From Chris Biewer [ 28/10/2003 ].
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It’s that time of the year again: Some trick with the clock means it’s dark most of the day now and it is getting colder also at least in the northern part of the globe. It feels like Christmas is not too far away. And in the World of rallying Christmas should come early for some. World titles are to be decided and it is only one event left. Time to bring some light into the affairs what results certain drivers will aim for and what certain results will mean in title prospects on this last event. Who will attack, who will settle for positions, which strategies are needed. At the end of the day, the titles mean much more than single events and title fights can actually spoil events, while however an open title battle may add some interesting tactical games.
For a start Britain already has one World title as the 2003 group N award is already in the hands of Martin Rowe. For the Juniors it’s only two left and French Renault Clio driver Brice Tirabassi has a 7points lead over Suzuki’s Spaniard Salvador Canellas. This actually makes affairs not too complicated. It is interesting that these two drivers had quite a different approach as Brice won 3 events but he also had a number of non scores. Salvador didn’t win anything, but he was super consistant. This however means, should it come to a tie breaker, Brice will have the upper hand. In simple terms 3points = 6th place in GB will guarantee Brice Tirabassi the title win, respectless of Salvador Canellas’ fortunes. In reality, Salvador has to hope for a Brice retirement and even then Salvador has to finish at least 2nd in the event.
What most fans will be looking for: the drivers World championship:
Even though there are still 4 drivers left in the hunt, the situation has been less straight forward in the past. Richard Burns aside, we have 3 drivers seperated by 1 point. So the simpliest guideline for you while following the event is: Between Sébastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz & Petter Solberg, whowever comes out on top in the private fight between these 3 will be the 2003 champ. I still think some further explanation is appropriate….
Sébastien Loeb (63points): He simply has the best chances. He is tied with team mate Sainz on points. But he is regarded as the current championship leader. So the first simple fact, should none of the title contenders score points, Séb will have the crown! Indeed, Séb wins all the tie breakers. He has more wins than Burns and he is level on the number of wins with Solberg, in which case ironically his 2nd places in Australia behind Solberg and just now in Catalunya tosses the coin into Loeb’s favour again.
Carlos Sainz (63points): Anything is open to him, only he needs points! Depending on what his title rivals are up to, 1point for 8th could do for Carlos. In any case, he has to finish ahead of Loeb and Solberg (even a tie breaker between these two would work in Solberg’s favour), otherwise Carlos has no chance.
Petter Solberg (62points): Here it starts getting a tiny bit more involved. Being only 1point down on the Citroen duo, he only needs to finish ahead of either of them, never mind what actual position. However, as Loeb would actually win a tie breaker with him and for some positions there is only a 1point gap, when finishing between 3rd and 7th place Petter would have to make sure he is at least 2 places ahead of the Frenchman. Petter needs to finish at least 7th to have any chance. Here tactical Citroen games could even enter the frame . I.e. if we had Petter 3rd, Carlos 4th & Séb 5th, the title would be Petter’s – If it would go Petter 3rd, Séb 4th & Carlos 5th, the title would however be Séb’s. Get it?
Richard Burns (58points): Now it gets really complicated. Trying to keep it simple, at 63points Richard would still lose the tie breaker to Loeb. This means to have any chance to clinch the title, Richard needs at least 6 more points, even if his title rivals don’t finish. Tho Richard must finish on the podium! But of course other drivers could score points as well. Tho looking at it from the other end, even a win would not guarantee Richard the title. Plus Richard would lose all tie breakers. Should Richard win, 5points = 4th place for Loeb or Sainz and 6points = 3rd place for Solberg would still be enough to snatch the title away from Richard. In reality, Richard’s consistancy trick took him so far, but now he basically has to move his hopes from his own consistancy to the lack of consistancy (spell problems) of his opposition.
I personally am actually not convinced that an open title fight is for the best of the last event. Too often I have whitnessed a Rally GB that was spoiled by the driver who should create the most attention cruising through the stages with maximum care to make sure of the finish. Even in 2001, when (still under the old points system) we had 4 drivers still fighting for the championship in GB, the rally looked more like Mäkinen, Mc Rae out early, Sainz well down the order and Burns driving like his granny for 2 ½ days as simply to finish was what made a World champion. On this occasion Burns finished over 3 minutes off the pace and couldn’t care less who won the rally. This year we could very easily see a repeat of such scenario. Imagine between Loeb, Sainz & Solberg, two of them will have early trouble – which has happened in previous title deciders – the remaining one of these three will go into granny mode, while the Grönholms, Rovanperäs and Mc Raes of this World do their own rally.
Although for this year there is something that could further affect the drivers title battle: the manufacturers World championship:
After all it is the big automobile manufacturers that fork out loads of dosh for this show and you can rest assured they don’t do this for charity. Most fans may find the drivers championship more exciting, but for the people that open the pockets and provide the cars, it is the manufacturers title that matters above anything else.
Citroen (147points) & Peugeot (142points): It is only these two left, but the battle could hardly be more exciting. So the gap is 5points, advantage Citroen. But first we have to identify, what happens in the quite possible case of a tie breaker? wins: Citroen = 4, Peugeot = 4 – 2nd places: Citroen = 6, Peugeot = 5. This is the closest call I have ever seen for a tie breaker in this sport. And quite clearly to make up the points deficit Peugeot has to get a better result than Citroen, so a tie breaker could indeed go either way! This only makes things more complicated.
If we do the mathematics for you, there is one straight forward conclusion: If Citroen wins the rally, Peugeot won’t be able to score more than 14points, such with a win the title would automatically go to Citroen. Otherwise Citroen needs 14points. 14points, that could be achieved in 2nd & 3rd, or with the points left for Peugeot, 2nd & 5th would still do. In all other constellations Citroen’s title is dependant on Peugeot’s fortunes.
Looking at it from the other end, even if Citroen should have a bad rally, Peugeot still needs to get a minimum of 6points, so Peugeot needs one 3rd place or combinations of 4th & 8th or 5th & 7th. With each point Citroen is to score, Peugeot’s target has to move up by one place with either car. Quite an open battle, really.
No other make can clinch the title this year, however the gap between Subaru and Ford is just at 4points, so their fight for 3rd championship place is quite similar to that at the top. Only one thing is for sure before the last event: The makes championship winner will be red and French.