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GP Week : Issue 36
>>WRCINSIGHT Loebs ere was an exciting fight N a season overloaded with doubts and uncertainties about the future, one thing about the 2008 World Rally Championship was splendid – the tooth-and-nail fight between Ford and Citroen. The shining light of the season was the excellence of Sebastien Loeb, who went into orbit with the records and standards he achieved. He won his fifth successive World Drivers’Championship and was fast approaching the level of 50 wins on World rallies, far and away higher than any rival now, or ever. While the Subaru team struggled with handling and shock absorber maladies all year and introduced its completely new model mid- season, and the young Suzuki World Rally Team experienced growing pains in their first full year in action, Citroen and Ford were light years ahead in reliability and speed. Both teams were basically running proven products, although Citroen had a newer model engine fitted into its C4 cars. Ford continued with the 2007 model Focus RS World Rally Car, the engine updated in the second part of the year with small changes. Subaru’s progress was agonisingly slow. Chris Atkinson developed his driving to the point where he started to become a regular podium finisher, thriving on the faster stages of rallies, while Petter Solberg plugged away, faithfully supporting the marque even when the car let him down. Much was expected of the 2008 model and this gradually developed its speed and reliability. The fourth manufacturer I was Suzuki, who, after a most disheartening start with constant changes of plan and personnel, settled down and systematically overcame its problems. They suffered badly from new restrictions on testing opportunities, and they needed to approach the FIA for consent to make some changes to their cars even when they were sealed between events. But by mid- season the word reliable started to appear. New for 2008 was the single tyre supplier. The winning tender for the contract was from Pirelli, who not only had to supply a range of tyres for the whole season in accordance with the decision to run tyres without anti- deflation mousses, but also needed to choose in advance the correct compounds for each event, some of which had never been run at that time of year before. Sometimes Pirelli played safe, like providing hard compound tyres in the muddy Rally Argentina, but generally they attracted plaudits for the strength and puncture-proof nature of the tyres. Gradually the organisational excesses of the sport over the past decade were ironed out. Bad experiments like ultra-condensed time frames and an overlarge calendar were overturned, but there was an increasingly worrying trend – safety. Spectator safety nowadays is under close scrutiny, but the Stobart team had two major accidents, which caused serious injury to its crews, in five events. O nce again the WRC was backed up by two subsidiary series; the Junior and the Production Car World Rally Championships. This year the Junior series for under 29-year-old drivers had the title ‘World’ reinstated. The series for two-wheel- drive cars saw a remarkable phenomenon, Sebastien Ogier, who caused a storm in rallying circles of even greater dimensions than the other Sebastien had six years before. Victory in the JWRC category and 59