Everyone has spent the weekend talking about Wales Rally GB, as Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb battled for honours on the British round of the World Rally Championship.

One of those people was John Davenport, a man who knows more than most when it comes to the world of rallying, as he is one of the men behind The Complete Book of the World Rally Championship, a look back over the first 30 years of the WRC.

Along with Henry Hope-Frost, Davenport - himself a rally winning co-driver - has put together the book to allow WRC fans to examine the championship from 1973 to 2003, profiling the drivers who have been lucky enough to win an event at the highest level and looking back over the highs and lows of the championship so far.

"Henry did all the driver stats," he told Crash.net, "and I did the words and bits on the cars. We had to profile 60 odd drivers and some of those who just had one win back near the start in 1973 and 74 would have been hard to track down. However I was still competing back then, so it made it easier to get the info we needed."

In his research, Davenport has been able to see the championship evolve, through the highs and lows, but despite all that he says one thing hasn't changed.

"Driver and co-drivers are pretty much the same!" he said, "they way they drive the cars is the same, but other things have evolved and changed beyond all recognition. In the 70s, a rally would last four, five, maybe even six days, running over long distances and with stages into the night.

"The Safari rally, which isn't on the calendar anymore, was one of those long endurance events and it was the pinnacle for a driver, it walked a bit taller than the rest. Monte Carlo is the most famous event, and drivers always looked at the old 1000 Lakes event, but the Safari was the big one that a driver wanted on his CV.

"Now we have a strict three day format, with very little night running, maybe just the odd stage towards the end of the year when the nights start to draw in a bit. Of course the cars have changed beyond all recognition. In 1973, a front-wheel-drive car with 150hp was competitive. Now we have closer to 400hp, sequential gearboxes, turbos, the list goes on."

In looking at 30 years of competition, Davenport is in an ideal position to compare the different cars that have competed over the years, but despite the many millions of pounds invested in the modern WRC cars, it is one from the 1980s that gets his vote as the greatest take part in the WRC.

"I'd have to go for the Lancia Delta S4," he said. "It had a supercharger and a turbo charger, but it only raced for one season in 1986. It had no real development and was a winner straight out of the box."

However that one season would be the final year of Group B in the WRC, as tragic events of that season forced organisers to act.

An accident on a rally in Portugal had already seen three spectators killed, and on the Tour de Corse it was the turn of one of the top drivers to lose his life. Henri Toivonen, driving an S4, went off the road on one of the twisty Corsican stages, and as his car plummeted down a ravine the fuel tank exploded. Both Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresta found themselves trapped in the burning car, where they died before help arrived. The reaction afterwards was to ban Group B cars for the 1987 season.

"The WRC did lose out with the loss of Group B," Davenport said. "Spectator numbers were going up and it wasn't until around ten years later, 1994/95, that they started to come back. Something did need to be done, but it was like a guy going into hospital with a cut on his arm and them lopping off his head - there was an over-reaction.

"Group B could have been tamed. They were only unsafe in so much as the fuel system, which caused Toivonen's death, and the crowd control needed changing - it wasn't the actual cars. Now systems are in place to control the crowds, I was at Wales Rally GB last season and was very impressed at how they do the thinking for the spectators, although that's not to say that a freak accident can't happen.

"In my opinion, 1986 was the worst year for the WRC, with the deaths, the loss of Group B and the arguments that followed. There was a stack of investment gone in a very short space of time and it was a very sad time."

Davenport also feels that, despite the way in which the era was brought to a close, it was Group B that provided rally fans with some of the best seasons.

"A lot of the good years centre around Group B," he said, "although the battle between Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb last season was pretty good.

"I think that 1981 was one of the best seasons. It was the first Audi year, and 1983 was also impressive, with the new four-wheel-drive Audi up against the old style Lancia 037. They were different cars and two very different teams, the Latin outfit against the German team, it was a very good battle."

With the current uncertainty over the future of Ford, amongst others, in the WRC, many believe that the 2005 season could see the series hit another low point. Although Davenport admits that this could happen, he feels that the championship will be strong enough to withstand the possible loss of one of the top teams.

"It could be another low point," he said, "but I think that the championship is probably virile enough to withstand it. There have been seasons before when there have been few contenders and people have worried but the WRC has overcome it. Of course it would be nice to have ten manufacturers but the cars now are very expensive, it isn't like you can just go out and buy them. Even Super 1600 cars are quite expensive.

"What we really need is some kind of control on prices as there will always be people who want to go rallying and there will always be people who want to organise rallies. Things will certainly improve."

Whether or not Ford do compete in the WRC next season, one man who will certainly be there is Loeb. The Frenchman may not have won Wales Rally GB, but he still holds a commanding lead at the top of the championship standings as he continues a relentless march towards this season's title.

"Loeb is particularly impressive," Davenport said. "He is a guy who is in control and who doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve, he always seems to be up there. He was given his chance by the national sports people in France who allowed him to hire a car and do a few events. They gave him a break and look where he is now. We need something like that in the UK to help bring people through."

Despite looking back over 30 years of competition, Davenport admits that it is too hard to select one person who is the ultimate WRC driver, although he feels the current crop of stars would be up there with the best.

"It is too hard to select one driver and say he is the best," he said. "I drove with Hannu Mikkola [the duo won the 1974 1000 Lakes] and he was a driver who was excellent on both the endurance events and the shorter sprint events like the RAC. Walter Rohl was an excellent driver who won the Monte in four different cars. Marku Alen was also a superb driver, a Finn who became like a hot headed Italian, and Carlos Sainz is an amazing guy, he can pull a performance from thin air.

"I have no doubt that the current drivers are right up there. It was different in the past - for example when Mikkola won the 1972 Safari he had to drive on the pace throughout a long endurance event. Now the rallies may be a series of short sprints, but they are just as demanding in a short space of time. Drivers need to be Michael Schumacher for 25km."

The Complete Book of the World Rally Championship is out now, and will be available to buy in the Crash.net shop in the next week.