In the absence of any movement in the 2020 World Rally Championship, DirtFish is going to whizz you back 25 years to a season we hope, like us, you’ll think well worth celebrating a quarter of a century on.
Reliving the 1995 season as it happened was an idea we’d knocked around from the very earliest editorial planning chats at Team DirtFish, but with 2020 on hold there’s even more reason to turn the clock back to the mid-90s. And we might just be celebrating another milestone season for a different WRC legend later this year too…
Over the rest of 2020 we’ll take you through every incredible twist, turn and controversy from 1995, but to start with we thought we should bring you fully up to speed with what was going on in the WRC as that great year began.
So having just watched Ricky Ponting knock 96 out of Sri Lanka on his test cricket debut, turn East 17 up and enjoy the DirtFish guide to the 1995 World Rally Championship.
Be grateful for Monte Carlo and its Casino Square ceremonies that open this year’s World Rally Championship. Following the French Alps, there are few similarities geographically with the FIA’s marmite event rotation system in place for a second season.
With the opener done, the series welcomes Sweden back, but says farewell for a year to round three from last year, the world-famous Safari Rally. Later in the season, Australia and Spain return to reshape the year end, while the Acropolis, Argentina, Finland and Sanremo join Kenya on a subs bench crowded with classics.
Not since the oil crisis-ravaged season 21 years ago has the WRC season started with a calendar featuring so few outings. Eight this year – all of which will count for the manufacturers’ race, while drivers can only register their seven best scores.
Rotation remains a political hot potato and one we can expect FIA president Max Mosley to discuss regularly and often with the World Rally Teams Association. Locking horns will come as nothing new for the governing body and the WRTA, with much of last year’s 1994 effort spent debating the merits of four or two-wheel drive for the future of the world championship. While regularly dipping into the television – and how to make it work – debate.
Another fascinating debate centres on the development of the events themselves, with the much-debated Rally 2000 document discussing the potential for cutting costs by dispensing with linear routes to some degree and looping rallies out and around a single central point.
It’s fair to say such suggestions were not well received by the blazer-wearers in the WRC Commission last season.
On the stages, Toyota will be eager to repeat the domination it demonstrated in 1994, but the Japanese giant’s ability to do that will depend entirely on whether it can being the best out of the Celica GT-Four. The ST205 version broke cover last autumn and was defeated by Colin McRae’s Subaru Impreza 555 on the non-championship Rally Australia before blown into the weeds by the same Scottish-Prodrive combo on the RAC a month or so ago.
The FIA’s decision to reduce restrictor size from 38mm to 34 instantly hit a car that had always enjoyed a power advantage over its Group A rivals. Reigning world champion Didier Auriol and his team-mate Juha Kankkunen were both completely comfortable with the Turbo 4WD version and their ability to get on top of the new car will be key to Toyota’s hopes of a hat-trick of makes’ titles and a possible fifth drivers’ crown in six years.
German driver Armin Schwarz returns to Toyota after two years with Mitsubishi. Japanese Yoshio Fujimoto will also drive a selected programme with the team.
Subaru surprised many by edging Ford to end last season as Toyota’s closest challenger and there’s every indication the Banbury-based squad is ready to make another step this year.
Whether Subaru has the financial wherewithal to go toe-to-toe with Toyota will become clear as 1995 unfolds, but team boss David Richards’ ability to think outside of the box has already paid dividends with his use of helicopters to ferry mechanics from service to service rather than expanding the army on the ground.
While the Impreza was still short on the Celica’s ultimate grunt last season, there’s no denying the 555 leads the way in terms of handling. Prodrive remains the standard-bearer for transmission technology with a hydraulic front differential aiding the mechanical/hydraulic centre diff that has been in place for some time now.
One of Richards’ more savvy moves last season was employing Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard remains one of rallying’s most dedicated, intelligent and diligent drivers. His ability to craft a result is what Subaru needs while McRae is arguably still learning his craft in some parts. This will, for example, be the 26-year-old’s first competitive outing on his team-mate’s home round of the championship in Spain.
McRae’s swashbuckling RAC win at the end of last season once again demonstrated his speed, but a second successive win in New Zealand also showed real maturity and patience from the Scot. That Colin will win more rallies this year is almost beyond doubt and if he continue to build his consistency then a championship tilt should be within his grasp – certainly that’s what the man himself has in mind.
What did he say Chester at the end of last year?
“I want to come back here fighting for the championship.”
McRae’s 1993 successor as British Rally champion Richard Burns will continue to share his time between the WRC and Subaru’s key Asia Pacific Rally Championship effort this year. Italian driver Piero Liatti and Kiwi Possum Bourne will also drive factory 555s.
For Ford, everything changes this season. Gone is its resident two-time world champion Miki Biasion, who retires after more than a decade at the top of the WRC. And gone is the Blue Oval’s world famous Boreham team running the programme. Instead, Belgian team RAS Sport comes in to deliver Ford’s effort at rallying’s highest level. François Delecour and Bruno Thiry move to the new team and spearhead the challenge of an Escort RS Cosworth that still remains entirely capable of lifting the title.
It’s fair to say Ford’s real hope revolves around the mercurial Delecour returning to the sort of form he showed prior to the road accident that left him hospitalised and ruled him out of action for much of the middle of last year.
Finn Tommi Mäkinen helped demonstrate the worth of Ford’s Escort at last year’s 1994 when he replaced Biasion and won the 1000 Lakes.
Stepping up out of a British Open Championship campaign with Nissan, the Puuppola driver starts the biggest season of his life with the Rugby-based Mitsubishi team. It’s hoped Andrew Cowan’s Ralliart squad will play an expanded role in this year’s WRC, having focussed the efforts of the Lancer in the APRC in recent seasons.
Mäkinen can learn plenty about life with Mitsubishi from his Swedish team-leader Kenneth Eriksson, who stays with the Anglo-Japanese force for a sixth season. Italian Andrea Aghini is likely to be brought off the bench for some asphalt action later in the season.
Welcome to 1995.