Principles in the Principality

minis

Last night the world listened to Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. At last he publicly acknowledged that every one of his sporting accolades was obtained with the illegal assistance of advanced medical and chemical support.

The baying masses wanted tears and contrition but Armstrong refused. Instead he explained that, as far as he is concerned, there were at least 200 cyclists who operated just as far outside the written rules of the sport as himself. Therefore, in his mind, Armstrong was only doing what was needed to be done to stay competitive. If he did it more ruthlessly than them, well, that was his advantage.

To be honest, I can understand his logic entirely. That’s not an endorsement of the man because some of his actions – notably his wilful ransacking of careers and reputations among professional support staff – are unforgivable. But the competitive logic is pure.

Perhaps it is a matter of conditioning – after all, motor sport seeks ‘the unfair advantage’ in virtually every discipline. Engineers make their money and reputation from designing something that nobody else in the field has got, something which can be exploited to remove all possibility of being beaten.

Some 50 years ago, for example, the works BMC rally team took the sport into the modern age thanks to the inventive and restless brilliance of its manager, Stuart Turner. He brought about gravel and ice note crews, a whole host of inventive ways to service the team en route and of course the cars themselves were tailored to eke the maximum  possible advantage of the rules.

The Mini was bred in 997cc, 998cc, 1071cc or 1275cc guise to fit different classes with maximum competitiveness, while each and every loophole was explored to the fullest. Of course this spelt the end of the sport for many competitors, not least my wife’s grandfather, the accomplished Monte specialist J.W. Bowdage, who realised that the gentlemen had been surpassed by the players and he was only going to either go bankrupt or get hurt if he tried to keep up with Turner’s deft rewriting of the rulebook.

Today one of Turner’s teams would last about five minutes before falling foul of one regulation or another… but it makes him no less a hero to many like me nor detract from his record in the sport’s roll of honour. BMC’s record with the Mini, MGB and Austin-Healey was an example of brilliance that few team managers in any discipline have ever rivalled. His competitors were forced to play to his rules, give up or, in the case of the 1966 Monte, changed the rulebook during the event!

Coming back to 2013, we see another ‘unfair advantage’ being exploited for all that it’s worth in Monte Carlo. Indeed, I fear that it might yet provoke a complete meltdown from Sébastien Ogier.

Here is a man who has an enviable quota of self belief and the backing of Volkswagen’s €100 million superteam. He is almost 1 minute 20s ahead of his nearest challenger, Dani Sordo, and exactly 2 minutes ahead of the man expected to lead Citroën’s campaign through the full 13 events this season, Mikko Hirvonen. He’s light years ahead of his team-mate, former Ford number 1 Jari-Matti latvala. Yet last night Ogier was almost beside himself with rage.

All it took was the mention of Sébastien Loeb. The nine-time champion is in an event of his own, which is currently taking place a minute and a half further ahead of Ogier. While the prospect of Loeb’s points will be an extremely welcome one for his Citroën team, the complete demolition job being wrought on Ogier’s psyche through being forced to concede by such a margin will be of even greater long-term benefit.

Lance Armstrong lied again last night, when he defined cheating as seeking the means ‘to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have’. That, my dear Lance, is precisely why many competitors get out of bed in the morning.

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Trending now: names with ‘u’ in them

Hot gossip today revolves around Kubica and Subaru. Fortunately, we found a photo of Kubica in a Subaru. Kinda symmetrical.

Rumour no.1: Robert Kubica will drive a MINI in the 2013 WRC

We say… why? He’s a magnet for sponsors and has a good relationship with Citroën. Why not run a DS3 RRC  in WRC2 for a year, get to grips on gravel and then think about the next step?

Rumur no.2: Subaru will not rejoin the WRC, but go to the WTCC

We say… well, this story has been run by Rallye Magazin in Germany with quotes attributed to a Subaru ‘source’. Put simply, Subaru doesn’t have a car in its current line-up to fit existing WRC regulations, and a move to R5 as the top class wouldn’t help. The WTCC seems like a waste of everyone’s time and effort, but if they’ve got to compete somewhere the FIA will surely welcome them back with open arms.

Some more celebrated Citroens

We’re worried that not enough is being done to commemorate the achievements of Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and Citroën in achieving a decade of success at the highest levels of the sport.

Remember all the presentations from Pele and Kimi being in the lavatory when Michael Schumacher retired? Exactly. All the fuss and palaver that’s greeted the likes of André Agassi or Dennis Wise when they’ve called time on their professional careers – with none of the same level of success to their credit that Loeb can claim.

So, in desperation, here are some celebrated Citroëns from the celebrity world. Perhaps the grafting of that veneer of celebrity onto the old double chevron will make people sit up and take notice of what remains a fantastic sporting achievement.

Or you could just look here at that incomparable career!

Pixie Lott and her thighs starred with a DS3 in one of their pop videos

 

Patrick Jane a.k.a. ‘The Mentalist’ drives a classic DS, you know…

 

Pay attention, 007. LOL. Ah, the carefree days of Roger Moore in a 2CV…

 

French movie hero Fantomas had a flying DS

 

BBC disaster ‘Candy Cabs’ gave Berlingo taxis a bad name

 

 

SIT, SOT and pure cobblers

This week, we at WRF Towers we are perplexed to hear of rally organisers allegedly moaning, wailing and gnashing their teeth about the plans to run the WRC in 2013 that are being outlined by the FIA its and new promoter Red Bull Media House. This in turn has prompted an outbreak of mild hysteria on the fan forums, decrying the as-yet unannounced package being put together by the FIA and Red Bull to stage and promote the WRC as a shambles.

