2006 WRC Season Commentary

2006 WRC Summary by Chris Biewer :

The calendar has seen only a slight revamp, that brings back a little more tradition. We have the same 16 scoring rounds as the year before, however NZ is moved together again with Australia, while Rally GB returns as the season's final.

Major news are first the withdrawal of some makes teams. Several teams have spent years now complaining about the number and choice of events, together with some other rule changes (see 2004 season summary). There could well be a straight link to the withdrawal of Peugeot, Citroën, Mitsubishi and Skoda before the 2006 season! At PSA at least Peugeot is known for being unhappy with the selection of events and more even with the way how 3-car teams had been dropped. Citroën's marketing department at least complains loudly about the reduction of asphalt events, when for the Italian round Sardinia replaced San Remo and there is talk of turning Catalunya gravel. But as the PSA teams just withdraw, Mitsubishi and Skoda complain bitterly that they have to do 16 events, partly in regions that are useless for their marketing. The FIA promises them that they can waive some events, but then make - not for the first time - a last minute U-turn on their decission, with Mitsubishi and Skoda announcing their withdrawal moments later. Even Ford threatened to pull out at some point, but then decided mid 2005 to go ahead with the Focus Mk2 into a long term commitment. When in 2005 we had 6 full works teams, in 2006 we are down to 2!

Yet this had the FIA in pains, because a makes championship with only 2 makes is nonsense. The idea was to allow private teams to score makes points. Then they succeeded in persuading a Kronos Citroën team with Gauloises money and Loeb as their lead driver to register as an M1 team.

And this is part of the trick. For cost reduction active differentials, active suspensions and water injection has been banned from manufacturer teams (M1). But it was allowed to privateer drivers, who didn't finish in the top5 for the last 5years, to drive last year's potentially faster active cars (M2). This seemed attractive and so it came that we had additional teams like OMV sponsored Peugeot Norway with 307s and Red Bull sponsored Skoda Fabias.

However this trick can only be a short term solution. With the Ford Focus Mk2 still at the beginning of its development potential and Citroën announcing to return in 2007 with a C4 WRC, it is hard to see how the active M2 cars, as 307, Fabia, Lancer, all with 1.5years of no further development whatsoever, can play any role on any points table bejond 2006.

It is kind of an artificial trick though. It makes the manufacturer championship a little bit more interesting, but instead of 6 car manufacturers we have now a haulage company Stobart and an ice cream manufacturer Munchies using the same Ford cars as Ford does. Apart from not bringing more variety in cars, is this automobile sport or ice cream and condom manufacturer sport? Not only that, it is yet another reason why we won’t find anyone to challenge Loeb. Because now Munchies can take manufacturer points away from Ford. If you were Ford, or Citroen if you want, would you give someone a car capable of spoiling your title chances? How weird would it be if a Ford wins a rally and Ford doesn’t get the points for this as their works car comes second?

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Still, interesting to see how the Peugeot 307 WRC seems to work better in private hands than as a works car. 4 different private Peugeot 307 drivers manage altogether 7 podium finishes during 2006. Most regular 307 driver Manfred Stohl ends the season rather clearly ahead of i.e. Subaru star Petter Solberg as well as permanent #2 drivers in the all conquering Xsara! Compared to the Xsara, towards the end of the season it turns into a hobby of Manfred Stohl to outpace Daniel Sordo, Xavier Pons & Colin McRae, as well Stohl has his career best season by a long way in the 307, despite driving Xsara in 2005 & 2007. Toni Gardemeister is the only man who gets to drive both, Peugeot 307 and Citroën Xsara in 2006, and confirms the shocker, publically stating that the 307 is a better car than the so dominant Xsara!

Yet looking at the title, memories of 1981 jump to mind. Ford win their first makes title since 1979! But the comparison to 1981 is interesting, because that was Ford's last WRC title outright. In 1981 the driver's title went to Ari Vatanen. To compare 1981 and 25years later 2006:
Ford had withdrawn from the WRC to develop a new car (Escort RS1700T) and Ari Vatanen clinched the title in a private run (David Sutton) and cigarette financed (Rothmans) Escort RS1800.
Citroën had withdrawn from the WRC to develop a new car (C4 WRC) and Sébastien Loeb clinched the title in a private run (Kronos) and cigarette financed (Gauloises) Xsara T4.

Only this year Séb Loeb went even one better than last year. Apart from breaking all records, he was breaking his arm. Records as in during 2006 Loeb became the most successful WRC driver by wins so much earlier in his career than Carlos Sainz & co did. Séb decided it all would look more convincing if he fell off a bicycle, break his arm and be crowned World Champion while watching the last 4 rounds at home on TV!

Hyundai promises to return to the WRC next year.
 

2006 WRC Factory Team and Driver Line Ups :
 

Ford Ford, 2006 - BP-Ford RS Rallye Sport Team : 1st on 195 points.
 

 

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Citroën Citroën, 2006 - Kronos Total Citroën WRT : 2nd on 166 points.
 

 

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Subaru Subaru, 2006 - 555 Subaru World Rally Team : 3rd on 106 points.
 

 

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#16 Norway Petter Solberg All
Peugeot Peugeot, 2006 - OMV-Peugeot Norway : 4th on 88 points.
 

 

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Skoda Skoda, 2006 - Red Bull-Skoda Team : 6th on 24 points.
 

 

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