N It has a longer one in the World Rally Championship Given a break. Three and a half months had passed since the heart-stopping final in Wales until the entourage rolled back over the ramp in Karlstad in mid-February. The break was good for the battered championship. All those involved had more preparation time.
It is still difficult to get other people's money, but the economic crisis was little felt this winter. 'We worked through between Christmas and New Years for the first time,' moaned Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson. Everyone knows: the greeting of the businessman is the complaint. In addition to various World Rally Cars, Wilson built nine new Ford Fiesta Super 2000s, each costing almost 300,000 euros. The ruble is rolling. Another 17 cars are to follow this spring.
New regulations make victories more important
Speaking of tight schedules: two days before the rally, the FIA sports authority cried out the new President Jean Todt through the points system, which will also apply to Formula 1 in the future. Instead of two points, a rally winner will be able to set himself apart from the runner-up by seven points. That makes victories even more important than before. With a maximum score of 25, however, a possible failure is extremely painful.
So the task for world champion Sébastien Loeb in the Citroën and Vice Mikko Hirvonen in the Ford remained the same: to give everything except one nakedness. Last year's long duel continued seamlessly in Sweden. On the first day the Finnish and the French were separated by about six seconds, on Saturday evening it was just 16.
Others could only be amazed. Marcus Grönholm had traveled to his favorite rally at the expense of the Finnish multimillionaire Mathias Therman and wanted to know again. But an electrical breakdown paralyzed his Ford Focus for a quarter of an hour on the first day. A puncture on Saturday finally banned the two-time world champion from the points. Apart from a best time on his favorite test in Sagen, he did not get a positive result.
While Grönholm was calm about his fate, Petter Solberg was deeply disappointed. The Norwegian had lost his main sponsor in the winter, but just in time a week before the start of the season, the contract with energy drink manufacturer Mad Croc was signed to enable a full World Cup year in a 2009 Citroën C4 with other sponsorsTo take attack. He hasn't had a better car since winning the World Cup in 2003.
But Solberg, who shone in the old Citroën Xsara under difficult conditions last year, put too much pressure on himself and fell into old weaknesses. Despite a good test, he was so unsettled during the showdown before the rally that he had the car converted before the start. He promptly lost control on the short opening test at the Karlstad trotting track and rushed into a snow wall. The same thing happened to him in the wild on Friday. The crowning glory was a short time later when he crashed into the rear of Matthew Wilson's wrecked Ford while sliding into an emergency exit. In the end, the man who wanted to fight for the title against the factory teams was only ninth.
German rally fans are now looking down the tube
Even beyond the piste, everything is not all sunshine. As soon as the TV production company North One took over as a global marketer on January 1, there was plenty of scolding in the British press for a poor World Cup presentation in Paris. Simon Long, managing director of North One subsidiary ISC, is toying with the idea of throwing the PR agency Generate, which was installed just over a year ago, overboard. Long is also in the stomach for the cancellation of RTL. After five years, the Cologne-based private broadcaster is withdrawing from the World Cup, mainly because the previous sponsor, Ford Germany, is no longer sponsoring the program. Because North One also ended its long-term collaboration with Eurosport, German rally fans are now watching the tube - unless they are receiving the Pay TV channel Motors TV.
Long considers the separation from Eurosport to be an indispensable measure. “The problem was, on the one hand, the bad broadcasting times, and on the other hand, it hindered us in negotiations with national TV companies. In every conversation it was always said: You can already be seen on Eurosport. ”
The World Cup marketer was also pissed off by the cheers that the Intercontinental Rally Challenge shortly before the start of the World Cup in Sweden spread. The competition series showed off with twelve million television viewers when it opened in Monte Carlo, a growth of 71.4 percent. The World Rally Championship, on the other hand, saw a drop in audience numbers from 633 million in 2008 to a total of 571 million TV viewers - a loss of 9.8 percent. However, the comparison is not clear. In 2009 there were three fewer rallies. According to North One, the average number of viewers last year was 47.6 million and has increased by 5.5 percent compared to 2008.
That doesn't give the German fans much comfort. Regarding the local situation, Long says: 'I'm anything but happy about the situation.' Now North One wants to negotiate with DSF. The not too financially strong German sports television would at least have to careDon't worry about rights costs. “In a pinch we would do without it. Germany is too important a market, ”says Long. The Englishman is particularly concerned about the impression he makes on Volkswagen, who is interested in the World Cup, without TV coverage in Germany.
Starting in 2010, Mini will take part in the rally
Meanwhile, Mini's entry into the coming year is safe. The possible works team Prodrive traveled with the management team led by owner David Richards to the service station in Hagfors, with a marketing manager from BMW in tow. They dined together in the Ford hospitality to give the rally newcomer from Bavaria an impression of the performance of the existing top teams. Rumor has it that the World Cup entry will be announced in March at the Geneva Motor Show.
Kimi Raikkonen had imagined his lateral entry to be a bit easier. The former Formula 1 world champion entered the world championship stage with such a huge financial tailwind from sponsor Red Bull that it was enough for a cockpit in the semi-works team from Citroën. But it's not enough to play with the really big ones. During the test at the Finnish Arctic Rally, the Grand Prix star stuffed his C4 into a snowdrift; in Sweden he succeeded three times. After all, the circuit specialist showed his rally potential with a few top ten times. Raikkonen was disappointed “with the stupid mistakes”, but happy to have achieved the goal.
In this way, Jari-Matti Latvala was the happiest man in the field. Team boss Malcolm Wilson officially declared him the water carrier for Mikko Hirvonen back in November. The crash pilot of the 2009 season is supposed to score points, while his teammate drives for victories. The fear of further stupid mistakes paralyzed the 2008 Sweden winner so that he had to line up clearly behind Dani Sordo - the number two at Citroën. Latvala only thawed after a day and a half, and when Sordo co-driver Marc Marti forgot to remove the covers from the radiator grille before a test, the number two C4 ran hot and Latvala was able to safely take third place.
Citroën also had to line up behind Ford for the number one drivers. Sébastien Loeb, the only non-Scandinavian to ever win in Sweden, gritted his teeth on a perfectly placed Mikko Hirvonen. Hirvonen drove fast, flawlessly and with strong nerves. When Loeb's final attack on Sunday morning only brought in two tenths of a second, the Frenchman gave up and said: “I thought I'd rather end up in second place than in a snow wall.”