Super Seven... Original WRC events

06th April 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

This weekend’s fourth round of the 2017 World Rally Championship – and the 561st qualifying round of rallying’s Premiership – takes place on the twisty and treacherous island roads around the mountains of Corsica. Older than the championship itself, the Tour de Corse, to give it its traditional title, remains one of the original classics on the rallying calendar, and this year’s 60th edition will present crews with stages of sinuous, sheer-drop-lined, hairpin-filled asphalt ranging from 10km to more than 50km.

The Tour de Corse, the final round of the inaugural WRC back in 1973, isn’t the only event on the 2017 calendar that appeared on the itinerary of that maiden season. Six other events are part of the original set and, with a few blips along the way, they’ve been a regular part of the series. All have been, or indeed are, a collection of gravel, asphalt or all-snow classics that every rally driver has striven to master. In chronological order according to their place on the 1973 calendar, these are the WRC’s super-seven. 

Rallye Automobile De Monte Carlo

The very first WRC qualifier in January 1973, this week-long marathon was tackled by 278 crews, with just 51 making it to the finish, headed by a trio of Renault-Alpine A110s. Off the calendar in year two thanks to the oil crisis, it returned in 1975 to be the season-opener every year until 2008, bar 1989 when Sweden took a turn, and 1996 when the event was dropped under the unpopular and thankfully short-lived rotation system. It fell off the schedule again for three years between 2009 and 2011 to be part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, but returned in all its traditional glory for 2012. 

Monte Fast Facts

  • Walter Röhrl won the event four times for four different marques – Fiat (1980), Opel (’82), Lancia (’83) and Audi (’84).
  • 305 crews entered the 1982 event – a WRC record. 

Swedish Rally

This all-snow classic, in which speeds on compact snow with studded tyres match those on dry asphalt, has been a WRC qualifier on 41 occasions – only Finland and Great Britain have run more times in the WRC. There was no Swedish Rally in 1974, thanks again to the oil crisis, and in 1990 the unthinkable happened when a lack of snow forced its cancellation. Rotation reared its ugly head in 1994, causing the event to miss a year, and in 2009 another rotation system meant a calendar reshuffle so that Ireland and Norway could have a second and final slot. On four occasions, Sweden kickstarted the season – 1989, 1996, 2010 and 2011. 

Sweden Fast Facts

  • Sébastien Loeb was the first non-Nordic driver to win the rally, for Citroën in 2004.
  • The 2007 event service park was situated in the ‘Viking Ship’ stadium, originally built for the 1994 Winter Olympics.

TAP Rally Portugal

Portugal’s TAP Rally, sponsored by the country’s leading airline, was the third round of the inaugural WRC season in 1973 and was the first to feature a mixture of asphalt and gravel stages. Crews tackled tight, twisty sealed-surface stages in the short opening leg, packed from end to end with enthusiastic spectators, and then headed out onto dusty gravel roads for the bulk of the mileage. Its place on the calendar remained unbroken until 2001, when bad weather was used as an excuse to drop it for 2002. It returned in 2007 in the south of the country, only to move back to the north for 2015.

Portugal Fast Facts

  • All the leading teams boycotted the 1986 event after local driver Joaquim Santos crashed his Ford RS200 into the crowd on the opening stage, killing a number of spectators.
  • If Sébastien Ogier wins this year’s event he’ll join current record holder Markku Alén as a five-time winner.

Rajd Polski, Poland

In this company, Poland has the shortest WRC history. Part of the 1973 event line-up, it didn’t feature again until 2009, when it rejoined as a candidate rally. During the intervening period it was a regular part of the FIA European Rally Championship as the all-asphalt Rajd Polski. After another four-year hiatus, it found a place on the calendar for 2010 and takes place on smooth gravel roads in the north-east of the country.

Poland Fast Facts

  • Rajd Polski took place for the first time in 1921.
  • The 1973 event was won by Achim Warmbold in a Fiat 124 Abarth, co-driven by future FIA president Jean Todt.

1000 Lakes Rally, Finland

The fastest and most feared of the WRC classics, Rally Finland or, as traditionalists still like to call it, the 1000 Lakes Rally has made 43 appearances on the calendar, including as round eight of the 1973 season. That’s a record it shares with Great Britain and both events will make it 44during 2017. With its superfast and smooth rollercoaster gravel stages around host town Jyväskylä, punctuated by hundreds of blind jumps, the event calls for intimate local knowledge, which explains why Nordic drivers have dominated over the years. Finns top the winners’ table, courtesy of Marcus Gronhölm (7), Markku Alén (6), Tommi Mäkinen (4) and Hannu Mikkola (4). In today’s game, however, where multi-surface skills are required, the Europeans can mix it with the Swedes and Finns – as Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier and Kris Meeke can attest.

Finland Fast Facts

  • Carlos Sainz became the first non-Nordic driver to win the event with victory for Toyota in 1990.
  • Nine of the 10 fastest rallies in WRC history took place in Finland. Only the 2000 Safari, in P6, upsets the perfect score. Briton Kris Meeke’s win in 2016 is the fastest of all – at an average of 78.68mph.

RAC Rally, Great Britain

Our own round of the World Rally Championship is justifiably and proudly mentioned in the same breath as the other classics, thanks to the enormous challenge it has always posed to competitors – from factory-blessed superstars to humble, have-a-go amateurs. Backed by the Daily Mirror in 1973, it joined forced with Lombard Finance for 1974. The partnership lasted until 1992 and produced nearly 20 years of great events comprising Group 4, Group B and Group A machinery and their heroic pedallers. Network Q took over title sponsorship for 1993, with the Rally of Great Britain title introduced for 1998. A move to Cardiff in South Wales for 2000 set the scene for title sponsorship from one of the sport’s greatest rallying countries from 2003, although in recent seasons the event moved to North Wales.

GB Fast Facts

  • Britain’s only World Rally Champions, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, both clinched their world titles on home soil, McRae in 1995 and Burns in 2001 – both in a Prodrive Subaru Impreza.
  • Petter Solberg and Sébastien Ogier have both won the event four times consecutively. Victory for Ogier in 2017 will make it five in a row for the Frenchman.

Tour De Corse

Once dubbed ‘the rally of 10,000 corners’, the Tour de Corse was an intense assault on the senses – and the cars – around abrasive, mountainous island asphalt. It held the season finale in 1973 and, barring a rotational rest in 1996, featured on the calendar until 2008, albeit under the moniker of the Rallye de France in the nine editions of the 2000s. Money and politics, and no doubt the appeal of French superhero Sébastien Loeb, ensured the event moved to the mainland for 2010 – to Loeb’s patch in Alsace, in fact – but the event returned to its spiritual island home for 2015. 

Tour de Corse Fast Facts

  • Tragedy rocked the island in 1985 and 1986, when factory Lancia drivers Attilio Bettega and Henri Toivonen (along with co-driver Sergio Cresto) were killed.
  • Great one-off victories include Bernard Beguin’s win in a BMW M3 in 1987, Didier Auriol giving Ford’s Sierra RS Cosworth its only top-level win in 1988, and Philippe Bugalski taking the last two-wheel-drive WRC victory – for Citroën in 1999.

Image courtesy of LAT

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