13 Feb, 12:25
JARI-MATTI LATVALA WON HIS FOURTH RALLY SWEDEN ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON AS TOYOTA CELEBRATED VICTORY JUST TWO RALLIES INTO ITS COMEBACK FOLLOWING A 17-YEAR ABSENCE FROM THE FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP.
wrc.com / Red Bull Content Pool
Widely regarded as the most challenging motor sport competition on the planet, drivers travel around the globe, battling it out on some of the most unforgiving terrains and enduring extreme weather conditions, to be crowned the world's greatest driver.
Most rallies follow the same basic itinerary. This starts with two days of 'reconnaissance' where driver and co-driver practise the route, at limited speed, to make pace notes. It is followed by 'shakedown' - a full speed test of their rally car - with the competition proper running for three days from Friday to Sunday. The rally route is made up of Special Stages - the competitive parts of the rally where drivers must race against the clock to achieve the fastest stage times, and the Road Sections which link each Stage and are part of the public highway.
There are currently 13 different countries who host a round of the WRC, with many more countries holding 'candidate' rallies with the hope of being included on a future calendar.
For more information on the World Rally Championship and other WRC rounds, please visit http://www.wrc.com/
Today's spectacular format of the FIA World Rally Championship has been the result of 50 years of hard work, evolution and adjustment to changing circumstances. The word 'World' was first used in the context of rallying in 1973, which makes 2007 the 35th season of the series. In 1970 the CSI expanded the series into the International Rally Championship for Manufacturers, a move which enabled the Safari Rally in Kenya to become one of the seven qualifying rounds. In 1971 Morocco came along, in 1972 the Press on Regardless Rally, in the USA, was also admitted. This was the build-up to 1973.
Since 1973 the series has evolved in different directions. The most important development was the introduction of the World Championship for Drivers in 1979. This in turn had gone through a two-year trial run. The 'FIA Cup for Rally Drivers' in 1977 and 1978 had been won by Sandro Munari and then Markku Alen, but it was Bjorn Waldegård who gained the first accolade of being rallying's first World Champion driver.
In the last 30 years there have been countless variations on the championship theme. Although rallies since 1979 have usually qualified for both Manufacturers' and Drivers' championship points, some of the less experienced events qualified only for the Drivers' series. In 1993 the FIA introduced a parallel series for manufacturers of two-litre, two-wheel drive, normally-aspirated cars, popularly called 'Formula 2' cars. In the period 1994-1996, there was a complex rotation of calendar events, in which championship events qualified for various combinations of the Makes, Drivers or 2-litre categories.
Since 1997 the series has been stabilised with 14 rallies becoming the usual sum total of the calendar. Except in cases where organisers found themselves unable to continue running events to the required standard, events already in the series tend to remain. There is, however, an impressive list of candidate events in new countries, waiting for a vacancy in the calendar to appear. So far there have been 27 countries which have been represented on the world championship calendars since 1973, in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia.
Championship regulations have evolved with an even greater fervour than the calendar. How points are scored, how many events must be entered, how many drivers each official team must run, not to speak about vehicle regulations, cost saving provisions and safety measures: all have changed quite radically over the years. It has often been said the basic strength of rallying is the sport's ability to move with the times. 2004 brought the biggest revolution in the history of world championship sport. Not only was the series expanded from 14 to 16 rounds so that Mexico and Japan could be added, but a raft of new rules were introduced, primarily with a view to saving costs so that the extra events could be added without extra total cost to the teams. This was difficult work, and many of the original hopes had to be varied in the light of experience.
Not only were new organisational techniques introduced (five-day format, flexi-service, tyre nominations and so on) but also a two-car rule was introduced, requiring that only two official cars are entered by each team and both score points. This alone changes the whole aspect of rally car engineering from issues relating to performance to those creating reliability.