Peugeot and Michelin cracked open the champagne in Cardiff today for the second time in twelve months to celebrate victory in the Manufacturers' World Rally Championship, coupled this time with success in Rally GB. Outgoing Drivers' champ Marcus Gronholm led home a 206 WRC one-two in the British forests this weekend after fellow Finn Harri Rovanpera moved into second spot at the start of the final day. Third for Burns at the Cardiff finish was sufficient to hand him the 2001 Drivers' crown after his two biggest rivals in the title chase - Colin McRae (Ford) and Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi-Michelin) - crashed out early in Leg 1. For Michelin, this weekend's emphatic result takes its title tally in world class rallying to a record 31 (16 Manufacturers', 15 Drivers') since the championship was founded in 1973.
Prior to the start of the final round of the 2001 World Rally Championship, four drivers and two manufacturers were still in with a chance of snatching title success this weekend in South Wales. Unfortunately, after weeks of anticipation and analysis of the countless scenarios possible in this exceptional final run-in, much of the suspense was frustratingly truncated barely before the rally had begun.
Once Colin McRae had rolled his Ford Focus into a ball on SS4 and Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi- Michelin) had suffered terminal suspension damage two tests previously, Subaru's Richard Burns was able to cruise home to third place at this afternoon's finish to secure the first Drivers' title of his career. At the same time, McRae's untimely demise and a catalogue of troubles for his Ford team- mate Carlos Sainz all but handed the Manufacturers' prize to Peugeot-Michelin who will take the trophy back to their Velizy base (near Paris) for the second time in two years.
Yet even though the anticipated scrap in the championship battle failed to materialize, it can take nothing away from the masterful performance of 2000 champion Marcus Gronholm. He put his stamp on the competition practically from the outset to collect his third win of the year after similar no-nonsense displays in Finland and Australia. Prior to Colin McRae's spectacular accident on SS4, the Peugeot-Michelin driver had matched the Scot's pace without taking any risks. Then, once the coast was clear, he proceeded to set a series of seven fastest stage times from eight to warn off any ambitions his chasers might have nursed to challenge his supremacy.
With Harri Rovanpera joining his Finnish team-mate on the podium in second place, Peugeot- Michelin collected its fourth maximum points haul of the year, ending the season in magnificent style. After a near-disastrous first half of the year, during which the French squad more frequently than not failed to get either of its WRC-nominated cars to the finish, the team turned on the form once teething problems on the latest evolution 206 WRC (launched in May) had been sorted out to win four of the last six rounds of the season.
As Richard Burns savoured the first moments of being the only Englishman to have ever won the world title, Scotland's Alister McRae put in a faultless run to collect 4th overall for Hyundai-Michelin, the firm's best ever result at world level. And with team-mate Kenneth Eriksson (6th) scoring a welcome additional point in Wales on his final outing with the Accent WRC, the Koreans were understandably pleased with their weekend's work. But it wasn't quite sufficient to dislodge rivals Skoda-Michelin from 5th place in the championship, the Czech manufacturer profiting from the two points picked up by Armin Schwarz (5th) to stay ahead in the 2001 pecking order*.
Despite the high Day 1 attrition rate, which, in addition to the misfortunes of McRae and Makinen, saw the likes of Petter Solberg (Subaru, fuel pressure, SS2), Markko Martin (Subaru, engine, SS6) and Piero Liatti (Hyundai-Michelin, clutch, SS2) all fall by the wayside, the rally claimed few victims amongst the leading crews. Ford Motorsport withdrew the cars of Carlos Sainz and Mark Higgins after the Spaniard crashed into spectators on Day 2, resulting in thirteen of them being taken to hospital for treatment to injuries, while Freddy Loix disappeared with gearbox problems to put an end to an unhappy event for Mitsubishi-Michelin.
Finally, Citroen-Michelin driver Sebastien Loeb achieved an incredible grand-slam in the inaugural FIA Super 1600 Cup when he finished first in the category for the fifth time... in five outings (he skipped the Sanremo round to compete in the factory Citroen Xsara WRC-Michelin). Although the Frenchman made sure of the series a month ago in Corsica, he dominated once again this weekend to finish ahead of the similar car of Briton Niall McShea.
(*) Although equal on points, Skoda stay 5th thanks to a higher number of 3rd place finishes.
MICHELIN'S RALLY... 31! Michelin takes its 31st world rally title!
7 FROM 8... This weekend saw Michelin secure its 31st world title since the creation of World Rally Championship in 1973. This year's success in association with Peugeot is Michelin's fourth consecutive Manufacturers' crown, taking its score to a total of 7 titles from a possible 8 in the last four years*.
(*) After Driver/Manufacturer doubles in 1998 (Driver: Makinen, Manufacturer: Mitsubishi-Michelin), 1999 (Driver: Makinen, Manufacturer: Toyota-Michelin) and 2000 (Driver: Gronholm, Manufacturer: Peugeot-Michelin).
10 WINS FROM 14 IN 2001... Michelin tyres won ten of the 2001 World Championship's fourteen rounds, with success coming on all the types of terrain encountered during the year. These ten wins have been the work of six different drivers (Makinen and Gronholm 3, Rovanpera, Auriol, Panizzi and Puras 1) and three different manufacturers (Peugeot 6, Mitsubishi 3, Citroen 1).
PIERRE DUPASQUIER (Director, Michelin Competition)... "Even if we hadn't won the Manufacturers' title this year, this would still have been an excellent year for Michelin, possibly one of our best World Championship campaigns in a long while. Our tyres have been competitive throughout and finished first in ten rounds from fourteen. We have also been extremely pleased with their performance on all the types of stage surfaces that made up the championship. That includes grand slam success on the year's asphalt and winter events, plus five wins on gravel, including the Safari Rally which was a priority objective for our development team at the start of the season."
PEUGEOT: 1,046... On their way to winning the 2001 Manufacturers' World Championship, Peugeot was able to choose from a range of 12 distinct families of tyres, each of which was available in a choice of evolutions and construction/compounds. For the calendar's fourteen rounds, Peugeot- Michelin's nominated drivers used 1,046 tyres (not including private testing) which were fitted with as many mousse inserts. For the two wintry events (Monte Carlo, Sweden), the French make's nominated pair used 17,620 studs.
AIME CHATARD (Michelin WRC programme director)... "In the highly competitive arena of modern World Championship rallying, nobody contests any more the importance of tyres in the overall performance package. WRC tyre technology is today a world of hand-crafted haute-couture... perhaps that prompts the call for an official 'Tyres' championship in the future." (For information, based on the Drivers' points attributed this year, Michelin have this year scored a total of 212 points from a possible 364).