Rally Finland 2019 Review – Ott Tanak takes his second Rally Finland Victory in a row!

Ott Tanak and his co-driver Martin Jarveoja have taken their second victory on the incredible roads in Finland. Here’s the story of how it all came together for the young Estonian pairing.

Friday

With ten stages on day one and Ott Tänak opening the road, it would be interesting if his championship rivals could take advantage and get ahead of him on the leaderboard.  The start list looked like this – Tänak, Ogier, Neuville, Suninen, Meeke, Mikkelsen, Lappi, Latvala, Greensmith, Breen.

The first stage of the day, SS 2 – Oittila (19,34 km), and it was a stage victory for Jari-Matti, with Lappi and Meeke second and third fastest. Ott though was only nine tenths off his teammates pace and held the overall lead from his teammates. Ogier and Neuville held fifth and ninth at this point.

Into SS 3 – Moksi 1 (20,04 km) then and Kris set a great pace and, but you could argue Ott was even better with second fastest time, with Jari-Matti in third. In the Hyundai camp, Craig Breen, with Paul Nagle alongside him was going well and setting some great times and held sixth overall at the end of this stage, ahead of both Andreas and Thierry.

Jari-Matti won SS 4 – Urria 1 (12,28 km) from Craig, with Esapekka and Ott setting the same time to both go third fastest. Craig’s pace allowed him to pass Seb, taking fifth overall at this point. The M-Sport duo of Teemu and Gus were down in eighth and tenth, with Thierry between them. Incredibly, Ott still held the lead.

SS 5 – Ässämäki 1 (12,33 km) saw Ott take stage victory, 1.1 seconds ahead of Craig, who increased the gap to Seb. Esapekka and Andreas were equal third fastest. Kris was now 4.2 seconds from his teammate in second place. Further back, Thierry passed Teemu, moving into eighth position.

The final stage before the service break, SS 6 – Äänekoski 1 (7,80 km) and Jari-Matti took it by just a tenth of a second from Craig, who was clearly getting very comfortable in his Hyundai. Latvala’s pace lifted him above Kris, the Finn retaking second overall. It had been a good morning for Tommi’s team, winning every stage so far.

After lunchtime service, there was a change in the lead, after Jari-Matti won SS 7 – Moksi 2 (20,04 km) with Esapekka and Kris just one tenth of a second slower. Ott emerged in second overall, now just four tenths off the lead. The gap between Craig and Seb reduced a little in their battle over fifth position.

Andreas won SS 8 – Urria 2 (12,28 km), breaking the stranglehold that Toyota had held on stage victories, with Esapekka and Jari-Matti second and third fastest. The outcome of all of this was Jari-Matti held the lead by just six tenths of a second from Esapekka, Ott and Kris who were all on the same overall time. Andreas’ pace was enough to move him ahead of Seb and into sixth place. Incredibly, Craig was now just ten seconds from the lead, and feeling very comfortable.

Jari-Matti took SS 9 – Ässämäki 2 (12,33 km) from Esapekka, with Kris in third, and these were the top three as well. Craig lost a little time to Andreas, but still held fifth overall. Sadly, the two Fiesta’s were in ninth and tenth place, and it was a surprise to see Teemu so far off the pace.

It was an incredible SS 10 – Äänekoski 2 (7,80 km), with Jari-Matti and Kris sharing the fastest time, plus Seb and Andreas equal second fastest, and this had the result of Kris moving ahead of Esapekka, pushing the Finn down to third overall.

The final stage of the day then, SS 11 – Harju 2 (2,31 km) and it was a second stage victory for the Hyundai Motorsport team, with Thierry winning the stage from Seb and Kris, who set the same time. The top four were separated by just 2.6 seconds. Just incredibly close!

STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1

  1. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:04:01.1
  2. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1.2
  3. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +2.4
  4. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.6
  5. Breen / Nagle (Hyundai i20 WRC) +14.2
  6. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +14.6
  7. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +15.3
  8. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +30.9
  9. Suninen / Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +52.6
  10. Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:38.3

 

Here’s the thoughts of the drivers after day one.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Jari-Matti Latvala (1st)

“It’s been a really good day. There were a couple of stages where the time was a little bit down, but generally I was able to have a strong performance. It has been so tight and the pressure has really been on, so it’s pleasing to be able to keep up the speed and not make mistakes when you’re trying to find the difference anywhere you can. Tomorrow I think the morning loop is going to be crucial because there are some new sections, and the profile of the road is generally a bit different: Wider with more crests and jumps.”

Kris Meeke (2nd)

“It’s been a good day I’ve really enjoyed it. In Finland it’s so important to make a good start and get away with the lead group, and we were able to do that this morning. The stages and the pace-notes were new to me on the first pass, so I could be a lot calmer this afternoon with that knowledge. I think there was a bit more road cleaning on the second pass but I think we made the most of our position. It’s so close between the top four, so it’s going to be exciting to see how it develops tomorrow.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“Generally, I’m feeling pretty good at the end of the day. The conditions were challenging running first on the road, but in the morning, I had a good flow from the beginning, the car was working well and so I could focus on the driving. This afternoon the conditions were much tougher, and it was a bit frustrating as I was pushing hard and we lost a few places. But we are still very close, and tomorrow we should have a much better road position than we had today, so everything is to play for.”

Citroën Total WRT

Esapekka Lappi (3rd)

“It’s good to be back among the frontrunners and on the pace, especially at this rally, which means so much to us as Finns! My C3 WRC was perfect today and I really enjoyed driving on these stages. It’s crazy that the gaps are so small after such a long day. It looks like it will be a huge battle at the front tomorrow, but you can count on us to keep fighting!”

Esapekka Lappi on a charge. Photo credit, Citroen Racing

Sébastien Ogier (7th)

“I think we had a very good day. I was comfortable in the C3 WRC, but our position in the running order certainly didn’t make our lives any easier. I would’ve loved to end this first day in a better position so we could start further down the running order tomorrow, but I will at least have more cars ahead of me than today. It’s still very tight, so we have to keep pushing as hard as we can. We’re still in the fight to score some big points.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Craig Breen (5th)

“It has been an unbelievable day and it’s gone better than I could have ever imagined. I have missed the feeling of being back in the WRC so I’ve felt on top of the world. I won’t be completely happy until we’re banging in the quickest times but I have picked up confidence in the car as the day has gone on, and that is half the battle. I have not been getting carried away; my goal is to support the team as best I can, taking no risks. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is probably the finest car I’ve ever driven and to get the opportunity to drive on these Finnish roads is something very special. The times have been incredibly close; it’s really testament to the quality of the WRC that one second in a stage can make such a big difference on timesheets. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”

Andreas Mikkelsen (6th)

“We’ve had a pretty good day and I’m happy with what we’ve achieved. The morning loop was clean and the times were incredibly close. I planned to ramp things up a bit in the afternoon, and we were able to take a stage win. The feeling inside the car has been really nice and it’s been highly enjoyable to drive. We’ve struggled on these high-speed gravel stages before so it’s nice to see our work taking steps in the right direction. I’d like to say thanks to everyone at Hyundai Motorsport who have worked so hard on the car for this event; there’s been no summer vacation there to get a perfect job done.”

Thierry Neuville (8th)

“We started the rally in a very positive frame of mind and with a stage win on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to replicate that during Friday’s stages. The feeling with the car itself was not so bad and we kept pushing hard during the day but we should have been able to set faster stage times. We have tried a number of different things but something hasn’t quite clicked yet. The rally is still long so we’ll continue to give it everything we’ve got.”

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (9th)

“It’s really hard for a Finn when they’re not fast in Finland, and it’s been a really disappointing day for us. The driving feels good, but we are struggling to find the pace. In the past I have been beating Ogier and Tänak in the same car, so I know I can be fast here. But we are missing something this weekend, and need to do our homework and try to be faster.”

