Clocks gone back? Check. Weather turned nasty? Check. Pumpkins off the shop shelves, replaced by tins of Roses? Check. Then it must be nearly Rally GB time, right?
Next Friday, Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship will get under way in north Wales, with two local drivers - Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans - in with a shout of podium places. All they’ll need is for trouble to befall all three VW Polo WRCs, in fact, and they could even stand a chance of winning.
Volkswagen Motorsport’s rally campaign appears to be continuing in full force, unaffected by the emissions scandal that has engulfed the rest of the company. The fact that the 2016 WRC calendar includes a round in China has probably helped to secure another 12 months of dominance for Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and the most recent WRC event winner, Andreas Mikkelsen.
Thing is, VW is already working on its 2017 challenger, built to new rules that are designed to make the cars a bit harder to drive and more appealing to the fans. There’s plenty of video footage already, in fact, of double world champ Marcus Gronholm shaking down a test mule of the 2017 car on gravel and, most recently, on asphalt in the south of France.
It’s an ominous development for everyone else; Citroën Racing has yet to confirm any programme beyond, er, this coming weekend, while M-Sport, the team that continues to run Fiestas without any Ford backing, must be looking seriously at how much it can afford to spend developing an entirely new car.
Hyundai has a new car for 2016 to produce before it can really start worrying about 2017 - and the only other team confirmed for 2017 is Toyota, whose development campaign risks falling into disarray as it splits effort between the Japanese firm’s own engineers in Cologne and a fledgling operation run in Finland by four-times world champion Tommi Makinen. More than a year out, VW is a mile ahead of the pack already.
The new rules include a larger turbo restrictor that takes power from the current figure - a nominal 300bhp - up to around 380bhp, plus a more sophisticated active centre differential, more aerodynamic kit and even wider bodywork.
There’s no doubt that standing still, the Polo WRC looks pretty dramatic - but I have grave concerns that at some point, the engineers have suggested that lots of wings will make the cars look sexier. And the powers that be have listened to them.
If you watch the fan-sourced footage of Gronholm that I’ve linked to above, you’ll notice that the Polo - still a mule, admittedly - is a bit quicker in a straight line than the existing car, but even more stable in corners and changes of direction. And that doesn’t exactly float my boat.
By all means, make the cars wider and give them more power - north of 400bhp, if it’s feasible. But cut back on the aero and make them slide around. Rally fans don’t watch rallying because they want to see a track racer; they want to see a bit of movement and sideways action.