A little prematurely, we think.

On Wednesday, for example, the British website Autosport reported a major brouhaha when the FIA announced that, after a decade, it was electing to switch the provision of timing services from British firm Stage One Technology (SOT) to Spanish concern Sistemas Integrales de Telecomunicacion (SIT).

Undeniably, Stage One did a brilliant job in its tenure. It also committed to supporting the WRC in 2012 at cost to itself, rather than allow the quality of service to participants, fans and media to fall off a cliff. The FIA is also in the doghouse in many quarters for how it has handled the outstanding debts left to suppliers in the wake of the previous promoter, North One Sports, going into administration.

Nevertheless, none of that affects the rigours of the FIA’s tender process – and nowhere can a sane person find evidence that it would possibly be in the interest of the sport’s governing body to sabotage its product. Neither can SIT’s experience of  timing, tracking, results, broadcast transmission and real-time Internet services on the Spanish Rally Championship, Rally Cataluña, Rally de Portugal, Baja España and Race of Champions be called into question.

There is simply no substance behind the rumpus.

Fans respond to news of the WRC timing supply deal

A sample quote from the coverage of the appointment of SIT to provide the new timing service reads: “…we are like the [guinea] pigs, aren’t we? Let’s hope it is good, because, for us, we never have a problem, not one, with Stage One.”

This quote was given to Autosport by an unnamed senior official from a rally early next season in what must be said looks like rather a French way of speaking. Yes, Monte Carlo will be the first WRC event for SIT and, yes, doubtless that makes for a few pre-event worries – but does this quote call into question the whole basis of promoting the sport? No.

Yesterday this was followed – again in Autosport – by Rally Mexico director Patrick Suberville talking in what is reported as a gloomy fashion about the prospects of the WRC’s promotion as a whole in 2013, saying: “We have to go back to the level we were at two years ago before we seriously start to move forward.”

Autosport took this statement as an endorsement of  ‘the standards and levels of publicity achieved under former promoter North One Sports’.

Huh??

Autosport is British. Britain is a country in which the TV coverage of the WRC went, under North One’s promotional ‘care’, from the BBC to Channel 4 in 2001 – thence to ITV in 2004. It went to the satellite channels first ITV4 in 2007, then Dave in 2008 and finally ESPN in 2011. The result was that the WRC’s British audience fell from 1.5 million in 2001 to 10,000 in 2011.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of ‘the standards and levels of publicity achieved under former promoter North One Sports’, is it? And that was on home soil. Everywhere else in the world – with the possible exception of France – the downward trend of WRC coverage has been no less catastrophic in the last decade.

Of course there are going to be a few nerves jangling among rally organisers, who may be the feeling that those few parts of the structure which worked are being flushed away with the rest. That is understandable, but much less so than some supposed ‘golden era’ of the WRC in the course of the last decade – because it’s been a disaster. Nothing more: nothing less.

There is an opportunity for the entire sport to reboot in 2013. Some companies and individuals will profit from this, others will feel ill-served by it. Everyone will have their point of view… but there’s no obvious reason for talking down about the future.

Two from the archives…

We’re feeling rather bereft here at WRF since Ford’s announcement that it is ending its time in top-flight rallying. We’re sure that you are too, so while the dust settles here’s a little bit of fever:

Imagine yourself in a comfy sweater, stout shoes and slacks with a cork-lined crash helmet sitting on the back seat as you prepare to drive across Europe to the magical little city on the Côte d’Azur: Monaco.

And here’s another one who struck gold in the Principality…

François Delecour wins the 1994 Monte Carlo Rally

WRF gets its own jinx! Look out!

In the run-up to the first event after WRF was born, the Rallye de France – Alsace, we said that Petter Solberg was an asset both to Ford and the WRC as a whole, and as such he should definitely be on the payroll in 2013.

He proceeded to have one of the most random accidents ever seen: sliding off the road, poughing through a vineyard, crossing back over the road, into the other side of the vineyard and into a telegraph pole, which duly collapsed and blew up.

Petter celebrates our endorsement in unique style

Thankfully none of the many fans or photographers were harmed, and Petter and co-driver Chris Patterson were unscathed. Although it’s quite likely that one winery’s produce will soon feature a bouquet of spilt brake fluid, the scent of a flash burn in the nose and trace elements of Ford paint in the bottom of the glass.

We then suggested that Juho Hänninen was preparing a logical step up from his Intercontinental Rally Challenge, European Rally Championship and SWRC titles to a full season of the WRC next year in a MINI Portugal entry – which we wholeheartedly approved of.

Juho then took part in the Rallye Sanremo and was pushing to keep up with the leading Ford Fiesta of Giandomenico Basso when he plunged off the road and landed four-square on the roof of some unfortunate local family. Rather than Fiddler on the Roof it was (Škoda) Fabia on the Roof.

WRF recommendations bring amazing results… don’t they, Juho?

So that’s two out of two. We now declare this to be a jinx with a 100% record of achievement in the field of messing up the day of any driver we deem to be a good egg, a shining light or a brilliant talent. So start sending in pots full of cash now, drivers, or we’ll tell the world that you’re a megastar in the making and then see what happens!