Gus Greensmith (10th)

“I can’t say today wasn’t enjoyable – it was amazing – but the learning curve was as big as the jumps – massive! Obviously, we started off quite cautiously in the morning and the times weren’t really where we wanted them to be. I managed to be there or thereabouts with my team-mate in the afternoon which was really good, but there seems to be a big gap to those further ahead. We’ll try a few different things tomorrow, and I’m sure the time will come to us.”

Saturday

Being the longest day, with eight stages totalling 133km. The startlist looked like this – Greensmith, Suninen, Neuville, Ogier, Mikkelsen, Breen, Tänak, Lappi, Meeke, Latvala. We found out that Seb had a bad night’s sleep as well, after he’d been sick throughout the night. It would make his day interesting indeed.

Ott took the first stage, SS 12 – Pihlajakoski 1 (14,42 km) and jumped straight into the lead. Esapekka was second fastest and Jari-Matti third. Andreas was also on the move, passing Craig for fifth position. Further down the field, Kalle Rovanpera was driving his Skoda Fabia R5 out of his skin, posting an almost four seconds faster time than Gus Greensmith.

Into SS 13 – Päijälä 1 (22,87 km) and it was a 1-2-3 for Toyota with Kris leading Jari-Matti and Ott. Ott fell to second overall, although just two tenths of a second from new leader and teammate Jari-Matti. Also, on the move was Craig, who repassed Andreas in their battle over fifth place.

Into SS 14 – Kakaristo 1 (18,70 km) and Ott retook the lead. It wasn’t a happy time though at Toyota, as Kris and Jari-Matti both damaged their cars. Kris was out for the day, after breaking his suspension, whilst Jari-Matti had a bit more luck only damaging a tyre. There were a few more changes on the leaderboard, with Esapekka, Andreas and Seb moving up ahead of Craig who was now in sixth place after the demise of Kris.

SS 15 – Leustu 1 (10,50 km) was won by Jari-Matti, beating Ott who continued to hold a strong 13 second lead over his remaining teammate. Esapekka had made third place his, and Seb closed a little on Andreas for fourth place.

Esapekka won SS 16 – Pihlajakoski 2 (14,42 km) and jumped ahead of Jari-Matti into second place. Seb backed up his younger teammate, going second fastest and passing Andreas as well and moving into fourth place. The gap between Andreas and Craig remained very small as well.

The status quo continued in SS 17 – Päijälä 2 (22,87 km), with Ott winning from Esapekka who increased the gap he had over Jari-Matti, whilst Craig edged closer to Andreas. Gus Greensmith was doing his best to learn the stages, but he was struggling out there, now over three and a half minutes off the lead.

SS 18 – Kakaristo 2 (18,70 km) saw Esapekka win, pipping Ott by just half a second, whilst Andreas moved ahead of Seb into fourth place, but only by four tenths of a second. Could Seb take back the position in the following stage? The two M-Sport Fiesta’s were two minutes and four minutes off the lead sadly, just down to the fact that they were opening the road.

The final stage of the day then, SS 19 – Leustu 2 (10,50 km) and it was a stage win for Andreas, thus increasing the gap between him and Seb, who had driven well given his lack of sleep, whilst Ott was only one tenth slower, thus maintaining a sixteen second lead over Esapekka.

STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2

  1. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:08:49.4
  2. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +16.4
  3. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.8
  4. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +50.5
  5. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +53.1
  6. Breen / Nagle (Hyundai i20 WRC) +59.1
  7. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:19.3
  8. Suninen / Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:05.3
  9. Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4:09.7

 

Here’s the thoughts of the drivers then after day two.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak (1st)

“It’s been a really good day. This morning it was really intense as everyone was pushing hard. It was good that we were able to build a bit of a gap to Esapekka [Lappi], as this afternoon he did a very good job, and we had to follow his pace. At the same time, I felt really comfortable in the car and it was working very well. In the very rough places, I was a bit more careful, but in the smooth and fast sections I really enjoyed it and we had a good rhythm. I think our advantage is good but there is still some way to go so there is still a lot of focus needed.”

Ott Tänak moved into the lead on Saturday. Photo credit, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Jari-Matti Latvala (3rd)

“We had a fantastic morning speed-wise, fighting for the lead with our team-mates, and I had a really good feeling with the car. But in Kakaristo I was too fast in a right-hander, ran wide into a ditch and hit a big rock. In the afternoon, I knew that I couldn’t afford to make any more mistakes so I tried to find a comfortable speed where I would be avoiding risks. At the same time Esapekka was able to raise his pace, so I couldn’t match that. I’m a bit disappointed that I couldn’t find the right rhythm, but to get the points is the most important thing: To be on the podium tomorrow would be a really important result for myself, but also for the team.”

Kris Meeke (Retired/Rally2)

“It had been an incredible fight from the beginning of the rally, and I was enjoying it again this morning: I was in a good rhythm and the car felt phenomenal. In Kakaristo, we came to a fast, fifth-gear right-hand corner, and I just dropped a wheel off the camber on the outside. Normally that wouldn’t be a big problem but there was a massive rock just sitting in the ditch, and I didn’t know it was there, so it was a big surprise. I’m gutted: When the battle is so close like that, and everyone’s trying to do their best for the team, it’s very disappointing to have to stop.”

Citroën Total WRT

Esapekka Lappi (2nd)

“Obviously, it’s been a very positive day for us! After what happened in the morning loop, I was expecting to suffer on the second runs on these wide and fast stages, but I really went for it and it has worked out pretty well for me so far. We found the right balance to push without overdriving the stages or drifting outside of the lines. I’m going to continue at the same pace tomorrow and am absolutely determined to secure the result.”

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“I’m pleased that it’s over because I was running really low on energy this afternoon. I can’t wait to get to bed, to be honest. I had to really push myself all day so I’m glad to have made it through the leg without making any mistakes because it was sometimes very difficult to keep up the concentration. Tomorrow will be another day and I hope that I will be able to recover sufficiently tonight so that I can do myself justice and fight all the way to the finish.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Andreas Mikkelsen (4th)

“It has been an epic fight, with positions changing hands back and forth throughout the day. I’ve enjoyed it, competing with everything we have on some truly beautiful stages. It’s been really cool. The car has given me all the confidence I need on both loops. We made a few adjustments to our pace notes for the afternoon, specifically for the wider sections, and although it was rough at times we gave it our maximum. The second run through Kakaristo was just what we needed to keep hold of fourth place. Following that up with our second stage win of the weekend was perfect. A lot of fun!”

Craig Breen (6th)

“There were a few more struggles compared to yesterday, mainly on the narrower sections where I lacked confidence. I’ve never had such a stable car so it takes time to get used to committing fully. SS17 was a particular highlight today; there was not a millimetre left out on the stage and I think it was one of the best stages of my entire career. We didn’t end the day so positively, unfortunately. We lowered the ride height of the car for the last stage but the conditions were rougher than we expected so we lost a bit of time. We are still in a close battle and there are plenty of positives from today.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 09, Rally Finland
01-04 August 2019
Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville (7th)

“A much better feeling and a more positive day overall. Of course, the road cleaning has made life far from perfect but we’re trying to enjoy ourselves and work within the confines of what is possible. We lost too much time yesterday but everyone is pushing really hard and we have to keep an eye on the championship, rather than a single stage result. I don’t think we could have done much more today. The only slight disappointment was picking up a bit of rear damage late in the afternoon loop. Even if we’re not in the position we would like to be, we have to accept where we can make a difference, and salvage what we can from the weekend.”

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“We went a bit softer with the car this morning to try and find some more traction, but it makes the car quite unpredictable. We went back to the base set-up for the afternoon, and that felt better. Now we need to get the confidence to drive on the limits and get the most out of the car.”

Gus Greensmith (9th)

“It’s been pretty tricky for us out there today. We tried some big set-up changes this morning, but it didn’t work out. The car felt much better in the afternoon and I was really enjoying the driving, but we had to clear a line through the ruts left by the national crews. I know tomorrow’s stages pretty well, so I think I’ll give it bit of a push to see how good I am at cleaning the road – but not too much, because I promised Rich that I would bring the car back in one piece!”

