The main changes in the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship scene are the withdrawal for the season of Mitsubishi and the arrival full time for Citroen. On the driver front there is relative stability.

Only two teams (Citroen and Skoda) will run new drivers among their regular entries, while there is also a general trend to run two rather than three, or four works car entries per manufacturer.

Six teams have been registered for the full championship. Mitsubishi is expected only to contest occasional events and will not be eligible for points.

The main differences in the 2003 calendar are:

o New entry of the Rally of Turkey and the withdrawal of the Safari Rally. Five events will be held on asphalt.
o The order of events has been adjusted to ensure that teams need only prepare one set of support equipment (vans, recce cars etc) for the season. This is to enable a roll-on, roll-off ferry service to carry the equipment used to Europe to the 'long haul' FIA WRC events and back again.

Consequently there are no rounds of the series in Europe between the Swedish in February and the Acropolis in June.

2004 Event changes:

Monte Carlo will revert to special stages near Gap, Sweden will have a single service park for all the event, including Shakedown, at Hagfors Airport, the Rally of Turkey will follow closely the format of the trial event (Anatolian Rally) in 2002, except that the headquarters base will be Kemer rather than Antalya.

New Zealand will spend two days in the Northlands region and will not travel to the west coast around Raglan, Argentina will not go over the mountains to Mina Clavero, and the
service park will be every day at La Cumbre, the Acropolis Rally will be based at Lamia, there will be a new venue for the service park on the Cyprus Rally.

The Deutschland Rally is also planning a new single service park system and a mixture of types of stages each day. Entries for each FIA World Rally Championship event will now close five weeks before the start.

2003 Rule changes:

There are few rule changes for 2003, but a notable exception is that in every world and the regional rally championship, the top eight (not six) eligible finishers will score points.

If a driver is unable to tackle the super special on the evening of the ceremonial start, because of a problem in the official shakedown, then he will be given a time 30 seconds slower than the time taken by the fastest car in his category.

The car would then rejoin the rally of the Friday morning.

New regulations for pre-rally testing have been introduced for the 2003 season, in that no testing may be carried out in non-European countries where FIA WRC events will be held. Citroen's work in Cyprus after the Network Q Rally was the last permitted test before the rules changed.

2003 Car regulation changes:

In new FIA WRC car designs, only ten [rather than 20] sets of special pieces must be produced prior to homologation. Cars must now have a maximum fuel capacity of 95 litres. There is now a higher minimum weight for Super 1600 cars: 1000kg instead of 950.

2003 Personnel changes:

Shekhar Mehta continues to be the President of the Rally Commission (for regional events) and now he will also serve as President of the FIA World Rally Championship Commission (for FIA WRC events), where he takes over from Kari Sohlberg.

2003 Teams:

Marlboro Peugeot Total

2003 regular drivers: Marcus Gronholm [#1] and Richard Burns [#2].

A new title sponsor for the team, Marlboro, was announced at a presentation in Monte Carlo on 13th December. There are no team driver changes but many semi-official or private drivers also plan to use 206WRC cars on specific rounds of the series.

Recent test work has included three days asphalt testing with Gilles Panizzi, in Spain, in first week in December, followed by a four day Monte Carlo test in the south of France, and then a three day snow test near Grenoble.

In between tests, world champion Gronholm has attended many functions, and also won the invitation Race of Champions event in Gran Canaria.

Peugeot's Chief Test Engineer Mario Fornaris has decided to move to Mitsubishi in 2003 and there is no plan to replace him at Peugeot.

Ford Motor Company Ltd

2003 regular drivers: Markko Martin [#4] and Francois Duval [#5].

27 year old Markko Martin and 22 year old Francois Duval will drive the official cars, while M-Sport will also run an entry for 22 year old Mikko Hirvonen proving that in 2003 Ford will put their trust fully in their youth policy.

