2000 WRC Season Commentary

2000 WRC Summary by Chris Biewer :

The only significant changes from last years to the event calendar concern the Tour de Corse that is moved from its long term post Safari, early May date back to October. As well after only 1 year the Rally of China has to be cancelled for very similar political and organisational reasons as the Rally of Indonesia the very rally that China replaced the year before. However this time the FIA had been warned through experience and the Rally Cyprus was in line as a reserve event.

However this throws up questions about the selection and quality of events for the first time, questions that should become louder over the following years. To recall, Indonesia had been brought in when we had only 8 events in the rota system. There was no must to have as many as 14 rounds. And Cyprus is a very rough and expensive event, serving no car market. In future years teams ever again criticised the value of Cyprus and the choice of future events to come.

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With Toyota's withdrawal from the WRC, 2 top stars had to find new teams. Didier Auriol moved to Seat, who hoped for big improvements with Didier's experience. However Seat seems to be in a mess and eventually for the 2nd year running Didier Auriol found himself in a team that was about to quit. The biggest irony in this however was that Auriol had several suggestions to improve the car, suggestions that needed a new homologation. Seat made the according investments, debuted the Evo3 car, and then Seat's mother company Volkswagen stopped the project days after the Evo3 version debuted in Finland, before the efforts and new homologations could show their worth.

However to make up numbers, Citro�n was out recceing in most WRC events in 2000, on some occasions even starting with a 1600cc Saxo Kit Car. Further a 4x4 turbo Xsara, prepared to WRCar rules, was doing the French Rally Championship and winning the title. Not only was Citro�n preparing for a WRC program, never before had a team been testing and preparing as severely for entering the WRC.

Toyota's other main driver, Carlos Sainz moves to Ford, alongside Colin McRae and giving Ford about the line up to beat in 2000. It is the 3rd time Carlos joins Ford and he spent most of his career in Fords, as well he was first noted in the WRC in a Ford, but his 2 World titles came in Toyotas. However, nearly traditionally Ford became involved in driver curiousities yet again, this time rather through brilliant work from Ford. Ford gives for 2000 a 3rd car to Norwegian newcomer Petter Solberg, thought to be doing 11 events with the car. Already in 1999 Solberg was given an old works Escort WRC for some events, now he had a Focus of same spec as Colin & Carlos. However Petter is hot property, new boy even briefly leads a high speed Rally NZ. But moments later, just before Cyprus it turns out that Subaru has snapped Petter up for 2001. Ford have invested into this guy's career and somebody else picks the fruits. Understandably Ford was not amused and stop all support for Petter immediately, mid season. However that might actually have been a favour for now sacked Petter ends the season trying out his 2001 toy! Privateer Markko M�rtin is another potential future star and will as well be snapped up by Subaru for 2001. Markko M�rtin as well gets a taste of his new works car towards the end of the running season.

Meanwhile, somehow Malcolm Wilson managed to make a works Focus available to his good friend Stephen Finlay. Nobody at all realised the significance when oldie Stephen appeared on the Rally Acropolis with a Focus WRC with full Pirelli sponsorship and using a range of Pirelli tyres. But indeed very late in the season Ford announced that they would become a 2nd front line team to use Pirelli tyres for 2001 (with Seat's departure all teams but Subaru would have been using Michelin tyres).

Other than that there are not too many surprises in the drivers market, although it does raise an eyebrow or two that for 2000 Skoda had prefered the unproven Luis Climent over Bruno Thiry, since Bruno on his only Skoda drive to date, in GB 1999, managed to get Skoda's best result to date. Peugeot and Hyundai stick very much to their proven line up of previous years.

Oh, nearly forgotten, yes Hyundai stick to their proven drivers, but upgrade to a WRCar, claiming they could be fighting for WRC titles within 3 years, referring to their huge F2 success. This has many insiders bemused, since, yes, in 1999 Hyundai was runner up in the F2 World Championship, but Hyundai was the only team competing, so how could they be runner up?! And seriously believe that was good?!

The season turns into a massive showdown with Ford's Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, Subaru's Richard Burns and Peugeot's Marcus Grönholm being seperated by only 5pts with 2events to go. At the penultimate event, Australia, we had a strange scenario. Especially Australia with its ball bearing surface penalises the driver to run first on the road more than any other event. For the last day Grönholm was 3rd and should have been 3rd on the road accordingly. But with a selection of genius tricks both Mäkinen and Burns fool Grönholm and he has to run 1st. On the last day grönholm’s pace then is the true making of a World Champion, as despite this heavy penalty, Grönholm in fact manages to pass and beat Burns by just 2,7s to Australia victory. This was significant as now Grönholm led the championship significantly going into the last rally. None of the rally fans believed Marcus could take the title and indeed Marcus Grönholm started the season as Peugeot's #3 - which is significant in discussions for future rule changes about #3 drivers.

Eventually Peugeot took both titles in convincing style. Peugeot was very much the story of the season. With their two titles they picked up exactly where they left 14years ago with the groupB 205 T16, what a manufacturer! But Peugeot was also the story of arguments. Poor Francois Delecour, the 2000 season looked like it could make up for Francois' unlucky old career. On the fast gravel in NZ Francois was leading ahead of Marcus Gr�nholm superstar until a gearbox problem sidelined him. On Corsica he was leading until team orders dictated him to 2nd place. In San Remo he was too much off Gilles Panizzi's pace to allow team orders, which led to a very public argument between the two French drivers. After Rally GB there was yet the next big argument between Francois Delecour and team manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas, which led to the surprise sacking of the driver. Francois' frustration was well understandable, since he was told that for 2001 he would lose his #1 status in the team. On the other hand the team management's point was equally as understandable, their #3 driver Marcus Gr�nholm became World Champion and anything else but having the reigning World Champion as #1 driver in your team just seems insane. Poor Francois, I really feel for this flamboyant, characteristic Frenchman. When he got the sack from Mitsubishi 2 years later, Francois went to the international press stating: "I really don't understand this, why do they do this to me. Mitsubishi really wasn't my fault, I really did nothing wrong. Peugeot, that was my fault, I want to appologise to them!"
 

2000 WRC Factory Team and Driver Line Ups :
 

Peugeot Peugeot, 2000 - Peugeot Sport : 1st on 111 points.
 

 

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Ford Ford, 2000 - Martini Ford RS Rallye Sport Team : 2nd on 91 points.
 

 

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Subaru Subaru, 2000 - Subaru World Rally Team : 3rd on 88 points.
 

 

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Mitsubishi Mitsubishi, 2000 - Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralli Art Eur. : 4th on 43 points.
 

 

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Seat Seat, 2000 - Seat Sport : 5th on 11 points.
 

 

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Hyundai Hyundai, 2000 - Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team : 6th on 8 points.
 

 

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Skoda Skoda, 2000 - Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team : 7th on 8 points.
 

 

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