Sunday

The final day beckoned, with four stages totalling 45km. The startlist looked like this – Meeke, Greensmith, Suninen, Neuville, Breen, Ogier, Mikkelsen, Latvala, Lappi, Tänak.

Ott picked up from where he left and won SS 20 – Laukaa 1 (11,75 km), with Seb, who was feeling much better, and Jari-Matti his closest challengers. Esapekka made it past through – last year this was the stage that saw him crash out. Kris restarted as well, setting the ninth fastest time. Ott now had a lead of twenty seconds over Esapekka.

Seb had problems in SS 21 – Ruuhimäki 1 (11,12 km), with something moving around in his footwell. Jari-Matti won the stage, going through seven tenths faster than Andreas who had really made fourth overall his own. Seb still managed to be third fastest in the stage, making us wonder how much faster he’d have been without his issues. Sadly, Gus retired from the rally on this stage.

Into SS 22 – Laukaa 2 (11,75 km), the penultimate stage, and Andreas was quickest, with Esapekka and Seb just a few tenths slower in second and third. The big news from this stage was that Craig had taken a twenty second penalty, thus allowing Thierry through into sixth place. Also, Kris broke his suspension, bringing his return to the action to a premature end.

The final stage then, SS 23 – Ruuhimäki 2 Power Stage (11,12 km) and you’d have forgiven the leader if he’d taken it easy. However, he flew through the stage and was almost seven tenths faster than Thierry, with Andreas, Seb and Jari-Matti finishing off the fastest five, and thus taking the powerstage points.

FINAL STANDINGS

  1. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:30.40.3
  2. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +25.6
  3. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +33.2
  4. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +53.4
  5. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +56.1
  6. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:32.4
  7. Breen / Nagle (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:38.2
  8. Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:33.8

 

Let’s hear then from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak (1st)

“It feels really good to get this victory. It was very important to get a good result here to help us in both championships. I would say that this is a perfect result to begin the second part of the season. I think it’s a great boost for the whole team and now we need to keep pushing. I focused on having a clean run through the first three stages today, and then on the Power Stage I pushed. I tried to have a fast and clean run with no mistakes, and we were able to get the maximum points. Now we need to continue in the same way, starting with Germany.”

Jari-Matti Latvala (3rd)

“I’m really really Happy to be back on the podium here on Rally Finland. It has been almost nine months since I last had a podium, a really really long time. I think the opportunity was there to go for second place, but this time I think it was better not to take the risk. We really needed the points for the future, not just for myself but also for the team. Today I was more relaxed than yesterday afternoon and the performance was good. This result gives us more confidence to keep fighting for more podiums in the upcoming rallies.”

Kris Meeke (DNF)

“Restarting today, we didn’t have much to fight for with our road position, but I’m disappointed with myself for making a stupid error in the penultimate stage. On a long left-hander, I put car sideways and hesitated a little bit, and when I lifted off the throttle the car went more to the inside of the corner than I wanted it to. There was a big stone in the grass and we hit it. It’s really not been the weekend that I wanted, so we need to pick ourselves up before Germany.”

Citroën Total WRT

Esapekka Lappi (2nd)

“I’m very pleased for the team – they deserve this result for having been patient and supportive during the first part of the season, when things were difficult. We worked really hard – and well – together so that the C3 WRC suited my driving style more effectively, especially on the front diffs and I really felt full of confidence driving the car this weekend. I literally felt like I could do what I liked in it! From the first run in the shakedown, I knew that things were looking good. I now hope to keep up this level of performance for the rest of the season.”

Sébastien Ogier (5th)

“It was a tough weekend for us. To be honest, I had higher expectations at the start. As always, I gave it absolutely everything. For sure, Saturday’s leg – when I was really low on energy – didn’t help matters, but even today, when I felt better, unfortunately I wasn’t able to do more.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Andreas Mikkelsen (4th)

“Fourth place, even if it wasn’t quite a podium, means a huge amount to me. We have been involved in an incredibly close battle with Sébastien for much of the rally, and it has really come down every tenth of a second, fighting right to the very end. Thankfully, we had the speed and performance in the car, and the confidence in ourselves, to get the job done. It’s been a tough rally in the past, so it’s fantastic to have cracked the code this weekend. I have had a good feeling with the car all weekend and we’ve been able to set some competitive times. This is thanks to the efforts of the whole Hyundai Motorsport team over many months. We had some upgrades on the car for this rally, including some specifically to help my driving, which have worked wonders. I feel like my old self again!”

Thierry Neuville (6th)

“We gave it everything we had this weekend and it is important to focus on the positives. We were able to take away from really important points for both championships, including four from the Power Stage. We could not have done more. The car has shown an improvement in these fast gravel conditions, which is encouraging. We didn’t have the best of tests ahead of this rally, and I struggled to find the right feeling on Friday, which really dictated our weekend. We keep our heads high and look forward to the next one.

Craig Breen (7th)

“This has been an amazing rally I have to say. To have the opportunity to return to this level of rallying has been very special and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has made it possible. I have enjoyed myself immensely as part of the Hyundai Motorsport team, and I was immediately comfortable in the car. We knew the job we had to do this weekend, and I think we’ve achieved that; it’s been a privilege to play our part in the team’s championship efforts.”

M-Sport WRT

Teemu Suninen (8th)

“It’s always fun driving in Finland, but it’s been frustrating to look at the times this weekend. We know that we have the pace, but this wasn’t our weekend. We weren’t able to challenge for the top positions, and have some homework to do before the next one”.

Teemu Suninen at speed. Photo credit, M-Sport WRT

Gus Greensmith (DNF)

“I thought I heard a pacenote that I knew I didn’t have in that stage [Ruuhimäki, SS21]. At that point I got distracted, tried to read the road, and then missed the braking for a sharp left. I tried to pull it round, but hit the tree and took the wheel off. It’s disappointing, but Elliott [Edmondson, co-driver] and myself are both okay which is obviously the most important thing.”

DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

  1. Ott Tänak – 180 points
  2. Sébastien Ogier – 158 points
  3. Thierry Neuville – 155 points
  4. Elfyn Evans – 78 points
  5. Andreas Mikkelsen – 71 points
  6. Teemu Suninen – 66 points
  7. Kris Meeke – 60 points
  8. Esapekka Lappi – 58 points
  9. Jari-Matti Latvala – 56 points
  10. Dani Sordo – 50 points

MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

  1. Hyundai WRT – 262 points
  2. Toyota Gazoo Racing – 236 points
  3. Citroën Total WRT – 198 points
  4. M-Sport Ford WRT – 158 points

Summary

An incredible drive then from Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja, who had kept his timeloss throughout Friday’s stages to a minimum, allowing him to get a great road position for the rest of the weekend. He didn’t panic as well, when his teammates started to challenge him at the top. Once they fell from the front, he made the event his own. Jari-Matti Latvala got away lucky I feel, after hitting the same rock as Kris Meeke, but only suffering a puncture and damage to the bodywork at the rear, rather than suspension damage. The Toyota team were looking at a 1-2-3 until that point.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 09 / Rally Finland / 1-4 August, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Whether they’d have got that is a moot point, as Esapekka had his best event of the year, looking like he and the Citroen team had got the car to a point where he could show his considerable skills. The young Finns teammate and current world champion Seb suffered throughout Saturday, but came through to bag some important points for the defence of his world title.

Hyundai had an interesting event, with the regular drivers being overshadowed by Craig Breen throughout Friday, and the Irishman having to take a time penalty on Sunday to allow Thierry through into sixth place. Andreas drove really well to get up to fourth though, but if Seb and Kris had not had their problems, it’s fair to say would he have been behind them I suspect.

