Throughout 2020, we’re reliving the extraordinary 1995 World Rally Championship season on DirtFish.
At this point in 1995, the season was in the middle of a long calendar break – but there was still plenty going on.
June’s been a busy month so far. New Zealand’s All Blacks established a new world record, piling 145 points on Japan in Bloemfontein, but lost the Rugby World Cup to Nelson Mandela’s South Africa. There was the premiere of Dumb and Dumber in Sweden; not a bad flick, it might catch on. Batman Forever caught on immediately though and made $528million in its first week. And now George Foreman’s refusal to step back into the ring with Alex Shulz has costs him his IBF boxing title.
For us, the big news revolves one man’s decision to ride his mountain bike into the forest.
The news that World Rally Championship leader Carlos Sainz has been forced out of next month’s Rally New Zealand puts a very different perspective on the series.
How long Sainz will be out remains to be seen. Talking to DirtFish, the two-time world champion said: “I tore the tendons in my right arm. It needed a big operation. It’s sad to miss New Zealand, but there’s no chance.”
Fortunately for the superstar Spaniard, wins in Monte Carlo and Portugal allied to a fourth place last time out in Corsica have been enough to stand him at the top of the table with a 20-point advantage. Regardless of what happens on the North Island roads, Sainz will remain P1 after round five.
That might not have been the case if things had turned out differently for Bruno Thiry in Corsica. All set for a maiden WRC win, the amiable Belgian’s RAS-run Ford Escort RS Cosworth lost a hub-retaining bolt within sight of the finish. That win would have put him second in the standings, just 10 down on Sainz. A repeat win in New Zealand would have had Thiry on top.
Equally, if Mitsubishi had stood down its team order that Kenneth Eriksson and not Tommi Mäkinen should win Sweden, the Finn could have departed Auckland leading the championship.
Do Thiry or Mäkinen really have much of a hope in New Zealand? Is this not the moment for Colin McRae to step forward? The Scot has crushed the opposition there for the last two years. Putting two minutes on best of the rest Juha Kankkunen 12 months ago was a very real demonstration of McRae’s speed in New Zealand.
More than that, Subaru must now view the land of the long white cloud as a second home event, such is its superiority down there. Regardless of Rally New Zealand being the event furthest from Prodrive HQ in the UK, technical director David Lapworth decided to introduce the active front differential for the first time. That sort of confidence breeds ever-more self-belief for the drivers.
McRae starts the Auckland rally on a hat-trick. Delivering such a result would bring him firmly into play for the championship.
And where is Toyota in all of this? Subaru looks to have an edge almost everywhere. There are exceptions, of course, but they’re few and far between: in Sweden the oil filters on all three factory cars were blown apart after they became clogged with the cylinder liners, and in Corsica the Impreza’s Pirelli tires were no match for Michelins.
Clearly, Toyota is struggling to come to terms with the newly implemented 34mm restrictor on the engine. The drivers are talking of a lack of urgency from the car and when it does come on song, the longer-nosed Celica GT-Four clearly lacks the dexterity which Ove Andersson’s team ultimately found from its predecessor, the ST185.
The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a change in the title sponsor for this year’s Rally New Zealand. In an effort to stamp out tooting, the NZ government backed the event. No more Rothmans Rally New Zealand; this is the Smokefree Rally New Zealand now.
Undeterred, Rothmans’ presence will arguably be higher than ever as its hands its cash over to Andrew Cowan’s team and backs the factory Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E3s.
Almost done now, but while we’re looking back on the first half of the rally season, it’s worth casting an eye over the all-new Mobil/Top Gear British Championship. Formula Two cars have taken over as the main category this year and the action has been as fast as it’s been furious.
Four-wheel drive Group A cars are still allowed on the events, but the title will be battled out between the front wheel-drive screamers. The John Easton-engineered Nissan Sunny GTi has looked the class of the field so far, with Alister McRae winning the season-opening Vauxhall Rally of Wales while his team-mate Gregoire de Mevius took round two, the Kielder-based Pirelli International. Second behind the Belgian, McRae took an early series lead to the Perth Scottish Rally earlier this month.
Unfortunately for him, electrical failure on the opening stage ruled him out of a home win and the series lead. He’s now three points behind Renault’s flying Frenchman Alain Oreille.
Possible find of the early season? A young Finn called Harri Rovanperä. Scoring a debut podium on the Pirelli is certainly an auspicious start. Remember the name…