DAVID EVANS

“The WRC is start­ing a new chap­ter”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

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…

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