Finally, M-Sport didn’t have a great event. Teemu just couldn’t get on the pace, and after Hayden Paddon crashed during his test, they didn’t really have anyone to lead the team. Of course, they were missing Elfyn and Scott (who are the team leaders at the moment) as he recovers from the back injury sustained at last months Rally Estonia. Gus Greensmith did his best, given the circumstances – He’s still learning the way with the top spec WRC machine, plus had not competed in Finland before either – That’s a steep learning curve!

The next event is Rally Germany. It runs from the 22nd to the 25th of August. Look out for my preview in the days before.

Phil Hall’s Rally Italia Sardinia Diary

Written By Phil Hall

Rally Sardinia is probably one of the toughest rallies I’ve done, it’s right up there with Turkey and Mexico. Even the recce is extreme, getting around the stages in a recce car is a challenge in itself.

The event was very hot, very dusty, and in places extremely rough. It took grit and determination to succeed.

We didn’t make the right tyre choice for the first loop of stages on Friday, and that cost us some time, but we had a clean run which was positive and to the plan. The afternoon loop we made better tyre choices and saw the benefit – even though the temperatures in the car soared. Our fitness training was paying off.

Saturday was going well, but a puncture in the last stage of the loop on both passes (which had to be changed in the stage) saw us drop a fair bit of time. We’d practised tyre changing a lot though so we did our best to minimise the effect. Saturday was a very long day, an early 5am start and a late finish meant you really had to maintain focus. Preparation was key, maintaining hydration and energy levels, and working as a team to maximise efficiency.

Sunday was a tricky day, with only 4 relatively short stages. Unfortunately, we cracked the oil sump on the engine on the very last stage – even making it on to the final road section. We made temporary repairs by the side of the road and carried on, attempting to drag the car to the finish, but it wasn’t to be. Our repairs melted as the engine got hot, and we ran out of materials to keep fixing it, ultimately leading to us having to retire at the side of the road to the finish.

A disappointing end to the rally in some respects, but it did allow us to demonstrate our determination to succeed. As always, a huge thanks to our team at M-Sport Poland who were incredible all event.

Easter Stages and the Killarney Rally of the Lakes – Rounds 3 and 4 of the Irish Tarmac Championship

Reporting by David Harrigan

Summer has well and truly arrived in Ireland; lambs are skipping around the fields, birds are singing in the trees, hard slicks are the tyre of choice and the Irish Tarmac Championship is blasting its way through valleys and over mountain passes, shattering the tranquility.

The Easter Stages and the Killarney Rally of the lakes made up rounds 3 and 4 of the Championship and with the two rounds taking place only two weeks apart, there has been little time to catch breath.  Both rallies were contrasting in terrain, the Easter Stages took place in the fertile plains and rolling hills surrounding Lough Neagh in the Northeast of the island and the Rally of the Lakes which took place in the rugged mountains of Kerry in the Southwest.  There has been one constant element in the Irish Tarmac championship this season however and that is the Fiesta of Craig Breen and Paul Nagle.  So far this season the pair have been dominant.  The results so far are testament to the pair’s dominance, but from the roadside, there are times when Craig is having to drive the R5 close to the limit to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle.

On the Easter stages, Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan were at forefront of the chasing pack, pushing their Skoda Fabia hard for two days through the Ulster lanes to finish second, only 18 seconds behind Breen.  It was a rally where Henry finally had some well-deserved luck, having been on the pace all season only to run into bad luck on numerous occasions.  Merely stating Henry took second place on the rally doesn’t tell the entire story though, the battle for the podium behind Breen is one that will live long in the memory.

At the end of day one, after six stages, only 12.9 seconds separated Jonny Greer, Desi Henry, Sam Moffett and Callum Devine in the battle for second.  Over nine more stages on day two, the podium battle would rage with fractions of seconds being traded.  On stage eight, Callum Devine and Brian Hoy put in an astonishing time on the longest stage of the rally to take third place overall, but only 3.3 seconds separated second position and fourth position.  On stage nine, Henry responded to move back into third place, on stage eleven Devine responded to retake third …… and this tit for tat battle continued until stage thirteen when Devine dropped 10 seconds with a power steering issue.   There was no stopping Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan now though, with only one second gap to Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick in second place, the battle continued unabated.

Over the final two stages, both Jonny Greer and Desi Henry were visibly trying.  Not one inch was given and every available bit of tarmac, and sometimes beyond, was used in the search for fractions of seconds.  When the dust had settled, Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan emerged in second place, 3.5 seconds ahead of Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick.

Callum Devine will probably consider himself unlucky not to stand on the podium at the Easter Stages but deserves a special mention.  The podium battle was frantic, the commitment and speed carried by the drivers at the top of the timesheets was visible from the roadside.  A fourth-place finish on a rally of this standard in only his fifth rally in an R5 car is a serious achievement.

Of the other Championship contenders, after finishing second on both the opening rounds, Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble had been Craig Breen’s closest competitors for the title.  Alistair had a slow start on the Easter Stages but recovered well on Saturday to overtake Sam Moffett to finish fourth.  In fifth, sixth and seventh places were Sam Moffett, Meirion Evans and Josh Moffett.

After a two-week break, the whole cavalcade travelled almost the entire length of Ireland to Killarney and the legendary stages in the Kingdom of Kerry.  Mention ‘The Gap’, ‘Healy Pass’, ‘Cod’s Head’ or ‘Ardgroom’ to an Irish Rally fan and they will have a story to tell.  The Rally of the Lakes is a place that has to be experienced to be believed.  Only 2 miles from Killarney town center is the start line for the one of the most famous stages in Irish rallying, Molls Gap, which winds its way around the lakes before rising up through the rock-strewn landscape to the famous Gap at the top.

As is tradition, this famous stage opened the rally and the fastest men up ‘The Gap’ for the first time were Craig Breen and Killarney native Paul Nagle.  Second over the stage was Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble, retaking their position as the foremost crew pushing Breen this season.  Winner of the Easter Stages, Desi Henry, was in third and Callum Devine was in fourth, building on his stellar performance on the Easter Stages.  Day one of the Rally of the Lakes was a day of classic stages tackled in blazing springtime sunshine.  After everything had been settled (and the after sun applied), the rally leaders after the opening day was Craig Breen and Paul Nagle, with Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble 24.9 seconds behind and Callum Devine and Brian Hoy only 6.6 seconds behind Fisher in third.

Again, day two opened with a high-speed roller-coaster ride up Molls Gap. Callum Devine gave credit to the ‘Coco-pops’ he had for breakfast but, whatever it was, he and co-driver Brian Hoy were the fastest out of the blocks. On both the first loop and the second loop, the former Billy Coleman Award winner was fastest up ‘The Gap’ and after stage eleven, the battle between the second and third placed drivers was only 0.7 of a second.   This battle between Fisher and Devine continued for the remainder of the day, with seconds traded here and there, different stages seemingly suiting each driver.

While the battle for second raged behind, Craig Breen portrayed a façade of calmness as he attempted to control a 20 second lead with the two youngsters snapping at his heels. The view from the hedges slightly belied the calm exterior, a moment on stage twelve on a 3 left over crest, followed by an encounter with a deer on the same stage, showed that the leaders were pushing hard to maintain their lead.  On the finish ramp, Craig admitted to feeling pressure to win the event for his local co-driver Paul Nagle and it was beginning to show ever so slightly.

Over the final two loops of the rally on Sunday afternoon, the battle for second began to sway in the direction of Fishers and Noble but the pair showed no sign of slowing their pace as they won stages 12, 13 14 and 16, pushing Breen to the wire.  Ultimately, Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble crossed the ramp in Killarney in second place, only 14.9 seconds behind Breen to cement their place as the strongest challengers to the Breen And Nagle partnership this season.  It feels like it is only a matter of time before Alastair wins a round of the Irish Tarmac Championship, and on his performance to date this season, it would be thoroughly deserved.