M-Sport have a long list of customer cars they expect to run on world rallies in 2003 - on some events they expect to run a total of up to nine Focus cars. Ford will have Michelin instead of Pirelli as their tyre supplier although they carried out Monte Carlo and Swedish tests with Pirellis.

A six day Monte Carlo test was held at the end of November and then a four day Swedish test 6-9 December with both team drivers present. These have been new days for Duval.

"I drove a Focus on last year's Swedish, but there have been so many changes to the car since then, it is like it is a different car altogether," he said.

Hirvonen's car will be entered by Ford Motor Company, run by M-Sport and nominated for championship points on all 14 rallies, but the entry will be privately funded and sponsored by the Finnish drinks company Battery.

The 2003 car, which will feature several radical changes, is due in April.

555 Subaru World Rally Team

2003 regular drivers: Petter Solberg [#7] and Tommi Makinen [#8].

Prodrive will run just a two car team again this year, with the 2003 Impreza [based on a face-lifted production car version] to appear at Monte Carlo. Subaru are the only world championship registered team to run a new design of car at Monte Carlo.

Testing of the new model began in Spain in October on both asphalt and gravel roads, and in November the team successfully undertook a major durability test as well.

The only planned Monte Carlo test session for the car was during the week 13-18 December. Full details of the new car will be announced on 22nd January in Monte Carlo.

Hyundai World Rally Team

2003 regular drivers: Armin Schwarz [#10] and Freddy Loix [#11].

The official presentation of the team is planned for the day before the start of Monte
Carlo Rally, when the latest colour scheme will be displayed.

The change from three to two car entries in 2003 has led to internal reorganisation of the team at MSD.

Apart from one day in Britain after the Network Q, the only between-season Hyundai testing will be immediately before Monte Carlo. There is a plan for MSD to run Jussi Valimaki privately on at least half the events in 2003 but the status of the entry has not yet been defined.

Skoda Motorsport

2003 regular drivers: Didier Auriol [#14] and Toni Gardemeister [#15].

2003 will see a return to world championship rallying for 1994 World Drivers Champion
Didier Auriol who replaces Kenneth Eriksson. Didier's first day of testing was on 11th December near Grenoble.

"We have already been busy. We have driven in both dry and wet conditions. It is nice to work with Skoda, it is a very friendly team. It is also good to work again with my old co-driver Denis Giraudet," said Auriol.

The team are investigating the possibility of using a World Rally Car based on the smaller Fabia model, which means no decision has been made as to whether to produce a 2003 version of the current Octavia.

While the first tests for the new Fabia FIA WRC project started in secret during November in Czech Republic, the team are concentrating on their current Octavia WRC for the 2003 season.

Mitsubishi Ralliart

No regular drivers in 2003.

Following the announcement of plans by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation to restructure its motor sport engineering activities, the company's registration for the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship was withdrawn.

It is planned that some events are being tackled in 2003 but there are no immediate plans for testing. It is possible that the team will enter the Rally of Turkey. Drivers Alister McRae and Francois Delecour are retained but it is the former FIA Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen who has plans to enter the Arctic Rally on January 24-25, the same time as Monte Carlo in a Mitsubishi World Rally Car.

Hakkinen tested the car near Rovaniemi on 18th December. On 10 December it was announced that Mario Fornaris, Peugeot's chief development engineer on the 206 World Rally Car project, will join Ralliart Europe on 1st January, with full engineering responsibility for the 2003 WRC programme.

Automobiles Citroen

2003 regular drivers: Colin McRae [#17] and Sebastien Loeb [#18].

While Sebastien Loeb continues with the team, Citroen have attracted two drivers from Ford to join them, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, who were third and fourth in the 2002 World Championship. Sainz's long time codriver Luis Moya has announced his retirement from the sport: his place will be taken by Marc Marti.

Former official driver Philippe Bugalski hopes to enter some world rallies in a Citroen run by the Spanish company Piedrafita.

