WRC

World Rally Championshop Preview

Welcome to the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship! And good luck to all in whatever rallies you may be involved with... ----------------------------------------------------------- 1999 FIA World Rally Championship Welcome to what will become...

Welcome to the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship! And good luck to all in whatever rallies you may be involved with... -----------------------------------------------------------

1999 FIA World Rally Championship

Welcome to what will become one of the most competitive years of rallying since the Group B era. As FIA rules change, more manufacturers and teams are seeking to match their skills and machinery against each other in the World Rally Championship and in 1999, we see several new cars and manufacturers entered.

First though, a look at the calendar for 1999 which has only changed slightly since 98. Indonesia is out after the countries internal problems caused the cancelation of the of event last year, but in its place is the 555 Rally of China. The popularlity of rallying in Asia and China is growing at an enormous rate and this can only strengthed rallying in that part of the world.

WRC CALENDAR 1999:

Rnd 1 Jan 17-20                Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo 
Rnd 2 Feb 12-14                The International Swedish Rally 
Rnd 3 Feb 26-28         Safari Rally Kenya 
Rnd 4 Mar 21-24         TAP - Rallye Du Portugal 
Rnd 5 Apr 18-21         Rallye Catalunya Costa Brava - Rallye De Espana 
Rnd 6 May 9-12                 Rallye De France - Tour De Corse 
Rnd 7 Jun 6-9                 Acropolis Rally
Rnd 8 Jun 23-25         Rally Argentina 
Rnd 9 Jul 16-19         Rally New Zealand 
Rnd 10 Aug 20-22         Neste Rally Finland 
Rnd 11 Sep 17-19         555 China Rally
Rnd 12 Oct 3-5                 Rallye SanRemo/Rallye D'Italie 
Rnd 13 Nov 4-7                 API Rally Australia 
Rnd 14 Nov 21-23         Network Q, RAC Rally

The driver line up for the new season has also changed considerably and is summarised below:

TEAM MARLBORO MITSUBISHI RALLIART

Mitsubishi had a superb year in 98 and retain Tommi Makinen who claimed his third successive World Drivers' Championship in 1998, and helped Mitsubishi Ralliart to their first maunfacturers title. Also signed to the team is Freddy Loix, otherwise known as 'Fast Freddy' and he will compete in all 14 rounds of the championship.

Togethor with Loix, Mitsubishi have reached an agreement with tobacco giant Malboro and the Evo 6/Carisma will appear in bright Malboro red.

The cars, the updated Evo 6, will now appear from the first round, as the FIA has now discouraged the now customary Mitsubishi practice of changing cars mid-year. Only relatively minor changes have been made to the Evo 6 since last season.

FORD MARTINI WORLD RALLY TEAM

A new car with new drivers and new sponsors!

Ford recently announced a major partnership with Martini Racing. Martini is the world's largest wine brand and has a rally heritage stretching back over 30 years. Valvoline also continues their sponsorship in 99

There are high expectations for the new Ford Focus WRC which was first seen at the Paris Motor Show last year. The car has similar running gear to the Escort, but a new chassis which is stronger, lighter and allows better weight distribution.

British heros, Colin McRae and Nicky Grist will be the lead drivers for Ford and will pair up with drivers Simon Jean-Joseph (on bitumen events), Thomas Radstrom and young up and coming, Norwegian Petter Solberg.

SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM

Much has changed also in the Subaru camp. Richard Burns, Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry will be driving in a new spec Impreza. Major sponsors are also changing. 555 are moving to sponsor an F1 team, but Fuji Heavy Industries has filled gap. The Impreza WRC will remain in the classic blue with the yellow styling of Subaru's six-star representation of the Pleiades cluster in the Taurus constellation..

Although the Impreza looks the same, many developments have taken place. The 99 spec model comes with new semi-auto and fully hydraulic transmission, a strengthened, stiffened and lightened bodyshell and revised engine internals with a new turbo

TOYOTA TEAM EUROPE:

The lineup of top drivers remains the same at TTE. Both Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol will be driving a the Corolla WRC although they do lose young guns Freddy Loix and Marcus Gronholm. TTE will retain Castrol as their major sponsor.

SEAT SPORT

Finn Harri Rovanpera will be joined in '99 by the vastly experienced Piero Liatti, now co driven by fellow Italian Carlo Cassina, as Fabrizia Pons believed the move to SEAT to be the wrong one for Piero. However, the SEAT team believe they will benefit greatly from the Italian's experience, and Piero may be able to build the team up around him. During the Christmas break, Seat Sport have under taken some serious testing of the Cordoba and it is expected to be much more competitive than in 98.

After some initial plans, including 3 F2 World Championships, Seat will not be competing in F2 in 99. Toni Gardmeister has entered a Seat Ibiza in the Monte Carlo, but this is privately entered and is not backed by Seat.

SKODA

Skoda Motorsport makes its international competition debut with its Octavia World Rally Car (WRC)on the Monte Carlo Rally and will compete in 8 events this year.

Two Octavias will be driven by Skoda regular, Pavel Sibera and also by Armin Schwarz. The Octavia based WRC car commenced testing late last year, and while Schwarz is cautious about the car's chances, the team is an experienced one, with many F2 victories to it's credit in the past.

PEUGEOT

Peugeot will introduce the new 206 WRC in Corsica this year and will compete in six selected events including Corsica, Acropolis, Finland, San Remo, Australia and Great Britain. The aim is to be competitive in 99 and to win the World Championship in 2000.

Driving for Peugeot will be Gilles Panizzi, Francois Delecour and Marcus Gronholm. Prior to Corsica, these drivers are actively being encouraged to drive in WRC events in other cars. In the Monte, Panizzi will be competing in a Group A Impreza WRC and Delecour an Escort. Meanwhile Gronholm will partner Harri Rovanpera in the Seat WRC in Sweden in early Feb for a one rally deal.

HYUNDAI

Hyundia are perhaps the favourites for the F2 championship in 99 now that Seat are concentrating on their WRC car. Hyundai will miss the Monte and will make their start in Sweden. Once again, Kenneth Eriksson will be driving the Evo II Coupe but Wayne Bell has taken up a management position within the team.

The 1st Round of the World Rally Championship, the Monte Carlo starts next week...more soon!

"Cynan 'Dusty' Rhodes" <cynan@harvestroad.com.au>

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Gilles Panizzi , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , François Delecour , Armin Schwarz , Thomas Radstrom , Juha Kankkunen , Kenneth Eriksson , Nicky Grist , Fabrizia Pons , Simon Jean-Joseph , Carlo Cassina