Callum Devine had to settle for third place, an astonishing result for only his sixth rally in a R5 car.  There was a consolation prize awarded to Callum Devine and Brian Hoy for being fastest up Molls Gap (which they done twice) but to take third place in the Irish Tarmac Championship was probably the drive of the weekend.

 

The winners once again were Craig Breen and Paul Nagle, continuing their dominance of the Irish Tarmac Championship this season.  However, this was the closest margin of victory the pair have taken this season and it is clear that there is a very hungry pack behind, pushing and clambering to be the first to break the dominance of the man who was rallying with the elite in the WRC last season.

With four wins from four events, Craig Breen and Paul Nagle lead the Championship with 68 points, Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble are in second place on 50 points and Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan are in third place on 32 points. Despite the dominance of Craig Breen, it is still all to play for in the final three rounds of the championship as just one non-finish could totally change the final outcome.

Next on the calendar for the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is the jewel in the crown of Irish rallying, the Donegal International Rally. A three-day rallying extravaganza of fast, bumpy, shiny tarmac stages in the hills of the northwest.

Tour de Corse 2019 Review – Heartbreak for Elfyn, Joy for Thierry!

History will record that Thierry, Nicolas and Hyundai won this rally. Those that followed it, will know it should have been M-Sport duo Elfyn and Scott on the top step in Bastia.

We were treated to a fantastic fourth round of this year’s championship. Here’s the story of how it all unfolded.

Friday

With 86km’s of stages on Friday, including a double run of the long Valinco and just a tyre fitting zone as well in the middle of the day, just getting to the end of day one would be tough. The start list looked like this – Tänak, Ogier, Neuville, Meeke, Evans, Lappi, Loeb, Latvala, Sordo, Suninen.

 

SS 1 – Bavella 1 (17,60 km) saw Elfyn set a great time, with Thierry and Dani a few seconds behind. Ogier spun in a hairpin and was already 12.5 from the lead. Kris however had a terrible stage, getting a puncture and losing almost a minute.

 

SS 2 – Valinco 1 (25,94 km), saw Kris go fastest from Ott and Dani. Elfyn could only manage fifth fastest and so Ott was now in the lead, but only by six tenths of a second. Dani’s pace saw him pass Thierry into an early third place. Esapekka also moved past Teemu, for the battle to be the top Finn.

 

SS 3 – Alta-Rocca 1 (17,37 km) Ott also took the next stage with Kris and Elfyn less than a second behind him. Elfyn may have been passed by the Estonian, but he was keeping him in-sight, with just a little over a second between the top two. Thierry also moved past Dani who could only manage ninth fastest. Also moving up the leaderboard were Teemu and Jari-Matti, who both passed Esapekka Lappi who spun in a hairpin.

 

After the midday tyre change, we had the rerun of SS 4 – Bavella 2 (17,60 km). Once again, Elfyn struck back and took stage victory number two for the weekend, and deposed Ott once more from the lead after the Estonian was 2.7 seconds slower. Esapekka Lappi lost seventh place to his teammate, Seb. Thierry also increased the gap to Dani.

 

Elfyn’s great Friday continued in SS 5 – Valinco 2 (25,94 km), where he took another stage victory and increased his lead further over Ott. Jari-Matti had a problem and dropped right the way down from sixth and into tenth having lost three minutes. A big shame for the 2015 winner.

 

The final stage, SS 6 – Alta-Rocca 2 (17,37 km) and Ott Tanak forced himself back into the lead, with Thierry winning the stage and Ott just 1.3 seconds behind with Elfyn losing time after getting stuck behind Kris Meeke in the stage. Kris did let the young Welshman past, but he’d lost a lot of time and the lead at this point. The organisers did the right thing and gave Elfyn the same time as Ott, meaning he’d retain the lead.

 

STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1

  1. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:09:39.6
  2. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.5
  3. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +9.8
  4. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +26.1
  5. Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +30.9
  6. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +36.3
  7. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +46.3
  8. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:27.9
  9. Camilli / Buresi (VW Polo R5) +2:46.4
  10. Bonato / Boulloud (Citroën C3 R5) +3:06.4

 

An interesting first day then! Let’s hear from the drivers.

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans (1st)

“It’s been a positive day and the car has felt really good. This is the type of rally where you have to be smart and efficient, and I felt like we drove well. We were able to carry the speed through the corners, and keep a smoothness in the driving which seems to be doing the trick.

“There’s going to be a big battle tomorrow and our plan is to stay in this position. Ott [Tänak] and Thierry [Neuville] will both be pushing hard, but we know when everything is working that we can be faster. I’m really looking forward to the day. There’s quite a mix of stages with a bit of everything. It’s all about being adaptable.”

Elfyn and Scott at speed. Photo credit, M-Sport

Teemu Suninen (5th)

“It’s been a really good day for us and the pace has been good. I could go faster for sure, but I have this monkey on my shoulder holding me back. I have made some mistakes in the last rallies and I need to bring the car home this weekend. But the driving has still been on a good level so we can be happy with that.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak (2nd)

“I am quite happy with my day. In the morning I was not actually in the best rhythm, as my notes were not perfect on these new stages. This afternoon it was definitely better in that sense, and we had a good feeling. We haven’t been pushing the limits yet, but the car is performing well and I quite enjoyed it. Our closest rivals have been setting good times, so it’s clear that we will need to push quite hard tomorrow if we want to beat them. The long stage will be the key stage of the rally: It’s very tricky so it won’t be easy, but I believe it will be possible for us to make a big difference there.”

Jari-Matti Latvala (13th)

“The middle stage of the loop was difficult for me today. In the morning my notes were not working well there and we lost a lot of time. We did a lot of work on that over lunch and I was really confident that we could make a good time in the afternoon pass. Two kilometres into the stage there were quite a lot of cuts where gravel had come onto the road, and I think a sharp stone went through the tread. Slowly caused the tyre to started to slowly going down – it was just one of those unfortunate things that can happen., We decided to try and carry on but eventually we had to stop and change it. The car has been feeling good, I’ve really enjoyed the driving. We will keep going and see where we are at the end of the rally.”

Kris Meeke (16th)

“It’s been a difficult day to be honest. On the first stage, in a long fast left-hander, I had ‘keep to the inside’ in my pace-notes, and we hit something that I obviously hadn’t seen in the recce. After that the pace was good and we were trying to make up some places. In the afternoon, there was a fast left with a cut, I caught some gravel and we touched the kerb on the outside and broke a suspension arm, which I had to carry through the last stage. I’m very happy that Elfyn has been given a fair time: In no way did we intend to hold him up. Today just hasn’t been good enough. We had a package capable of winning this rally: The Yaris has been incredible to drive. We will continue to enjoy driving the car and try and keep it clean for the rest of the weekend.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“I think we have had a pretty satisfactory day today, and we’ve done a good job with the car since shakedown. The feeling has not been 100% perfect, and our pace notes were a bit too slow on the first stage, but we’ve made some good progress. To be in contention for the lead of the rally at the end of this opening day is all we could have hoped for. We are perhaps missing some grip to go ever faster, but it’s a solid base from which we can build tomorrow.”

Dani Sordo (4th)

“It has not been a straightforward day, although we have had some positive moments. The first stages were really nice and I was able to set some encouraging and fast times. It was more difficult in the afternoon loop as the speed was not there. We have to look at the areas where we can find improvements for Saturday, which is an incredibly gruelling schedule. We have a big distance to cover tomorrow so it will be a crucial day for the rally result.”

Seb Loeb (8th)

“Things have got increasingly better as the day has progressed, and I ended the afternoon loop feeling quite confident in the car. We lost a lot of time at the beginning of the first stage this morning. I made a small mistake and on the exit of a corner and broke something on the suspension, which we had to fix. With no lunchtime service, we had to do what we could to keep going. We changed the settings during the day and found some good improvements, which we hope to carry over into Saturday.”

