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WRC Rally Mexico 2011

The winner's podium at the 2008 Rally Mexico. ...
Image via Wikipedia

Rally Mexico this year will be remembered for two main things. The first is Citroen fighting back after their disappointing opening round in Sweden to prove that their new DS3 is just as competitive as the Ford Fiesta. Unfortunately for Citroen, despite their overall strong showing in terms of speed, the other thing this rally will be remembered for is the straight fight between Loab and Ogier on the final day which lead to Ogier pushing too hard when under pressure and crashing out of the event.

It was overall a good event but it ended up being a bitterly sweet one for Citroen. Of course, they still won the event with Loeb but it was a shallow victory. Ogier threw away his superior speed for most of the weekend with one small but very costly error, and that allowed Ford to capitalise by taking a double podium in an event where they should have been lucky to get one driver into the top three.

Ken Block had a variety of issues, starting with electrical problems with his car barely after the car had left the ceremonial start before the first street stage tyo begin the rally. It was a bitter blow for his as he has considerable experience on this rally. It’s also one of his favourite events and had he not suffered with so much time-loss through problems he might have been able to challenge for some good points. His wasn’t the only Fiesta to suffer reliability problems but luckily it didn’t hamper the two works drivers, Hikko and Jari-Matti.

Petter Solberg showed strong pace on day two which helped him climb back up to fifth in the standings heading into the final day. He was gifted fourth due to Ogier’s mistake. 5th and 4th in the first two rallies is not a bad start for Petter in his privateer DS3. Of course, he’s looking for wins and podiums but it’s impressive when you consider that he’s been beset with a variety of problems in both events including having his co-driver finish the final stage behind the wheel in Sweden, as well as engine problems and a half-broken gear level in Mexico. When he gets the car working 100% for him then I don’t think many people would bet against consistent podiums for him throughout the season. I really hope he gets a win this year. It’s been way too long for someone of his immense talent.

I’m really excited for Portugal as it will be the first rally of the year in conditions which are fairly typical, with no altitude sapping the engines, and a surface that doesn’t generally favour any particular drivers.

I’m equally excited about the soon to be confirmed WRC entry for Volkswagon. I can’t wait to see their plans, and I assume Nasser Al-Attiyah will be a part of them. Being confirmed as a driver for the new team would certainly go a long way to helping him forget about being robbed of his first SWRC win in Mexico over a simple technicality. I have no idea what car they’ll be entering but whatever it is, they’re likely to be pushing Citroen and Ford from the get-go which is really exciting. Hopefully Mini have the same impact too.

Due to ESPN having a free weekend during the Mexico Rally, I got to see the live power stage for the first time. At first, I wasn’t sure about the idea of giving bonus points for the final live stage, but now I love the concept. If there had been no bonus points available, we would have seen careful driving from pretty much all of the drivers. We saw this in the opening two stages of the final day. Because of the change, the top drivers may still play it relatively cautiously, but they have to make sure to do enough to at least stay ahead of the drivers charging behind them. The drivers who are out of contention for the higher points giving places can drive to the maximum which is great to see. Petter Solberg was saving his tyres for the power stage, as was his brother Henning among others. It’s a great risk / reward system that will continue to cause the leading drivers to make tough decisions at every event.

I also thought that I would miss the hydraulic gear shifters in the old cars, but I actually am enjoying the new cars in their simplicity. They are designed to be more reliable and reduce costs to attract more manufacturers, all without diminishing the speed or excitement. I think WRC have done a great job on all fronts, which is fantastic news.

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Miscellaneous

WRC 2010 Game Review

The first thing to say about this game, is that it is a very long way from perfect. When I first played the demo for the game, I was astounded by how terrible the graphics, voice acting and engine sounds among other things were. In my first play through one of the stages in the demo I couldn’t believe I was witnessing a game that was so far short of the likes of Dirt 2, Gran Turismo 5 and F1 2010 in so many key areas.

After playing the demo a couple of times on the two available stages, I was about ready to write a blog post blasting the game completely. I didn’t, and I came back to it a week or so later after my passion for rallying had been firmly reignited. The second time through the handling of the cars really started to click with me and I started enjoying myself. I looked online to see if I could find the game for as much less than the usual £40 as possible, as I didn’t feel the game was worth even half that. Luckily, and perhaps not surprisingly, I found Amazon were selling it for £15 and I decided it was worth the gamble on for that price.

It was one of my best game purchasing decisions. Despite all of it’s problems, WRC 2010 is an incredibly fun game to play and is equally rewarding if you put the time in to really perfect the handling of the cars. I should mention that only huge rally fans with a big interest in WRC need apply as there are so many other better options out there. Dirt 3 is right around the corner and will be far and away the better game in all areas where this game fails. Gran Turismo 5 also has a rally aspect in it, but the handling in that game is far less fun and takes a long time to get into. This is much more approachable and has a greater sense of speed.

Going back to this game though, there is a wide variety of modes in single player. Chief among these is the Road to the WRC. This is the main career mode in which you create your own team from scratch. You must progress through all of the lower divisions of world rallying in order to impress WRC teams in order to get a drive with them. While I like the idea of it, and I like how they haven’t excluded J-WRC, S-WRC and P-WRC cars from the game, the mode drags on forever and it takes many hours of play before you can actually drive a WRC car other than the odd one-off wildcard event. However, even these only become available after you get to level 4 or 5 of the events.