The 2003 version car is due to make its debut in April. Secrecy has surrounded much of Citroen's recent activities, starting the day after the Network Q when Colin McRae tried out the Xsara WRC for the first time.

The team then embarked on a long and varied test session at different locations including Cyprus, twice in France and Sweden. Carlos Sainz also tested the car before the team were ready to finalise their contractual arrangements for 2003, with test co-driver Marc Marti alongside him.

FIA Junior and Production Car World Rally Championship News

Once again 14 rallies form the basis of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship. For the second year, there will be two subsidiary world rally championship categories, the Junior series for Super 1600 cars now with young drivers (JWRC) and the Production Car for drivers in Group N cars (PCWRC).

Both JWRC and PCWRC have seven qualifying events in 2003. The JWRC drivers must contest them all, the PCWRC drivers must choose which six they will contest in advance. Every world championship rally will cater for either one or the other of the subsidiary series.

Bigger fields in both these categories are expected in 2003. When applications closed on 30th November, there were 28 entries for the JWRC and 30 for the PCWRC.

Although registrations are only in the name of the drivers, Fiat is expected to be the most popular marque in JWRC, while the high proportion of Mitsubishi entries in the 2002 PCWRC is expected to be reduced by more entries from Subaru.

In 2002, the Suzuki JWRC cars were prepared in Hungary. In 2003 there will be four different Suzuki drivers in a team run by a newly formed company Suzuki Works Techno which will be based in Britain. Whereas Renaults have been used in 2002 outside the JWRC and run from the official Renault Sport factory, the rally Renaults in 2003 will operate from the Oreca preparation company.

Volkswagen is supporting three drivers, two with 2003 version cars (Svedlund and Katajamaki) while international Polo Challenge champion Vladan Vasiljevic drives a 2001 model. The VWs will be the only newly homologated Super 1600 model at the start of the 2003 season, though Ford hope to introduce the Fiesta later in the season.

This year there is a maximum age limit: drivers must have been born on 1 January 1974 or later. The oldest driver is Salvador Canellas Junior (born 17 Jan 1974) and the youngest is Alessandro Broccoli from San Marino, both 6 April 1981.

A large number of competitors are new to this category. 12 of the drivers registered in 2002 are not eligible to continue in JWRC because of age, one (Daniel Sola) because he won in 2002 and another three have World Rally Car programmes in 2003 instead.

Only five of the JWRC drivers registered in 2002 are to compete in 2003, while another three new JWRC entrants were active in the 2002 PCWRC. A new car in JWRC competition in 2003 is Renault, represented by French Super1600 champion Brice Tirabassi and Juraj Sebalj from Croatia.

There are no current plans to run either Opel or MG cars in the series, and only one driver is expected to run a Citroen car, which was the make driven by the top three drivers in the 2002 series.

Only one driver, the Argentine Marcus Ligato who drives for Top Run, is entered in both the JWRC and PCWRC and Top Run is the only preparation company expected to be active in both. Kristian Sohlberg, second in the 2002 PCWRC series, originally entered the 2003 JWRC series but has now cancelled in order to pursue a programme of World Rallies in a Mitsubishi WRC. 2002 JWRC Champion Daniel Sola is competing in the 2003 PCWRC. The names of many PCWRC drivers are familiar Group N names.

Of the 12 drivers registered for 2003 were also registered in 2002, no fewer than eight finished in the top ten of the 2002 PCWRC! In 2003 there is a new maximum number of six mechanics allowed to work on cars in the PCWRC, and there is a maximum number of tyres which cars can use.

The number shall vary from event to event. Many drivers in PCWRC have still not decided whether to run with Mitsubishi or Subaru: one driver however has already decided. Champion Karamjit Singh from Malaysia will definitely be at the wheel of a Proton again!

Mitsubishi plan to launch the Evo VIII model in June but it is not expected to be ready for competition in full Group N form till the end of the year.