From Chris Biewer [ 30/11/2003 ].
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This article is inspired by a recent poll on our front page: “Which car do you think has been the best across all the surfaces of the WRC in 2003?” The result was Ford Focus, Citroen Xsara and Subaru Impreza all fairly level at 30% but the Peugeot 206 only down at around 8%. This should mean that most of you will be shocked to learn that the Peugeot 206 managed 50% more stage wins than either of the other three cars did throughout 2003! But this is not going to be a hymn on Peugeot. It’s rather an analysis that points out the highs and lows and why's. It underlines that at least two parties have done much better than the public may believe or the results may suggest. The other one is Markko Märtin, the driver with the most stage wins!
Maybe Markko Märtin having posted the highest number of fastest stage times in 2003 is the smaller surprise for you. Still, one has to feel sorry for him. It appears that Markko as one of the “new generation” drivers is always compared to Petter Solberg and Sébastien Loeb. These of course are the men that finished 1st & 2nd in the drivers championship seperated by only 1 point, while Markko Märtin was down in 5th in the championship and as well a considerable number of points behind his rivals. It seems obvious that Markko is now somewhat living in the shadow of Petter and Séb, but exactly that is unfair!
Markko has won 52 stages during the 2003 season, that is more than any other driver in the WRC managed! And this record becomes even more impressive when you consider what exactly spoiled Markko’s title hopes. He had many technical problems. Too often results were spoiled by technical maladies. No less than 4 times in 14 events he had to retire with a blown engine, in GB even just after the start of the event. This of course robbed Markko of many opportunities to score stage wins and he still went on to head that table at the end of the season. Very impressive!
Looking at the stage wins from an alrounder car & driver point of view, it is interesting to note that Markko only failed to score stage wins in 2 events, Cyprus and GB. Both of these were events where he retired very early indeed with engine problems, otherwise this could easily have looked different. In comparison Sébastien Loeb failed to win a single stage in Turkey, NZ, Acropolis, Cyprus & Finland. The Petter Solberg – Subaru combination might be specialists more than alrounders by these charts. He failed to score stage wins in 4 events. But more outstandingly Petter won more than 3 stages in only 4 events in 2003 but here he then did it properly: Alone in Acropolis, Cyprus, Australia and GB Petter won 36 stages, but he only won 12 stages in the remaining 10 events!
Here is the table of stage wins for drivers 2003:
1st Markko Märtin: 52
2nd Marcus Grönholm: 50
3rd Petter Solberg: 48
4th Sébastien Loeb: 38
5th Richard Burns: 24
6th Carlos Sainz: 20
7th Harri Rovanperä: 16
8th Tommi Mäkinen: 10
=9th Colin Mc Rae: 8
=9th Gilles Panizzi: 8
Going on to the cars/makes, the table with the stage wins might be even more surprising. As indicated, it goes not at all in line with our recent poll, where votes were likely to some degree given by personal taste. However since the question asked for the best car “across all the surfaces”, I must admit being surprised that the Subaru was so close to the top and the Peugeot did so badly. You can’t ignore that the Subaru was not very convincing on snow and especially on dry tarmac. To be honest, Petter Solberg’s victory in the Tour de Corse was quite likely – at least in my eyes – the most surprising and most inspired win of the whole season. But at the same time Subaru was lucky with the weather because as long as the asphalt stages were dry the stage times looked pathetic. Even on the victorious Tour de Corse Solberg was struggling around 8th place before the big rain came.
On the Citroen Xsara and Ford Focus the judgement of best alround car seems more justified. After all is Citroen the makes champion and the latest evolution Ford is doubtless the most powerful car with the best aerodynamics of the lot. Every fairly straight piece of stage you could witness the Focus pulling away from its opponents.
Looking at the stage wins charts for cars, they nicely underline what is said in these two paragraphs. Ford, like Markko Märtin, won stages on every event bar Cyprus and GB. And this could be a result of early retirements, after all Cyprus and GB are traditionally very good events for Ford!