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier (6th)

“It was a difficult day, where we struggled with understeer. We made a few minor adjustments mid-leg and that helped us to limit the time lost in the afternoon, but it wasn’t enough. We have a few ideas about how to change the set-up in order to resolve the issues, so I have high hopes that we can move in the right direction tomorrow. We’ll certainly be doing everything we can to move back up the standings.”

Esapekka Lappi (7th)

“I pushed hard on the wide, fast sections of today’s stages but I had the same issues on the corners as Seb. And we also had a spin, which didn’t help matters. I have faith in the team to put things right and obviously on my side, I’m going to give it everything.”

 

Saturday

It was a bright morning at the start of the longest day of this event. The start list looked like this – Meeke, Latvala, Loeb, Lappi, Ogier, Suninen, Sordo, Neuville, Tänak, Evans. 

First stage, SS 7 – Cap Corse 1 (25,62 km) went to Ott, closing the gap a little to Elfyn who was second fastest and Loeb getting into the groove at last. The changes that the Citroen team made to their C3 weren’t really making much of a difference other than making the car feel more comfortable to drive, just still no speed.

 

SS 8 – Désert des Agriates 1 (14,45 km) next up and Ott flew through, taking 3.7 seconds from Elfyn’s 3.9 second lead and further back, Kris passed Jari-Matti into ninth place. The fight was on between Ott and Elfyn.

 

SS 9 – Castagniccia 1 (47,18 km) saw a Hyundai driver finally win a stage, with Dani setting the fastest time from Ott and Ogier who found some pace as well and climbed into fifth. Elfyn was fourth fastest, but 3.3 seconds slower, which meant that he’d dropped behind Ott in their battle for the lead.

 

After the lunchtime service, SS 10 – Cap Corse 2 (25,62 km) was won by Kris Meeke, with Elfyn and Thierry second and third. It was Ott’s turn to be fourth, and now the gap between the top two was just 1.6 seconds. Ogier was now closing on Dani Sordo for fourth place.

 

SS 11 – Désert des Agriates 2 (14,45 km) saw Elfyn retake the lead, after Ott had a puncture which he stopped to change losing two minutes and dropping to seventh overall. Thierry won the stage and was now in second overall, 11.5 seconds behind Elfyn.

 

Another fastest time for Thierry in SS 12 – Castagniccia 2 (47,18 km) and the last stage of the day saw the Belgian go 16 seconds faster than Elfyn and would assume the lead over the Welshman. Ogier had a shock, nearly going off the road after his anti-lag system which had stopped working, suddenly started working again further into the stage! Despite all this, the Frenchman moved another place up the overall leaderboard and was now ahead of Dani in third place. Further back, Ott was moving up as well, now ahead of Esapekka into sixth place.

 

STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2

  1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:56:50.0
  2. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 4.5
  3. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +44.8
  4. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +49.9
  5. Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:32.1
  6. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:54.5
  7. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:59.3
  8. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:21.4
  9. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3:55.9
  10. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6:35.4

 

Well, what a great day Saturday was. Changes in the lead, drama with tyre failures and engine problems, and Thierry in the lead! Let’s hear from the drivers.

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“We have had a really good day and I am delighted we can finish Saturday in the lead of the rally. Anything can happen when people are driving on the edge. This is a long and demanding rally so it’s important to stay focused. This morning, during the long stage particularly, we couldn’t really find the feeling we wanted, but things came good in the afternoon. When you have the right rhythm in the car, it’s possible to set fast times without taking risks. That’s exactly what we could do and we now need to defend our lead on Sunday. It won’t be easy but we’ll certainly give it our best shot!”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04 Rallye de France
28-31 March 2019
Rallye de France
Day 2, Action, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo (4th)

“We had a very strong opening loop this morning. My pace notes were very clear and we showed our potential with the fastest time in the long Castagniccia stage. I had a great feeling and the car was very nice to drive. We didn’t manage the same advantage in the repeat loop, as others seemed to make up more time, but we are pleased to enter the final morning in a close fight for the podium. Ogier made up a lot of time on us in the final stage today but we know we can also find some gains, so it promises to be a big battle tomorrow. We’ll try our best.”

Seb Loeb (8th)

“We are not in the same rally as everyone else after our issues on Friday, so we have used today to improve our feeling with the car. Things started well but on the long stage in the morning loop we had a tricky moment. I understeered in a left-hander, which tightened, and I couldn’t turn which then sent us into a ditch. We lost a lot of time getting going again. The afternoon followed the same strategy to make adjustments to the car. Things were not perfect all the time but for the majority of stages we had a good car and a nice feeling. We will continue in this way tomorrow and aim to finish on a positive note.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“It had been a good day for us and the pace was really strong, so it was a real shame about that last stage. Honestly it was a bit of a shock to lose that much. We didn’t feel that we had a bad stage – maybe not a perfect stage – but to lose that much time was disappointing.

“But we have to forget about it now. Four and a half seconds isn’t too much and we can fight for that tomorrow. We know that we have the pace to win this rally, and that’s what we’ll be focused on. We came here to challenge for the win, and that’s what we plan to do.”

Teemu Suninen (5th)

“I think we can be quite happy with the day. We didn’t make any mistakes, and the driving started to be on a good level through the clean stages. There is still some work to do in places where there is a lot of gravel on the road, but this is only my first time here with this car and I need the experience.”

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier (3rd)

“It’s a shame that we lost a lot of engine power about ten kilometres from the end of the last test, because otherwise I think we would have claimed our first stage win this weekend. Fortunately, it only lasted for two or three kilometres and then normal power came back. I’m pleased to be back in the top three. I hope that the slightly better feeling we had this afternoon will be confirmed tomorrow and we can keep improving. Because it looks like we’re going to have to fight right to the end if we want to hold onto third place. We have been losing most time on the wider, circuit-like roads but tomorrow’s stages are less like that, so I hope that they are more suited to us.”

Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia tackle one of the many corners! Photo credit Citroen Total Racing

Esapekka Lappi (7th)

“Although we’re still not where we had hoped to be, the main thing is that we improved today. Our rhythm was better. Seb also set some good times, so that would suggest that we are moving in the right direction. We’re going to give it our all to finish the rally on a high tomorrow.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak (6th)

“We were having a good day: The car was feeling good and we had a nice clean rhythm with no mistakes. It’s still difficult to understand what happened on SS11. It’s really disappointing. The team has done a great job, the car has been incredible this weekend and I did everything I could myself. I knew this is one of the hardest events for us, so I prepared really hard. After the work we’ve done it’s difficult to accept this. We still have some points to score tomorrow, and whatever happens, we can still take some positives away because we’ve been performing very well.”

Kris Meeke (9th)

“I enjoyed it today, particularly this afternoon. Being first on the road this morning was maybe not ideal – the surface felt quite slippery with no rubber having been laid down. We made a few adjustments in mid-day service and the car was working very well. To do a fastest time when the leaders are fighting hard shows the rhythm was pretty good. I’m still annoyed that I wasn’t able to translate the car we had this weekend into fighting at the front, but now we will focus on the Power Stage tomorrow and see what we can do there.”

Jari-Matti Latvala (10th)

“It has been a difficult day my driving has not been good enough. This morning I was missing some performance, while this afternoon I tried to push more, but we had to stop and change a flat tyre. That was down to my mistake: On a right-hand corner there was a hole on the edge of the road and I hit it. I will try to have a good drive tomorrow: That would give us a boost at the end of the rally.”

Sunday

Just two stages remained totalling a little over 50km’s. The start list looked like this – Latvala, Meeke, Loeb, Lappi, Tänak, Suninen, Sordo, Ogier, Evans, Neuville. With the gap so small between Thierry and Elfyn, we’d be treated to a really amazing battle.

 

That’s exactly what we got! Elfyn flew through SS 13 – Eaux de Zilia (31,85 km), a full 16 seconds faster than Thierry, and incredibly the same time difference that Thierry had been faster than Elfyn in the final stage on Saturday. He now had an 11.5 second lead over the Belgian with one stage left. It marked the fourth stage that the Welshman had won this weekend. Impressive stuff.

