Thursday, August 02, 2007

Things looking up in the WRC

People really knock the World Rally Championship at the moment, but here we are halfway through the season, one day before Rally Finland, and we've got a lot to look forward to.

Despite the seeming invincibility of Sebastien Loeb, it is Marcus Gronholm who heads into the second half of the year with a nine-point lead. Poor performances by Loeb in Norway and Italy are to blame, despite outwinning Marcus by four to three. Seb does best when controlling from the front, but will the need to beat Marcus (rather than simply keep pace to score points) force him to make more uncharacteristic errors? Behind them Mikko Hirvonen continues to demonstrate that he's likely to be top dog once Marcus and Seb retire from the sport.

So we've got this tantalizing battle to look forward to, which is great, but there are indications that Subaru is on the brink of returning to form (how many times have we said that though?) Petter Solberg commented lately that they think they've uncovered the cause of all their poor performances. Chasing that very ghost took all of 2006, and has taken much of 2007. In the meantime Petter has been forced to overdrive, causing many more accidents that would normally be expected from the talented, hyperactive Norwegian. If it's true that Subaru are back on form, I wouldn't be surprised to see Solberg challenging Hirvonen in the championship before long.

The championship has also been bolstered by the addition of third cars for Ford and Subaru, in the hands of Khalid Al-Qassami and Xavier Pons respectively. Al-Qassami bring huge sponsorship money from Abu Dhabi, as well as some Middle East Rally Championship success (perhaps useful for next year's Jordanian Rally). He will run four events in 2007, then ten in 2008. Pons, who was so poor at Kronos Citroen last year that he was effectively replaced by Dani Sordo seems an odd choice for Subaru. However, I imagine that he also brings financial backing, giving the team the ability to run three cars and increase their data gathering and effective test mileage by 50%. The arrival of these two entries now gives us 14 WRC cars from the six manufacturer teams. These are bolstered by numerous private entries from hotshoes like Urmo Aava, Guy Wilks, and the ridiculously quick 17-year old Andreas Mikkelson, who's been turning heads in the Irish Tarmac Championship.

Another thing to look forward to in this year's WRC is the debut of Rally Ireland. I've been following Irish rallying this year, particularly the two events that featured Gronholm and Loeb, and those two drivers were given a damn good run for their money by the absolute headcase domestic drivers. The roads are very narrow but very quick, and the Irish drivers know how to go fast on them. What's more, Irish rallies regularly feature more WRC-spec cars than WRC events, so there's no shortage of competitive entries. I honestly expect locals like Eugene Donnelly to challenge for the podium when the WRC arrives on the Emerald Isle in November.

Finally, a new manufacturer will arrive this year, with Suzuki planning on running their WRC car for the first time in Corsica. I'm sure it will be slow and unreliable, but it's nice to see a completely new entrant. In 2008 they'll run a full season, and its possible we'll also see the return of Mitsubishi at that point too.

I think Mark Twain once said "the rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated...."


Amberie said...

Hello there,
It's good to finally see a fellow rally blogger, and an American to boot! You've got a very cool site goin' on. Keep up the great work.
What in the World Rally?

patrick said...

Lets hope so...

The last couple of years have been pretty grim.

I've been on holiday in the part of Ireland where the WRC round is being held this year nand the roads are going to be fantastic for rallying.

I've caught the Irish rally championship a couple of times when they've had a joint round with the BRC in the Scottish Borders (the Jim Clark rally) and as you say there's a lot of pretty tasty machinery in that championship