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GP Week : Issue 36
>>WRCINSIGHT New challengers and new challenges: Suzuki, above, and Subaru, right, both unveiled new World Rally Cars this season, while Sebastien Loeb had a new Finn/ Ford combo to tackle with Mikko Hirvonen, left. scoring an overall World Championship point on his first ever WRC appearance followed by a further two category wins in his next three appearances set him on the road to the title. Traditionally, the PCWRC has been a popular series for the Gentleman rally driver, but this spirit has gradually been dying away, and now younger drivers are coming to the fore. The FIA allocated 28 places in the registration lists – and this year it was fully subscribed. Again the series maintained its long-haul biased calendar, which explained some of the mystery why very few Super 2000 cars, which were so popular in regional rallies, were seldom seen on PCWRC events. T here were plenty of technical revelations during season 2008. The new Subaru World Rally Car was the most important novelty, but considerable attention was payed to the evolution of the next set of World Rally Cars due to start in 2010. The parameters set by the FIA for the new formula were fundamentally new. Another new set of rules was already in force, called Group R. This Group was effectively to set new guidelines for sport based on two-wheel-drive series production cars, in view of the new current technology of car production and to make tuning more straightforward and cheaper. While Super 1600s were ebbing away, Super 2000 continued in strength with new designs coming from Proton and Opel. Behind the scenes the FIA were working away at safety issues. Use of the HANS device was being required in a growing proportion of rally cars round the world, World Championship cars had to fit impact absorbing devices, and the FIA drew up a specification for a new safety seat. O ne of the real stories of 2008 has been the ascendancy of the new generation of rally drivers. When stories surfaced that the 18-year-old Evgeny Novikov, from deepest Russia, had won his country’s national championship rally at the age of 15, well, can you believe everything that happens in Russia? But it was real, and his domination until the final stage in Japan of the Production Car category was one of the most amazing things of the season. But he is not alone. Young people are cropping up all the time. Early PCWRC leader in Japan had been 20-year-old Eyvind Brynildsen, and the Baltic States were specialising in accepting entries from under age drivers on their events. On to politics. In 2008 a lot of debate centred on the unfairness of the rotation system for the World Championship. Green issues were never far behind, with the FIA again taking the lead in matters such as anti- pollution and bio-produced fuel, while the most serious debate concerned the promotion of the sport. The gradual erosion of mainstream television air-time for rallying was increasingly irritating the teams. As the season progressed the teams put pressure on the FIA to appoint an effective promoter. The best the FIA could do was to issue a Tender, but warned that no promoter could start its work until the start of the 2011 season, even if an appointment was made at the start of 2009. This incensed Ford, whose rally contracts expire at the end of 2008, and Citroen, who had pledged to carry on for 12 months more, but Suzuki was worried whether the strength of its own car production was good enough to allow the team to carry on into 2009 at all. The FIA came under criticism for not making it easy to promote the sport. A most disjointed calendar, which did not finish till just before Christmas, and a lack of declared forward planning left people wondering if they really knew what should be done. In some ways its all extremely worrying. In others, as exciting as ever. 61