Since it’s over a week to go until the start of the 2016 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, The Checkered Flag will be bringing you extensive coverage of the penultimate round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship season.
Wales Rally GB traditionally closed out the WRC season until 2012, for which it was Rally Catalunya in Salou that was the season finale that year.
2006 was a significant year in the championship and it’s ten years since two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm lost out on a third WRC title by just one point from the then three-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb at Wales Rally GB.
Grönholm, who had signed with the BP Ford World Rally Team for the 2006 WRC season, after six seasons with Peugeot, which had given the Finn two World Rally Championships’ in 2000 and 2002.
It was to be the perfect start for Grönholm, taking his first-ever tarmac win on the opening round in Monte-Carlo after the Kronos-liveried Citroën Xsara WRC of Loeb recovered from going off on SS6 on Day 1.
Grönholm converted another win on his second start with the BP Ford World Rally Team as he won at Rally Sweden for the fourth time to take a four-point lead over the Frenchman after two rounds.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing in the next five rounds for Grönholm as an eighth place in Mexico, followed by two podium finishes on the asphalt of Spain and Corsica meant that Loeb held the advantage for the 2006 World Rally Championship.
Argentina proved to be disappointing for the Ford driver as he finished outside the points in tenth, while a non-finish in Sardinia left him trailing the Drivers’ Standings behind Loeb by 31 points going into the Acropolis Rally in Greece.
Greece proved to be a turning point for Grönholm going into the mid-season break as he stopped Loeb’s five rally winning streak at the Acropolis. The gap at the mid-season break was 29 points between Grönholm and Loeb before Rallye Deutschland.
The first two rallies after the mid-season break, Loeb and Grönholm exchanged a win each as the Kronos Citroën driver won in Germany, while the Ford driver took victory on his home rally in Finland once again.
A duo of 1-2’s in Japan and Cyprus meant that for the last four rallies of the 2006 season, Loeb had a 35-point lead over Grönholm.
But a mountain bike accident left Loeb with a broken right arm, meaning he was unable to compete for the last remaining rallies of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.
Grönholm took advantage of the situation in hand and won in Turkey to reduce the gap to 25 points in the Drivers’ Standings with just three rallies to go.
Rally Australia was anything but incident-packed for Grönholm as he crashed out on the first day, but managed to recover the deficit he lost to finish fifth. The two-time World Rally Champion needed to finish fourth or better to keep his third WRC title hopes alive in Australia to which the Ford driver fell short on that objective.
Wins in the final two rallies at New Zealand and Wales Rally GB was not enough for Grönholm to take his third World Rally Championship in Wales as Loeb won his third WRC title in a row by one point.
If early season results had come Grönholm’s way in the 2006 WRC season, then he would have had a better chance of becoming a three-time World Rally Champion before his retirement at the end of the 2007 World Rally Championship season.
The Checkered Flag will be bringing you extensive pre and post-event coverage, as well as all four days of the 2016 Wales Rally GB from the 27-30 October 2016.