Citroen’s 3-car team failed to win a stage in NZ and they only won 1 stage in Cyprus and Finland and only 3 in Sweden. Cyprus is a somewhat specialised case, but Sweden, NZ & Finland seem to indicate a weakness of the Xsara on smooth gravel and snow, at least until recently.
At Subaru Tommi Mäkinen seems to confirm Petter’s form book. In Cyprus Tommi added 4 stage wins to Petter’s 7, but the team remains with rather slim accounts i.e. in Sweden (4), NZ (1), Deutschland (0), San Remo (0) and interestingly even Tour de Corse and Catalunya with 3 each.
For Peugeot the stage wins seem to be very evenly spread, but with a drop towards the end of season. GB is the only event where they didn’t win a single stage. This however may be excused for their early losses of Richard Burns & Marcus Grönholm that hardly were the car’s fault. In San Remo and Tour de Corse they also won only 2 and 1 stage. But these were events where Peugeot for some reason notoriously choose the wrong tyres. This seems to be underlined in Catalunya, where Peugeots won 8 stages, more than any other manufacturer. And this was the penultimate event of the year where Peugeot's 206 won more stages than any other car - an interesting twist to the widespread believe that this car lost its competitiveness towards the end of the season!
Of course one may doubt if stage wins is always the best measure to judge as rallying includes tactics, i.e. you back off to not risk a certain result and as rough as Turkey, Cyprus and Acropolis are, you are better adviced to back off full stop. But the gaps are too big to be ignored!
Here is the table of stage wins for cars 2003:
1st Peugeot 206: 100
2nd Citroen Xsara: 66
3rd Ford Focus: 60
4th Subaru Impreza: 58
5th Toyota Corolla: 1
So why is Peugeot left empty handed if they won the highest number of stages by such a big margin? This deserves some further analysis as we go into counting mechanical problems, driver errors, podiums, etc.. For this following notes:
For the following lists for the cars about mechanical problems and driver errors we can only get a sensible comparison if we concentrate on drivers nominated to score makes points, while we counted every single stage win that was recorded. These include:
Tie breaks, and here note that a cancelled stage with dictated stage winners is considered as well. This happened in particular on one stage in Argentina, where therefore Antony Warmbold and Gabriel Raies (hence the fastest stage time for a Toyota Corolla!) were awarded the winning time.
Privateers, as it is a fact that privateers won stages. Exactly this happened as above, but twice as well in a straight fight, both times it was Roman Kresta.
Note as well that the driver error, mechanical charts below do not only list retirements. We are trying to identify why a certain make or car got a better or a worse result than it potentially deserved.
I.e. Marcus Grönholm in Monte Carlo, was leading, crashed, finished 13th. He did not retire but lost over half an hour in that incident!
I.e. Sébastien Loeb went off in the Tour de Corse. He didn’t retire but this did cost the Citroen Xsara a possible win or at least a much better result on that event.
I.e. Markko Märtin showed an amazing pace in Rallye Deutschland, won the most stages by far. He did not retire, but the result was just equally as spoiled by a huge time loss thanks to mechanical problems.
Of course in all this you may question if some manufacturers have an advantage in this comparison for the number of (nominated) drivers they had. As you will see, this we considered as well.
And here the charts that we believe should be hugely interesting and possibly very susprising:
1st Richard Burns: 7 (Starts=13) 53.8% of his starts he finished on the podium.
=2nd Petter Solberg: 7 (Starts=14) 50%
=2nd Sébastien Loeb: 7 (Starts=14) 50%
4th Carlos Sainz: 5 (Starts=14) 35.7%
=5th Markko Märtin: 4 (Starts=14) 28.6%
=5th Marcus Grönholm: 4 (Starts=14) 28.6%
7th Gilles Panizzi: 2 (Starts=9) 22.2%
=8th Tommi Mäkinen: 2 (Starts=14) 14.3%
=8th Francois Duval: 2 (Starts=14) 14.3%
10th Harri Rovanperä: 1 (Starts=9) 11.1%
11th Colin Mc Rae: 1 (Starts=14) 7.1%
Results lost for mechanical problems (car fault):
1st Markko Märtin: 6 (Starts=14) 42.9% of his events were spoiled by the car.
