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Breen, Solberg, Tänak and more: Catching up with WRC’s silly season

Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images

The 2022 WRC season may be over, but that doesn’t mean there isn't any news as of late. The driver market has seen a number of changes in the last couple of months. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at all of them, in chronological order.

The first major news was of Ott Tänak leaving Hyundai, one year before his contract with the team expired. The Estonian didn’t like the fact he wasn’t prioritised in Greece, especially since he had a realistic shot of closing down the eventual world champion Kalle Rovanperä. This incident was compounded by the Korean manufacturer’s unreliability in the last two years, and ultimately led to the 2019 world champion’s departure. He is now left without a seat heading into 2023, although M-Sport has shown interest in his services. Even if it seems far fetched, let’s not forget that’s the team with which the Estonian made a name for himself.

Hyundai made sure the spotlight was kept on themselves, as just a few days later, it was announced that Oliver Solberg would also be departing at the end of the 2022 season. Son of the famous Mr Hollywood, Petter Solberg, Oliver joined Hyundai part time last year, and was made the third driver for this season, sharing the seat with the experienced Dani Sordo. He achieved some moderate results, most notably in Belgium and New Zealand, but an overall lack of pace, coupled with plenty of offs meant Hyundai lost faith in him, and ultimately decided their partnership wasn’t worth continuing. It has to be said that Solberg had very little experience coming into 2022, with just ten rallies in wrc2 before his World Rally debut in 2021.

Days after Rally Japan concluded, we also found out that Craig Breen would be parting ways with M-Sport after a single, pretty disappointing season. Expectations for the partnership were high, thanks to the Irishman’s impressive results in 2021, and the British team starting development on the 2022 car early, but Breen failed to cement himself as the team leader, with his campaign being full of accidents and crashes. These could be a result of overdriving to compensate for the team’s lack of development- it’s not a coincidence most of them took place in the second half of the year- on top of this being his first full season of competition. Then again, a driver of Breen’s calibre shouldn't have made as many mistakes as he did during 2022.

Credit: Photo by Diogo Cardoso/vi/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

One driver who was relatively mistake-free in 2022 was Takamoto Katsuta. The Japanese driver was the sole representative of Toyota’s junior team and managed top eight finishes in all but one of the 13 rallies, scoring two podiums in Kenya and Japan along the way. His efforts were rewarded when Toyota announced he’d be moving to their main team, driving the third car in certain events. The returning Sebastien Ogier, who had a troubled start to his part time career, will be taking over from Katuta in the remaining rallies. This however, left Esapekka Lappi without a place in the team.

That’s because the Finn had been picked up by Hyundai to replace the outgoing Tänak, marking his return to full-time rallying for the first time since 2019. As for that third seat, it belongs to Dani Sordo, for a portion of the season at least. When he’s not driving, Breen will be, the Irishman returning home to the Korean manufacturer, for whom he found so much success in the past.

That leaves us with only M-Sport, who is yet to announce any driver for next year. Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith look set to continue with the team, despite their underwhelming 2022 campaigns, along with Pierre-Louis Loubet. The Frenchman impressed during his time behind the wheel, and is hopeful of a full time seat for 2023. But the two big names the British outfit is looking to secure are the aforementioned Tänak, who will almost certainly become team leader if he joins, and Sebastien Loeb, most likely for a campaign similar to this year’s. With M-Sport’s infamous driver problems, which have plagued them for so long, signing one, let alone both of these drivers, would be quite the achievement.

With all the reshuffling and a new-look calendar, 2023 looks set to be one of the most competitive WRC seasons in recent memory. For now though, let’s all enjoy a much needed, relatively short winter break, as we wait for racing action to resume in January.

Credit: Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images


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