1998 WRC Season Commentary

1998 WRC Summary by Chris Biewer :

The event calendar stays the same as 1997, however the Rally Indonesia has to be cancelled for organisational and political reasons with no replacement event in place.

One of the most exciting changes however concerns the timing. During 1997 we had several WRC events decided by only a handful of seconds. The strongest example was San Remo 1997, where the first 4 cars were separated by only 14 seconds, and the top 6 still less than 1 minute apart. Never before has the competition been that close. The decision is taken that from the 1998 season, the stage timing will not only be in minutes and seconds but split seconds to the tenth!

Another major change is that new teams now do not need to compete in all rounds to qualify for points, only in their 3rd season they need to do so. In a way the nomination system has shown its flaws. In 1997 Toyota competed from Finland and would have scored 8pts from a 3rd and two 5th places. In the same year Peugeot got so amazing results with their F2 car that they would have scored 11pts. For 1998 it is Seat who competed from Finland with a WRCar and other than Toyota they were eligible for points for their identical program. However Seat scored only 1pt in that time period. Still no F2 machines allowed to score overall points, so 2 extra pts for Seat with Peugeot even improving to 12pts in 1998 remain 'would be' figures.

In any case the nomination rules interfere with the competition in ever stranger ways, not displaying true results. Just one of many examples over the years: In Catalunya 1998 we have Toyota nominating Sainz & Loix. However it is their regular works driver Auriol winning the event ahead of Loix. So Toyota just gets points for 2nd place. They would have been better advised to interfere with unsporting team orders to get the points for their actual position! Or at least if it was best 2 out of 3. In Sweden 2001 we have another example of a team winning for zero points. So you see what I mean? This just can’t be it! This is confusing the public while teams are advised to never give a (nominated/competitive) works car to deserving new talent!

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The new World Rally Car regulations settle in well. After Toyota late 1997, Seat moves from F2 to full WRC rallying from Finland 1998 onwards. Thus since the introduction of the WRCar formula we are already from 3 manufacturers up to 5, with more promising to come. With the new regulations working, there are not too many changes for 1998.

The biggest news in driver moves is the return of Carlos Sainz from Ford to Toyota, where he becomes team mate to Didier Auriol, giving Toyota potentially the strongest line up of the season. "Confusion at Ford" could become a traditional chapter here: With the departure of Carlos Sainz, Bruno Thiry joins the team to back up Juha Kankkunen. This is the 2nd time Thiry has been sacked and re-employed by Ford in as many years! Subaru eventually decides there is no reason to employ 3 permanent drivers and sack Kenneth Eriksson conveniently after Sweden.

In titles, in the makes with the situation not much improved at Mitsubishi and Ford, this should have been again a huge chance for Subaru, but with Toyota giving them a run for their money. Indeed during the second half of the season Toyota is continuously 20pts up on Subaru, but in the end it somehow is groupA car team and 1-man-show (actually only after Richard Burns won the RAC!) Mitsubishi taking the title, however that could happen.

In fact there was another twist, as the drivers title ended in most unexpected fashion. Going into the last round (RAC) Carlos Sainz (Toyota) needed to gain only 3 points on Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi). Since Mäkinen suffered an early retirement, Sainz drove carefully, but still his engine went bang 300yards from the finish line of the last stage, handing the title back to a very surprised Mäkinen!
 

1998 WRC Factory Team and Driver Line Ups :
 

Mitsubishi Mitsubishi, 1998 - Mitsubishi Ralli Art Europe : 1st on 91 points.
 

 

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Toyota Toyota, 1998 - TTE - Castrol Team Toyota Europe : 2nd on 85 points.
 

 

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Subaru Subaru, 1998 - 555 Subaru Rally Team : 3rd on 65 points.
 

 

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Ford Ford, 1998 - Ford RS Rallye Sport Team : 4th on 53 points.
 

 

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Seat Seat, 1998 - Seat Sport : 5th on 1 points.
 

 

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