WRC: Which Star Entrant Will do best at Monza
As soon as Monza was announced to be a part of the WRC calender new entrants were expected, here we look at who has the best chance for a result.
Perhaps not much of a surprise entry anymore given he was scheduled to compete at Ypres and was then rumoured to be driving the Pirelli C3 at Monza and since Ypres was cancelled and those rumours were squashed he has subsequently competed in two rounds of the ERC in the same Skoda Fabia R5 he will be driving this weekend, picking up a win and sixth respectively. Andreas's resume needs no rundown when it comes to rallying, a three-time rally winner and someone who has been to Monza twice before he is not short of experience. And now thanks to his cameos in the ERC is no longer short of seat time, he is all warmed up and in a grove with the car. It is because of this that I would not be surprised if we saw Andreas be right up there in the battle for the win in WRC3 and even R5 as a whole. Surely only misfortune can stop him showing the WRC what they are missing by announcing himself once again on the world stage.
Being the son of a two-time world rally champion you might assume Niclas Gronholm has rallying in his DNA, but rather than have a go at it Niclas has applied his natural born skills to Rallycross. That's not to say he hasn't done rallying, he has, yet with surprisingly little success, two appearances at the Arctic Lapland Rally being his only proper entrances, last year finishing 24th and then a much improved 6th this year. Last year he also made his debut at Monza so he at least has experience of the event, added on to this, all these rallies he was driving a Skoda Fabia R5 the same car he will be driving this weekend so is familiar with the machinery. On top of this you can't overlook his years in the World Rallycross Championship, the supercars there are certainly different to an R5 rally car but the principles, especially with the tarmac set up and loose mixed surface, is something he is more than used too. The characteristics may also play into the hands of Niclas as some of the stages could quite easily resemble rallycross tracks. I would have to look at father Marcus's comments expecting him to be "slow" as him trying not to put pressure on his son, but I for one believe that he will be amongst the top competitors in the R5 class.
Those of you who are purely rally fans may not know who Maro Engel is but in the world of sports cars he is a big deal, a former DTM race winner for Mercedes and driving almost any GT3 car Mercedes has ever produced at races like the Nurburgring 24hours and the GT World Cup at Macau goes to show he is no slouch. However, one area he has far less experience is Rallying he has never competed in a rally like other entries but what might give him an advantage over fellow novices is thanks to the unusual characteristics of a Monza Rally there is a lot of driving that is similar to circuit racing something he has an abundance of experience. He too will be driving a Skoda Fabia R5 a car he has only driven once before in a pre-event test where he had tutoring from Thierry Neuville and former ERC champion Chris Ingram. I have to say I have a feeling Maro may be quite strong this weekend, I doubt he will have the pace to compete with the top guys but certainly enough to impress.
We may not have Valentino Rossi with us at Monza this weekend as many would have predicted and hoped. But on the bright side, we will see a Rally debut for his protege and next seasons teammate Franco Morbidelli, Franco has never competed in a rally of any sort up until now and will be thrown in the deep end by driving a Hyundai i20 R5 which is a very quick car. The reason for him driving this is earlier in the season Hyundai motorsport and Yamaha Petronas SRT had a filming day in which Franco and teammate Fabio Quatoraro were able to have a go in a selection of Hyundai Rally cars, including the car he will be getting familiar with this weekend. As for what to expect for Morbidelli this weekend, I would have to say not much. I don't think he will hold back by any means, but the fact he has had far less seat time puts him at an immediate disadvantage. But that being said nobody expected him to finish runner up in MotoGP this year, but he did and I would be happy if I was wrong.
In recent times Kevin Abbring might be a name that is associated with Rallycross rather than rallying as during last season and this year's campaign he made numerous wildcard entries driving both Skoda's and Renault's. However, he is first and foremost a rally driver having competed in 39 WRC events already with the highest finish of 7th, which came when he was actually a factory driver for Hyundai on the 2016 Rally Catalunya. He acted as a rotational driver for Hyundai during both the 2015 and 2016 campaigns but didn't really do as well as he might have hoped with no real stand out performances. Since then he has done some rallying most notably with a second-place finish at last years Ypres rally in the same Volkswagen Polo R5 he will be driving this weekend, Monza will be a step into the unknown for him too as he has never competed there. I expect Abbring to be in and around the top drivers and might even have the capability to challenge for a podium, but a strong performance will certainly put him in the shop window.