THE wait is over for Irish rally fans and rally fans in general. The 2017 season sees the biggest shake-up in many years with the shock departure of VW, the current World Champion on the open market, Toyota returning to the WRC after a 17-year break, new regulations producing fantastic-looking cars and an Irish line-up not seen before with Paul Nagle, Kris Meeke and Craig Breen in a full works programme

with Citroen and to make it even more interesting, this year’s season opener has many new stages. Friday is the longest day with more stages on Saturday before Sunday’s final leg that includes the renowned Col de Turini, where ice and snow can cause problems, this legendary mountain pass defined by hairpins and sheer drops near Sospel.

Sebastien Ogier (pictured) and M-Sport partnership got off to a great start setting the pace in the new-look Fiesta on the 3.35km ‘shakedown’ over mountain roads around the town of Gap in southern France on Wednesday. Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen was second fastest in a Skoda Fabia and Ogier’s Estonian teammate Ott Tanak was third. Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth ahead of Toyota’s return to the championship after a 17-year absence. Citroen was not sighted in the top 10 as the team deliberately opted to run on slick tyres in order to save its winter tyres for the special stages.