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GP Week : Issue 176
22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION Over the past few years we have started to discover a lot more about the innermost secrets of rally cars. It all started early in the current WRC career of Citroen when one of their senior engineers asked me before a rally who would win. I said it was Sebastien Loeb. In those days, a Loeb victory was far from guaranteed. He asked me why. I said he was driving his lucky car. He had essentially a choice of two cars that year – in one car he always won, in the other he never did. My colleague walked away in disgust at my lack of respect. Loeb did win, and at the next rally my colleague came back and said it was true. I had noticed something they hadn’t. It was not the same in the old days. A lot more world championship cars were built, many only for single events, often for only two or three rallies, before they were sold off to rich and happy private users. I have retained the records of a lot of the cars used by the teams for the past 30 years or so, and these have become invaluable for another reason. These provide evidence of the provenance of the cars which are now collectors’ pieces, but there can always be debate about the true identity of cars, even what actually gives a car its identity. Back in the Group 4 days, cars could share their souls. Amazing what a change of bodyshell and registration number plates could do. Even now, cars frequently have wrong registration plates attached to them, and personalised numbers (like the Stobart and the Russian ALM Fiestas and the Prodrive WRC numbers) had cherished registration numbers moved from car to car. It was only when the FIA started to issue their own World Rally Car identity records that the records became more meaningful. One of the recent developments in the sport is the homologation system for current World Rally Cars, in that WRC cars must first be homologated as 1.6 turbo Super 2000 (Regional Rally Cars) and only fitted with a handful of specific modifications to be converted into World Rally Cars. This means that cars built and run as World Rally Cars can be de-tuned and run as RRC cars. Basso’s 2012 successful 1.6 turbo Fiesta RRC, for example, is one of Latvala’s 2011 team cars, Campana’s 2011 Mini WRC was used by Sordo to win the 2012 IRC Tour de Corse as an RRC. Same cars, dual identities! Another development is the rule restricting the number of cars a WRC team can construct in the year, and the way that the some chassis are being used time and time again, or maybe identified as an ‘unlucky’ car and disposed of. It was intriguing to study the history of the ‘new’ Citroen DS3 RRC car that appeared in Valais in the hands of Pieter Tsjoen. Observers stated one could see the car already had a rough life. Records showed that the car had been run and crashed on more than one occasion by Thierry Neuville and, more telling, it was already, for Sebastien Loeb, an unlucky car. Three times the car had been driven by Loeb on occasions when he was beaten by his then teammate Sebastien Ogier. Tsjoen then rolled it once again ... Some of Citroen’s world championship rally cars have backgrounds that have been far more successful than others in the world rally championship. Xsara WRC chassis 31 scored no fewer than seven wins, during 2004 through 2006; C4WRC chassis 5 also won seven events, mostly in 2007 and then once later on in 2010, but I have a favourite. This is DS3 WRC chassis 17 (above) – not quite so successful with only six wins, but in this case the car has never been beaten. It is a shame that cars don’t breed like horses. If that car had been born a racehorse, it would now have been worth millions. Sadly it does not rest in its comfortable stable at night or grazing contently in some idyllic paddock in the day; rather it lives in its cold and clinical workshop in Citroen Racing’s workshop at Satory. Is this why people love horses more than cars? IF ONLY CARS COULD BREED ... OPINION MARTIN HOLMES Rally Editor