1999 WRC Season Commentary

1999 WRC Summary by Chris Biewer :

There has been yet another change in the points system. Now it is that non-nominated cars are ignored in the overall results. Meaning nominated cars move up in the points ranking. Just for an example on Corsica 1998 the 2 F2 Peugeots came 2nd & 4th, ahead of the best Ford in 5th. In 1998 Ford got points for 5th place accordingly, this year it would have been for 3rd. The downside of this change is that now points are not given any more for accurate positions, which makes it all the more complicated. 1999 we have straight away the example Seat comes 6th in Monte = 5pts, Seat comes 6th in Safari = 2pts. This also means, with the move to 2-car teams since 1997, with only a few retirements a manufacturer could get serious points just for a finish, even if it is in 95th place!

The event calendar stays virtually the same as it was, with the only exception being the Rally Indonesia, that had to be cancelled in 1998, being straight replaced by China.

China itself turns into an extraordinary event without the doing of the Chinese organisers. Because for one, it is the only event Toyota can win all year, despite Toyota being the makes WRChamps of that season. And it is their weaker driver Auriol to win that event. Further we note that Subaru lost their title sponsor 555 already a while ago, but in China 1999, where 555 is also event sponsor, the brand comes back onto the blue cars as a one-off.

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The new formula turns into a massive hit after only 2 seasons. With Toyota having rejoined in 1997 and Seat coming in as a new manufacturer in 1998, 1999 already starts spectacular. Ford launches their all new Focus WRC, spelling the end of 3 decades rallying Escorts for a new, serious and long term attempt. But as well on the first round of 1999, we welcome yet another new WRCar manufacturer, Skoda! And since the WRCar regulations have similarities to the formerly proposed groupS and Peugeot was one of the loudest to complain when groupS was axed in favour of groupA, Peugeot now seems to keep word and join in as well from Corsica 1999, exactly 15years after the legendary 205 T16 debut. Although Toyota already announces the end of their involvement towards the end of 1999, virtually at the same time Hyundai announces a new WRCar based on their Accent. Which ever way we turn this, in just over 2 years the new WRCar regulations have more than doubled the number of manufacturers involved with the World Rally Championship!

As well, these brilliant news make the silly season one of the silliest ever and the 1999 season starts in spectacular and unpredictable fashion. Colin McRae, after 8 years at Subaru, has signed to drive and develop the new Ford Focus WRC and is reported to have been offered a 10 million $ contract moving the WRChampionship on a new level within all types of professional sports. However shortly after Ford's Colin McRae announcement, all 1998 Ford works drivers, in name Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry desert the team and move to Subaru, where they join Richard Burns from Mitsubishi.

Meanwhile Ford tries to back up Colin McRae with a range of specialist drivers, Thomas Raadström for the loose, Simon Jean-Joseph for tarmac and Petter Solberg for breading new, young talent. All this means that both, Ford and Subaru start into the season with an all new driver line up. Of course pretty new will as well be the scenario at Skoda, where Armin Schwarz becomes #1 driver with 2 Czechs sharing the 2nd car. Peugeot stay loyal to their previous F2 line up with Francois Delecour as #1 driver and Gilles Panizzi as their asphalt ace, while their new Finn Marcus Grönholm finds himself for the first time in a full scale works drive.

Peugeot's return is as strong as the debut of their groupB 205 T16 exactly 15years earlier: The car leads its first rally! However as a debutant the team only starts 6 rallies as a testing season.

Ford, who are not new and do a full season, seem to have the strange case of their new car being too successful too soon! The Focus wins its 3rd rally ever, and that was the tough Safari Rally out of all events! This raises public expectations of the brand new car extremely high and subsequently the main talk later in the season is all about how stupidly unreliable the Ford Focus is, when really it is crashes combined with a number of niggling problems that could be regarded normal for a new car.

In the end Tommi Mäkinen wins his 4th drivers title in a row and Toyota takes the manufacturer's crown. Both quite clearly, but with Toyota pulling out at the end of the season and the very strong showings of the new Ford Focus and Peugeot 206 during their debuts mean even more clearly next year will be a totally different story.

One largely unloved mess had to be created by a rule change, though - an obvious mess that somehow seems so typical of the WRC in following years: To make TV stations more interested in live WRC coverage, the idea of giving additional championship points for the last "live" stage alone was tested, at first only in Corsica and Finland. Predictably this created more confusion than anything else, to that extent even that in Finland works teams outside the top 6 would retire for the purpose to be in a better running order and to be better prepared to maybe still gain points on that one stage only, as Toyota and Didier Auriol did in Finland. In Finland also there was the situation of Colin McRae pushing hard on the live stage and retiring from 3rd place. So teams that had retired could push on the live stage but teams still in the event could lose it all. Plus we not only had a more confusing points system, but we had situations with points being awarded to drivers and teams that were not to be found on the results lists - as the Toyota/Auriol/Finland scenario, all event well outside the points, retiring from the event and the results lists on purpose, starting the last stage with a fresh car and winning that with 3 WRC driver and makes points to come with it! Thanks God that idea has soon been dropped again!
 

1999 WRC Factory Team and Driver Line Ups :
 

Toyota Toyota, 1999 - TTE - Castrol Team Toyota Europe : 1st on 109 points.
 

 

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Subaru Subaru, 1999 - Subaru World Rally Team : 2nd on 105 points.
 

 

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Mitsubishi Mitsubishi, 1999 - Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralli Art Eur. : 3rd on 83 points.
 

 

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Ford Ford, 1999 - Martini Ford RS Rallye Sport Team : 4th on 37 points.
 

 

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Seat Seat, 1999 - Seat Sport : 5th on 23 points.
 

 

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Peugeot Peugeot, 1999 - Peugeot Sport : 6th on 11 points.
 

 

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Skoda Skoda, 1999 - Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team : 7th on 6 points.
 

 

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