2nd Didier Auriol: 5 (Starts=14) 35.7%
3rd Antony Warmbold: 4 (Starts=12) 33.3%
=4th Toni Gardemeister: 4 (Starts=14) 28.6%
=4th Roman Kresta: 2 (Starts=7) 28.6%
6th Freddy Loix: 3 (Starts=10 Hyundai+1 Peugeot) 27.3%
7th Gilles Panizzi: 2 (Starts=9) 22.2%
8th Tommi Mäkinen: 3 (Starts=14) 21.4%
…….and the most reliable:
1st Carlos Sainz: 0 (Starts=14) 0%!!!!
2nd Colin Mc Rae: 1 (Starts=14) 7.1%
3rd Richard Burns: 1 (Starts=13) 7.7%
4th Harri Rovanperä: 1 (Starts=9) 11.1%
Results lost for driver errors:
1st Harri Rovanperä: 4 (Starts=9) a staggering 44.4%
2nd Marcus Grönholm: 5 (Starts=14) 35.7% - now note the gap!
=3rd Toni Gardemeister: 3 (Starts=14) 21.4%
=3rd Mikko Hirvonen: 3 (Starts=14) 21.4%
…….and the other way round we have Antony Warmbold and Roman Kresta crash free followed by a big tie break for Didier Auriol (and that was his withdrawal from Finland for his shoulder injury, so a driver problem but not a crash), Tommi Mäkinen, Markko Märtin, Carlos Sainz & Petter Solberg all: 1 (Starts=14) 7.1%
I have a bit of a bad concious in 3 cases:
For listing Carlos Sainz with 0 mechanical problems. In the last stage in Catalunya he lost time with an electrical problem that is ignored here. It really was a real minor incident, costing only 40s, but efficient enough to drop him from 4th to 7th. However we should point out that Carlos has all season never retired for a mechanical problem!
There might be a question mark over Harri Rovanperä’s two accidents in Finland, however later investigation seems to indicate both were not related to Peugeot’s wheel bearing dilemma.
Markko Märtin’s exclusion from Rally Australia is here listed as a car fault. This is an incident extremely hard to find who to blame.
In general the reliability of the cars this season is amazing. We do have to note however that the events are much shorter than they used to be. As recent years went, you could have wondered if the modern rally cars were not embarrassingly unreliable – would any of these cars last a 1980 style event that not rarely had beyond 40 stages, some up to 70?
The outstanding cars in bad reliability really are the Ford Focus and the Skodas. With Skoda this might be a case of bringing on their fresh Fabia WRC and regarding the remainder of the season as a testing exercise.
The Ford Focus was actually not generally that unreliable. What I am pointing at is the unfortunate fact that more than half the mechanical problems happened on Markko Märtin’s car while indeed the cars of Francois Duval and Mikko Hirvonen seemed quite reliable, better than average in fact. Interesting in this (also he was not a nominated driver) is that Jari-Matti Latvala finished every WRC event he started to date!
The team with the most reliable drivers was Subaru. Both Petter Solberg and Tommi Mäkinen crashed out of icy Rallye Monte Carlo, but none of them ever crashed again!
Markko Märtin again: Not only is he the driver with the highest number of stage wins 2003, he did so driving well within his limits: Only 1 driver error all season. Markko definitely should be regarded as one of the big stars of 2003!
Cars, manufacturers (here we only count nominated drivers):
1st Peugeot 206: 14 (Starts=42) 33.3% of their starts they finished on the podium.