 

Just one stage left then, the SS 14 – Calvi Power Stage (19,34 km). Second into the stage, Kris Meeke set the fastest time as a gauntlet to the others… As rally leader now, Elfyn would be the last driver through. Loeb, Lappi and the others tried, but couldn’t get close to Meeke’s time. Finally, Elfyn came through and the first split looked okay, but then he lost time in the second split to Thierry, and quite a bit. What had happened? Well, he’d hit a loose rock with his right-front wheel, and it just fell apart! He lost so much time, that he fell to third place, over a minute from the winner, Thierry. Elfyn, Scott and M-Sport were gutted. The top five in the stage were, Meeke, Tanak, Suninen, Neuville and Ogier. 

FINAL STANDINGS

  1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 3:22:59.0
  2. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +40.3
  3. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:06.6
  4. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:18.4
  5. Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:24.6
  6. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:40.0
  7. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +2:09.1
  8. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:39.2
  9. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5:06.3
  10. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6:44.6

 

What a drive then from Elfyn and Scott! They’d really shown the doubters out there, with a fantastic drive. Once more, Toyota confirmed what we all knew, that their car is great on all surfaces and the Hyundai team, when their car worked, it worked well, but that clearly it needs some improvements. Finally, Citroen didn’t show the kind of pace you’d expect here, with neither of their drivers winning a single stage. Here then are the thoughts of the drivers.

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“What an incredible rally and a fantastic result! I would like to extend my thoughts to Elfyn and Scott; I am really disappointed for them. It had been a great battle and they were undoubtedly the quicker crew this weekend. We didn’t really know what had happened until we saw our mechanics at the end. I pushed hard in the Power Stage and the points we’ve scored this weekend are hugely important for the championship. It is testament to the hard work of everyone at Hyundai Motorsport. We may not have been the fastest in outright pace, but there has been a significant improvement in our tarmac performance and this victory is perfect thanks for all their efforts. We made a big difference on Saturday afternoon’s stages to put ourselves in contention, and that enabled this result to be possible. It’s never over until it’s over!”

Dani Sordo (4th)

“We came to Corsica with a target of taking a good amount of championship points for the team, and we have achieved that. We have shown some positive pace this weekend, most notably on Saturday’s long stage, but we’ve also struggled at times. We didn’t have the consistency we needed to fight for the podium but finishing fourth is not so bad. Congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the team for taking the victory. I am pleased to see us back on top of the manufacturers’ standings. I look forward to the next rally in Argentina.”

Seb Loeb (8th)

“A great result for the team today. Unfortunately, our own rally was effectively over after our issues in the opening stage on Friday. We lost so much time; we were on the back foot from then onwards.  The motivation is not quite the same when there’s nothing really to fight for. We tried instead to work on the car set-up, making adjustments that will benefit us for the future. Despite our challenges, it has still been an enjoyable rally, the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC has been nice to drive and I’ve had fun on the stages. Hopefully I can do better next time.”

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“In terms of points, it’s a good result, scoring nineteen points at a difficult round. On the other hand, we really suffered in terms of pure performance. We need to understand why, so that we don’t have the same problem again on this surface, on which the C3 WRC had performed well previously. In any case, I’m pleased to have managed to get the most out of the car I had and also that I don’t have to open the road on gravel in Argentina.”

Esapekka Lappi (7th)

“We all had high hopes coming into this round, so obviously we can’t be satisfied with this result. We were short on performance and suffered quite a lot of understeer throughout the weekend. We’re going to work hard to put things right for the next rounds on tarmac, in Germany and then in Spain. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting back on gravel in Argentina.”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“It’s disappointing right now, but overall it’s been a really positive weekend and we know that we had the speed to win. The first stage this morning felt really good, and we had a good rhythm going into the Power Stage. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it felt like we were in the middle of the road and just unfortunate to hit a stone or something in the line. Straight away I knew it didn’t sound good, and sure enough a couple of hundred metres later we got the puncture alarm. We had 11 kilometres to go and I knew that if we stopped to change it we would lose a lot of positions. We decided to continue, and thankfully made it to the end to salvage a podium. “Perhaps it’s not the result we wanted, but the pace is there and I think we can all take confidence from that moving forward. We’ve had a pretty strong start to the season so far and I’ve been really happy with the Fiesta on all four of the opening rounds. The guys back at M-Sport are working exceptionally hard and making improvements all the time so I see no reason why we can’t continue this form into the coming events.”

Teemu Suninen (5th)

“This weekend was really good for us and I can be happy with the job we have done. Before the rally I thought that this would be the hardest on the calendar. It’s the only event I’ve not done in a world rally car and there were also a lot of slow corners where I have been struggling a bit. But on the clean sections like today I have been able to be really fast and set some top times. We still have some work to do in the dirty sections. But we finished the rally in a good position and with three points from the Power Stage. That was good.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tanak (6th)

“Generally, it has been a good event for us: We had a strong performance and I actually quite enjoyed this year’s Tour de Corse. Of course, the final result is disappointing, but this was a rally I didn’t enjoy at all a couple of years ago, and we are now right on the pace and driving with a good rhythm, so there is something for us to smile about. Today was just about collecting some points from the Power Stage, and we had a clean run with no risks. The fight continues.”

Kris Meeke (9th)

“We went for it in the Power Stage today and came away with the full five points. Of course, I don’t really like to have to do it like this, as I would rather be fighting for the rally win. But we had a luxury of a time gap, which allowed us to protect our tyres in the first stage this morning. That gave us good tyres for the Power Stage so we went for it, keeping in mind to bring the car home. The Yaris WRC has been incredible all weekend, I’ve really enjoyed driving it right from shakedown. I just have to keep the confidence and I’m sure a big result will come.”

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 04 / Tour de Corse, Rallye de France / 28th-31st March, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala (10th)

“We were closing to scoring one or two points on the Power Stage, which I would have been happy with because I didn’t have the confidence in myself to take any risks. I have been missing some speed all weekend, so it was important to just bring the car to the finish. I know that I have some things to think about to improve on asphalt, but that is for the future. For now, I will put this event behind us, and try to go to the next events in South America with some new energy.”

Here’s the points standings. Thierry takes over at the head of the championship, with pre event leader Ott falling to third. Elfyn’s podium lifts him into fourth overall, which ironically, he would have been in even if he’d won, but missing the extra ten points which would have put him closer to the top three.

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04 Rallye de France
28-31 March 2019
Rallye de France
Day 3, Podium, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Seb Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Next event, round five Rally Argentina runs from 25th to 28th of April. Pop back then for my preview.

DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

  1. Thierry Neuville – 82 points
  2. Sébastien Ogier – 80 points
  3. Ott Tänak – 77 points
  4. Elfyn Evans – 43 points
  5. Kris Meeke – 42 points
  6. Esapekka Lappi – 26 points
  7. Sébastien Loeb – 22 points
  8. Dani Sordo – 16 points
  9. Jari-Matti Latvala – 15 points
  10. Teemu Suninen – 14 points

MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

  1. Hyundai WRT – 114 points
  2. Citroën Total WRT – 102 points
  3. Toyota Gazoo Racing – 98 points
  4. M-Sport Ford WRT – 70 points

Tour de Corse 2019 Preview – Time for tarmac attack!

It’s the super twisty round on the island that is Corsica. Whether or not it actually has 10,000 corners anymore is a moot point. It still has more corners than most! Last season the top three positions were taken by Seb Ogier, Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville. Any of those three could win this weekend, and you can add Elfyn Evans, Kris Meeke and Seb Loeb to that list as well. As championship leader, Ott will open the road on Friday’s stages. This will potentially give him an advantage, as the road will be at it’s cleanest, with no gravel and mud pulled onto the road.

This year sees 14 stages totaling 347.51km, with 133.34km featuring in completely new stages.

