continue in the GR Yaris for another season, while Takamoto Katsuta will return for another full season.
With Esapekka Lappi departing for Hyundai, Katsuta will step up into the full Toyota WRC team as a points-scoring driver for sseveral elected rounds, having been in the team's junior car for the last two seasons. Eight-time champion Sebastien Ogier will return for a partial programme, with Katsuta taking the points-nominated car when the Frenchman isn't rallying.
While Rovenpera clinched his first title in style in 2022, Welshman Evans struggled to find a rythm with the new hybrid GR Yaris, although in the second half of the season he recorded a string of podium finishes. Katsuta earns his promotion after achieving the set goal of two podiums in a season, in only his second year in the WRC.
Which drivers are confirmed for WRC 2023?
Theirry Neuville is currently the only driver who has been confirmed to have a full-time WRC ride for 2023. There are other drivers under contract to manufacturers, but in the world of the WRC that does not always mean a drive will follow.
Currently Hyundai has only Neuville on its books after Ott Tanak decided to end his time with the team at the conclusion of the 2022 season. Oliver Solberg is also out of Hyundai, the youngster made progress through his seasons in a part time programme with the i20N, but was rather prone to the odd accident, and Hyundai has decided it wants more experience in its seats.
Dani Sordo has been sharing that seat with Solberg over the last few seasons, and there’s no indication that the Spaniard won’t be retained to a part-time programme. He guarantees points and the odd podium, so it would make sense to continue.
What about Ford and Toyota?
Craig Breen was due to continue with M-Sport Ford, but following a difficult 2022, where he crashed out in six separate rallies, the team and the Irishman have chosen to go their separate ways for 2023. That leaves M-Sport without any confirmed drivers for the new season. While Ott Tanak might be available, and has history with M-Sport, the team is unlikely at this time to have the funds to sign the 2019 Champion. Current drive Gus Greensmith would be likely to retain his drive, having made slow, but definite, progress in his time with the team and its two youngsters, Adrian Formaux and Pierre Louis-Loubet, will both be pushing for more chances.
Toyota is also leaving it late for driver decisions in 2023. Team boss Jari-Matti Latvala has spoken of his wish to keep his current drive lineup – World Champion Kalle Rovenpera, Welshman Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta in full-time drives and a fourth car shared by Esepekka Lappi and eight-time champ Sebastien Ogier – changes at other teams will complicate this. Lappi, who looked strong on his outings in the GR Yaris, will definitely have one eye on that open seat at Hyundai.
Who else might get a WRC drive?
Breen will obviously also be eyeing that spot at Hyundai, whether the full-time seat or sharing a car with, likely Sordo. But there has also been talk that Kris Meeke may be keen on a return. Meeke’s experience with Toyota, helping to develop the current car, would be very valuable to Hyundai as well as his vast experience on the WRC scene.
Sebastien Loeb, the most successful WRC driver of all time, contested a handful of WRC rounds in 2022, and is believed to be keen to continue in 2023. His win on the Monte Carlo Rally remained M-Sport’s only success with its new Puma WRC, so the team will no doubt be keen to find a way to fit the rallying legend into its programme.
There’s also Teemu Sunninen, the former M-Sport driver who has been driving for Hyundai in WRC2 this year. The Finn will have one eye on that Rally1 seat at the Korean team.
Are any new manufacturers joining the WRC?
Sadly not, we seem to be set for the current three teams for the foreseeable future. And the championship will be glad that we are still at three after Hyundai came close to quitting this year following a difficult start to its life with the new Rally1 Hybrid regulations.