2nd Subaru Impreza: 9 (Starts=28) 32.1%
3rd Citroen Xsara: 13 (Starts=42) 31%
4th Ford Focus: 6 (Starts=42) 14.3%
…….and the “worst”: amazingly the podiums were evenly distributed, only Ford took a dent likely for two reasons, having two young drivers for gaining experience while their star driver suffered all the mechanical problems. Ahh, the “worst”. Neither Skoda nor Hyundai managed a single podium finish all year!
Results lost for mechanical problems (car fault):
1st Skoda Fabia/Octavia: 9 (Starts=28) 32.1% of their starts were spoiled by the car.
2nd Hyundai Accent: 7 (Starts=25) 28%
3rd Ford Focus: 11 (Starts=42) 26.2%
4th Subaru Impreza: 5 (Starts=28) 17.9%
…….and the most reliable:
1st Citroen Xsara: 3 (Starts=42) 7.1%
2nd Peugeot 206: 7 (Starts=42) 16.7%
Results lost for driver errors:
1st Peugeot 206: 11 (Starts=42) 26.2%!!!!
2nd Hyundai Accent: 5 (Starts=25) 20%
=3rd Skoda Fabia/Octavia: 4 (Starts=28) 14.3%
=3rd Ford Focus: 6 (Starts=42) 14.3%
…….and the other way round:
1st Subaru Impreza: 2 (Starts=28) 7.1%
2nd Citroen Xsara: 5 (Starts=42) 11.9%
Subaru has the most reliable drivers. Speaks for now pensioner Tommi Mäkinen but as well for our new World Champ!
But the most interesting comparison here is most likely between Citroen and Peugeot. As you know, they were the ones battling for the makes title, going into the final round seperated by only 5 points – around 50 points ahead of their nearest challenger Subaru.
Citroen’s reliability must have been one of the best we have ever seen in this sport! One must look at this again: 14 events with 3 cars each time, effectively 42 starts. In this Citroen lost only 8 results. And this number of 8 still includes 5 driver errors and the Loeb, Turkey fuel incident (hard to judge if navigator or team management error). So effectively in 42 starts Citroen suffered 1 blown engine (Loeb, Acropolis) and 1 electronical fault (Mc Rae, Argentina)! This must be record material!
Peugeot in comparison have also been quite reliable. What didn’t help their image was Greece and Finland when the team was troubled by a bad batch of clutches or wheel bearings, both really items that cost a few pennies. The only event with serious mechanical matters for Peugeot was Cyprus, where Grönholm went out with a broken gearbox and Burns cooked his engine after a rock punctured his radiator, while in GB Rovanperä had another clutch related retirement.
The one outstanding problem for Peugeot really appears to be driver errors that this year unluckily for Peugeot just happened too often in this competitive environment. The year already started badly when in Monte Carlo Marcus Grönholm lost his lead after crashing on black ice and Gilles Panizzi withdrew for health reasons. And when in Sweden Harri Rovanperä curiously crashed into another car on a stage – another Peugeot at that – things hardly could get any more unlucky. Then towards the end of the season, Marcus Grönholm had this really unlucky crash, retiring with a virtually undamaged car from the lead in Australia. This was followed by Marcus crashing out of 2nd in San Remo on the very last stage, dropped time going off in Corsica and then crashed out of Rally GB. When Marcus had his 4th accident in the last 5 rallies barely before Rally GB started properly while Richard Burns couldn’t start in GB because of his sad illness, that just was too much for Peugeot to retain their title, even though they entered the last event just 5points behind the leader.
Still, as many believe the 206 was not “the best across all the surfaces of the WRC in 2003”, the final analysis goes like this: Peugeot had over 50% more stage wins than anybody else, they had more podiums than anybody even in relation to number of starts/cars, they were the most reliable team except Citroen – but they are heading the driver error charts with a huge gap. Peugeot suffered more than twice as many accidents than Citroen had while Citroen’s reliability also has been the most amazing we have seen for a very long time. And still Peugeot was only 15points down on the new makes champions! Overall performance and reliability really was not that bad at all for Peugeot, even though they are left empty handed. And very similar you could say about Markko Märtin for the drivers.