“The WRC is starting a new chapter”
The notebook is open. The page is blank. It’s time to write a new chapter of World Rally Championship history.
Optimism, anticipation and excitement abound in the Monte Carlo Rally service park this week, but it was the very antithesis of this three decades ago when another new chapter was about to be started. Group A was not to everybody’s liking.
Markku Alen remembers his first test of Lancia’s first ever Group A car, the Delta HF 4WD.
“It was between rallies, when we were still driving Delta S4,” he says. “I remember Kiki [Ilkka Kivimaki, co-driver] and I started laughing when we came out of the first corner in Group A car. It was so slow.”
Alen’s 1987 programme didn’t start until round two in Sweden.
Lancia’s Finn of choice on the Monte that year was reigning world champion Juha Kankkunen. After stepping from the fearsome and allconquering Peugeot 205 T16 E2 just weeks before, Kankkunen confesses his new motor was underwhelming in the extreme.
Talking at the time, he said: “Oh crap, this is the end of rallying! There is nothing in these cars.”
The sport didn’t end there, but his first event with his new employer didn’t go well. Not fancying 230bhp on dry asphalt, KKK hoped the French Alps would deliver some snow.
The mountains didn’t disappoint. It came by the bucket load – to the extent that only 25 of the 175 starters made it through the first stage. And Kankkunen was flying. He and team-mate Miki Biasion slaughtered the best of the rest, so much so that their rivals called on scrutineers to double-check the Delta. Kankkunen was relaxed about the situation. He’d gone for a pizza.
The cars were legal and Kankkunen’s lead moved past the minute mark when another threat to his dominance loomed large. This one from much closer to home. Lancia team principal Cesare Fiorio decided it would be better for the Italian team if its Italian driver won.
Kankkunen stopped the Delta within sight of the last stage – and in full view of the television cameras – allowed Biasion to pass him.
“They’ve hired a world champion, but they won’t let him win!” fired the understandably agitated moral victor back in Monaco.
Ten years on in 1997 and it was change again as World Rally Cars arrived on the scene to start another chapter. It poured with rain for much of the event, but a spellbinding run over Sisteron was enough for another Italian, Piero Liatti, to put his Subaru beyond the grasp of Tommi Makinen’s Mitsubishi and Ford’s Carlos Sainz and take his sole world championship win.
There was no new regulations a decade ago in 2007, but there was a returning Citroen squad with a whole new car: the C4 WRC. And what a dominant debut Versailles’ latest creation got: one-two for Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo. Could that be an omen? Don’t bet against it. Here’s to a wonderful season. The one we’ve been waiting for. Now, to that blank page…