What makes this delay worse is the fact that the lesser cars in the game are just not as fun to drive. The 4WD cars are serviceable, but the front wheel drive J-WRC cars are just not fun to control as they don’t drift easily and the gearing on them doesn’t feel right. Most people who buy this game are going to be itching to drive Loeb’s C4 or Hirvonen’s Focus, and even though you can do it in the single player championship mode, most will probably want to do it in the main career mode first, and that’s a problem.

You could say that the delay prolongs the length of the game, but after a while it just becomes cheap and repetitive. Once you do get to the WRC cars, you will enjoy it even more as you finally get to ditch the front wheel drive cars in favour of ones which are always on the edge of control and put you on the edge of your seat.

Going back to the negative points quickly though, it seems that some car engine sounds are better than others. For example, the Ford Focus sounds quite good and won’t get on your nerves too much. The Citroen C4 on the other hand will drive you insane if you don’t turn the sounds down in the audio settings. Likewise, the co-driver voices are unbelievably bad. They only have a few things to say in each situation and after a while of hearing “you drive like a champion” after winning a stage, you’ll be very sick of it. However, the most annoying call has to be when you make a considerable impact with a barrier or something else solid. The male co-drive will yell “aaaahhhh”. The first few times you’ll laugh at it but after that you’ll be cringing just before you hit a wall when you know it’s coming. Obviously, as you get better at the game you’ll hear it less, but I found the female voice to be far less irritating so I’ve stuck with her regardless.

The other final problem with the game is that despite there being 6 stages per rally, in reality, there are only 2 or 3 truly unique stages. The others are either reverse runs of the others or are created by copy and pasting different elements of stages together to create the illusion of uniqueness. This is lazy game development but it’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. Even if you halve the number of stages in the game, there is still a considerable number of stages which differ enough to keep the experience fresh for quite a while. It would of course be great to have a game with exact replications of every stage run in the entire championship, but whether that’s actually realistic is unknown. I suppose when you look at how many tracks and cars are in GT5, you could see how it could well be possible with this generation’s hardware, but we just have to hope this happens at some point.

Overall though, if you can get past the abysmal voice acting, comparatively terrible graphics and engine sounds that remind you more of the drone of a go-kart than a roaring rally car, then you’ll really enjoy the fun handling and the full list of drivers, cars and rallys that the WRC license provides. It’s the first official WRC game for several years and while it’s by no means a great game technically, it does the job until hopefully WRC hire Codemasters to make a truly great official WRC game. Either that, or this developer produces something of far higher quality. I really hope we see one of those this year.

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Miscellaneous

WRC 2010 Season Thoughts and Rallying in General

Sébastien Loeb driving his Citroën C4 WRC at t...
Image via Wikipedia

After I did this for Nascar, I thought I should for WRC as well, as I’m an even bigger fan of this sport. When I was younger I remember watching Rallying on TV and seeing people like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz doing incredible things for teams such as Toyota and Subaru. Unfortunately, those great brands and others like Mitsubishi don’t appear in the main WRC series at the current time due to the economy, but I hope this changes soon. This upcoming season does see the return of Mini, with their new Countryman car. Hopefully the other big names of the past decide to come back soon too, as there are not enough WRC cars competing at the moment in my opinion.

While those manufacturers are still missing, I’m back watching after many years of letting the sport pass me by. The 2010 season I watched entirely on the review DVD and it was really great to see the incredible driving skills of these competitors. It was almost the perfect season for Loeb, who cruised to victory in his native French Rally. The event even finished by driving a special stage around his home town. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way for him to capture his 7th world title.

Mikko Hirvonen however had an absolute season to forget after coming within a point of glory in 2009. He won the opening round in Sweden but that was as good as it got for him. He quickly relinquished the lead to Loeb in the second event after a 4th place, and Sebastien and Citroen never looked back. He just seemed to either have trouble getting up to speed in events, or experienced some kind of car mechanical failure that took him out of contention. It ended up being his team-mate and “number 2 driver” Yari-Matti Latvala who somewhat ironically ended up in the runner-up spot for the season over his more experienced and favoured team-mate.

I think it was a great season of a great sport with arguably the best drivers in the world, especially Sebastien Loeb who is undoubtedly the best rally driver ever in my opionion, and maybe one of the best drivers in the world generally. Not too many people would disagree with either of those points. I just feel that because rally drivers have more adjustments to make, different surfaces to drive on and stages to learn, they have a harder time of it than F1 and other circuit racing drivers do.

In 2011 I’m excited to see how the new, smaller cars work and how well the drivers adapt to them. It will also be interesting to find out if the Citroen DS3 WRC can follow the untouchable C4 in being as competitive of a rally car. It’s going to be hard for them to dominate as they have done even with Loeb behind the wheel however. These regulation changes give Ford a perfect opportunity to close the gap to the French team. How will Mini do in their first season back and can Kimi Raikkonen and Ken Block improve on their troubled but promosing WRC debut seasons. I’m excited to find out when Rally Sweden starts on the 10th of February.