All four major factory-backed WRC teams – representing Citroën, Ford, Hyundai and Toyota – unveiled their latest competition cars and their new 2019 driver line-ups in front of huge crowds on Saturday morning. 
This year’s WRC calendar has been extended to 14 rounds with the addition of an extra event in Chile. The 10 month global adventure blasts off in Monte Carlo in just a few weeks’ time and concludes in Australia during November. In between, competitors face epic showdowns throughout Europe, South and Central America, and Asia including a return to the UK for Wales Rally GB in early October.
“I’m really, really excited,” extolled WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla speaking as the wraps came off the 2019 challengers at the NEC. “As we saw last year, the competition is now so close between the drivers and the teams that this season is all set to be the best for a long, long time. The success of this fantastic public launch has just increased anticipation ahead of the opening round.”
While the presence of British drivers Kris Meeke (who returns with world champions Toyota) and Elfyn Evans (now team-leader at the M-Sport Ford team) drew huge applause among local fans in Birmingham, it was the presence of the sport’s top gun Sébastien Ogier that attracted most attention. 
Last year, the outstanding Frenchman became the first man in history to win five Rally GBs en route to a sixth World Championship crown after a nail-biting finale Down Under. Since then, though, the reigning champion has rejoined crest-fallen Citroën and was making his first public appearance for the French team in front of the crowds at the NEC.  
“It’s been great to come here and to give so many fans a chance to see the cars in their new colours ahead of the Monte Carlo Rally,” enthused Ogier, who knows Citroën doesn’t start this campaign on the front foot having been the least successful of the four front-running teams in 2018. 
“This is the start of a big challenge and we face very fierce competition, so it will be tough… but I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m really looking forward to this new one. Every time you start something new in life it’s always exciting,” he grinned.
As for his chances of stretching his Rally GB winning record to six, Ogier was predictably circumspect. “Wales is a very special event for me,” he admitted. “I have managed to master the very tricky conditions several times now. Hopefully, I will be competitive once again in October.”
Tickets for this year’s Wales Rally GB will go on sale in the spring when the 2019 competitive route is announced.
24-27 January             Monte Carlo Rally
14-17 February            Rally Sweden
07-10 March                Rally Guanajuato Mexico
28-31 March                Tour de Corse (France)
25-28 April                   YPF Rally Argentina
09-12 May                   COPEC Rally Chile
30 May-02 June           Vodafone Rally de Portugal
13-16 June                  Rally Italia Sardinia
01-04 August               Neste Rally Finland
22-25 August               ADAC Rally Germany
12-15 September         Rally Turkey
03-06 October             Wales Rally GB
24-27 October             Rally Spain
14-17 November          Kennards Hire Rally Australia