After all the talk, the hype and the hysteria, the FIA World Rally Championship's most eagerly anticipated season is almost upon us. It's true: 2017 and a new chapter and the next generation in our sport is here.
UK fans will get their first chance to experience these epic new era cars come Wales Rally GB in October. In the meantime, here's world class co-driver Stuart Loudon's guide to the revolution - the one we're all talkin' about...
The cars: an overview
"Lighter, leaner, meaner and - on some stages - as much as a second per kilometre faster. That's not a step, that's a leap and a gigantic one at that. Last year was a season of frustration for most of the drivers, tasting the future while testing 2017 cars, only to have to step back to 2016 machinery for competition. Not any more. The future's arrived and Citroen, Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Toyota's rally missiles are 10 kilos lighter, 55mm wider and as much as 25 per cent more powerful.
"In addition to all that pace and performance, and thanks to tireless work from the FIA and the FIA Institute's Closed Car Research Group over the last eight years, these cars will go down the road packed with more safety features than any other rally car before them.
"Aside from the technical regulation changes, there have been tweaks to the sporting rules to make the 2017 competition as fair as possible while coverage of the World Rally Championship will be more accessible than ever before, courtesy of a new agreement between WRC Promoter and Red Bull TV.
"In short, life in the WRC's never been better."
"Stand any 2017 car alongside its predecessor and the differences couldn't be more obvious - certainly not in terms of size. This season means cars with a front splitter which runs 60mm further forward, while the rear overhang stretches back an extra 30mm.
"The wheel arches are wider and run out of and into the front and rear bumper. And then there's that extra 55mm of width, offering sensational stability and further enhanced safety courtesy of a steel beam running the length of the doorsill. The enormous rear wing will slow the cars down in a straight line (by causing more drag), but will also provide more rear grip and higher cornering speed than ever before. That wing itself sits 50mm higher than the roofline.
"There are more scoops, grills and gouges than ever, sucking cool air in to chill brakes and engine with the hot stuff spat out from more holes and hollows."
"From their seats, the driver and co-driver won't see any dramatic changes in terms of furniture in their office. What they will notice is that they're sitting even closer together and even further away from the outside world. Once stage mode is engaged, they won't see each other at all. Their helmets will be closer - now just 50mm - away from the enhanced wrap-around head protectors. Seat technology has moved on further with significant development in turning seats into their own safety cell in the event of an accident.
"That added space between the crew and the outer reaches of the 2017 World Rally Car has been filled with more energy-absorbing foam than ever (at least 240mm rather than 200mm in the 2016 cars); this extra foam - allied to other measures such as roll cage design and a carbon fibre door panel complete with honeycomb aluminum for added strength - means a potential increase in energy management of 20 per cent. Energy management is vital in an accident and the ability to transfer that energy throughout the shell is a major step forward in crew safety."
"The headlines are straightforward: bigger turbo, bigger restrictor and more power. But, there's so much more to 2017 than just bolting a bigger blower fed through a wider mouth to the side of four cylinders. Engines have been redesigned and rebuilt incorporating other technical changes such as, for example, the increase in bore diameter to 84mm.
"As well as the pursuit of ultimate power and performance, engine design reflects the need to balance combustion pressure with durability. The motors need to be fast and they need to last.
"The big number is 380bhp - up from the FIA's previous figure of 300. The power hike comes from the bigger restrictor, but containing the boost to 2.5-bar ensures the level of torque from the engine remains roughly the same as before (around 430Nm). What this means is that on the tight, twisty stages, the cars will be running at around the same speed. But on the quick stuff, with the cars in top gear, the scenery will be passing faster than ever before.
"In places like Finland and Poland, the new cars will be out of this world."
"The six-speed sequential gearbox remains in place for this season, as does the hydraulically operated paddle shift. But, like the differentials, driveshafts and propshaft feeding the power to the car's four corners, the 'box has been upgraded, strengthened and made ready for more power than ever before to be shot through.
"The big change in this area is, however, the return to an active centre differential for the first time since 2010. Even mated to passive front and rear differentials, the active centre will allow the driver to tune the car's handling to the specific conditions far easier than ever before. The FIA will implement a restriction of three different maps for the centre, which brings some limitations.
"The manufacturers were keen on this change not just to see an improvement in their car's handling, but also for the extra durability the active centre is likely to deliver, with less stress being put through the rest of the transmission. One leading engineer described the inclusion of an active centre differential as a shock absorber for the powertrain."
The organisers of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB are delighted to announce that Conwy County Borough Council has extended its highly successful support for the UK's round of the FIA World Rally Championship.