Citroen states in its preview-

“With the opening leg taking the crews from Porto-Vecchio to Propriano, then heading north on day two towards Castagniccia, Cap Corse and the Désert des Agriates, before finishing next to Calvi, this year’s edition of the classic island rally remains faithful to the recently-restored tradition of touring the whole of Corsica.

In addition to the various regions covered, the 2019 Tour de Corse has plenty of other ingredients to make it a serious test. The total competitive distance is now close to 350km (compared with 333.48km in 2018), Friday’s leg only has a tyre-fitting zone at the midway point, Saturday features some 174.50km with two runs on the 47.18km-long and especially demanding Castagniccia stage, all rounded off with a longer Power Stage (19.34km) than usual, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Fango valley.

The other major difficulty stems from the fact that more than 62% of the itinerary has been revamped. Of the fourteen stages, only three – Valinco (SS2/SS5, 25.94km), last contested in 2015 , Cap Corse (SS7/SS10, 25.62km) and Désert des Agriates (SS8/SS11,14.45km), both contested last year – are familiar to the current crop of world championship crews. This makes it all the more important for them to get to grips with and take good paces notes on the 133.34 new kilometres in just two passes during recce at a limited maximum speed (80kph). Recce looks set to be every more crucial than usual and will call for unremitting concentration throughout.”

Here we have the full run down of the stages-

THURSDAY 28 MARCH

9.00am: Shakedown (Sorbo Ocagnano)

 

FRIDAY 29 MARCH

7.00am: Start Day 1 (Porto-Vecchio)

7.05am: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)

8.29am: SS 1 – Bavella 1 (17,60 km)

9.24am: SS 2 – Valinco 1 (25,94 km)

10.32am: SS 3 – Alta-Rocca 1 (17,37 km)

12.41pm: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)

2.05pm: SS 4 – Bavella 2 (17,60 km)

3.00pm: SS 5 – Valinco 2 (25,94 km)

4.08pm: SS 6 – Alta-Rocca 2 (17,37 km)

7.38pm: Flexi service A (Bastia airport– 45 mins)

 

SATURDAY 30 MARCH

6.05am: Start Day 2 & service B (Bastia airport – 15 mins)

7.38am: SS 7 – Cap Corse 1 (25,62 km)

9.08am: SS 8 – Désert des Agriates 1 (14,45 km)

10.14am: SS 9 – Castagniccia 1 (47,18 km)

12.32pm: Service C (Bastia airport – 40 mins)

2.38pm: SS 10 – Cap Corse 2 (25,62 km)

4.08pm: SS 11 – Désert des Agriates 2 (14,45 km)

5.14pm: SS 12 – Castagniccia 2 (47,18 km)

6.34pm: Flexi service D (Bastia airport – 45 mins)

8.24pm: Parc ferme (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)

 

SUNDAY 31 MARCH

7.30am: Parc ferme out (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)

8.10am: Service E (Bastia airport – 15 mins)

9.45am: SS 13 – Eaux de Zilia (31,85 km)

12.18pm: SS 14 – Calvi Power Stage (19,34 km)

1.18pm: Finish (Citadelle de Calvi)

3.00pm: Podium (Citadelle de Calvi)

 

Here’s the thoughts of the crews.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak

“I am looking forward to Corsica. Being first on the road there as championship leader should be a good thing, as this is the best place to be on asphalt where the road is cleanest. In the past, Corsica was probably the rally on which I struggled the most, but we had good pace last year on our first time there in the Toyota Yaris WRC. We know that we have a really strong package now on asphalt, so I believe that we can have a good performance. I’m sure that some of our rivals will be very fast too, but the aim is to continue our positive start to the season and keep scoring as many points as possible.”

2018 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 04, Rallye de France, Tour de Corse 2018 / April 5-8, 2018 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala

“Corsica is a rally I always look forward to. The asphalt is abrasive so provides good grip, and the road is usually pretty clean. The island itself is very beautiful too. I like the changes to the route this year. A couple of the stages were used when I won the rally in 2015, so I have good memories of those. I had a good test earlier this week: We did 200 kilometres and tried a lot of things, not only for this rally but also development for the future. On Rallye Monte Carlo I struggled with understeer, so we worked on that and improved the turning, as well as the braking, and I’m feeling more confident with the car. Now I’ve got a couple of days of relaxing at home, and feeling ready for the recce to start on Monday”

Kris Meeke

“I’ve had good times in Corsica in recent years: My speed’s always been there. It’s always a huge challenge, and especially so this year with about 75 per cent of the route being completely new. For that reason, I think making good pace-notes on the recce is going to be an equally important part of the challenge. I had a good feeling with the Yaris WRC in asphalt trim in Monte Carlo, but it was a very different rally to Corsica – except perhaps for the Power Stage where we went pretty well! I enjoyed my pre-event test last Sunday, even though it was a lot to learn in just one day on just one road. But I think we’re quite clear on our direction for the setup, and I’m looking forward to the rally.”

 

Citroën Total WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“The route has been changed quite a lot again this year, but that has already happened before here, which has meant that I have often had to get to grips with new stages and that tends to suit me. It adds a bit of stress and adrenaline to the race, and it can lead to there being bigger gaps than usual. When the stages are new for everyone, obviously the difference comes from who does a very good job during recce and then has sufficient confidence in their pace notes to push right from the word go. We also know about the qualities of the C3 WRC on tarmac. Our pre-event testing was really productive and the feeling was good in the car. Clearly, I’m also very keen to do well at our home round of the WRC and keep our good run of form going.”

Citroen have taken six victories on the roads of Corsica, the first in 1999 with the incredible Xsara Kit Car. They will hope they can add to that tally this weekend. Photo credit, Citroen Racing

Esapekka Lappi

“I have always really enjoyed this rally and I can’t wait to get started. I love driving on clean tarmac like here or in Catalonia. The challenge will be to take good pace notes from the word go. I think pace notes are even more important on asphalt than on gravel in order to get the line right and to know what speed you can carry through corners. With the revised itinerary, we’ll all be in the same boat as regards familiarity with the stages. Although it won’t be easy, it’s an opportunity for us, since we generally have a bit less knowledge of the roads on the other rallies. In any case, our tests went well and I feel confident. I hope I can be at least as competitive as last year.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Corsica is a very nice event and I have great memories from previous years. I have won there twice, once in IRC and then again with Hyundai Motorsport in WRC two years ago. It’s a challenging event, with lots of corners, but a rally that I enjoy and relish. The recce is very long and demanding, but once you are in the car and can find a good flow it is a rewarding rally, one from which you can find a good sensation. As our first event of the season on tarmac, and following the less-than-straightforward weekend in Mexico, I hope we can get things back on track.”

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04 Rallye de France
05-08 April 2018
Action
Day 3
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“The first tarmac rally of the season, Corsica is a rally where I really feel comfortable and competitive. The stages are really nice, set against a postcard backdrop, but incredibly demanding too. Long stages and loops can make tyre selection and management quite tricky. The stages themselves put pressure on the car and crew with tight, twisty corners that require maximum attention and focus. Carlos and I won Tour de Corse in IRC back in 2012, while I also finished on the podium a few years ago with Hyundai Motorsport. I hope our past success and experience, together with the performance of our i20 Coupe WRC, can help us fight for a good result this year.”

Seb Loeb

“Corsica is a beautiful event, with stunning landscape close to the sea, and magnificent island setting. It’s a wonderful place for rallying and as the French round of the championship it is a very special atmosphere for me. An extremely technical rally, there are many different types of road with some bumpy places and some fast sections. In fact, it seems to get faster each year. It is tricky to find the right rhythm throughout each stage, and the weather can also play an influential factor – sometimes raining in the mountains but drier close to the coast. Not an easy one, but fun!”

 

M-Sport WRT

Elfyn Evans

“I’m looking forward to the first proper Tarmac event of the season, and this year’s Tour de Corse will be a real challenge with about two-thirds of the route made up of completely new stages. The recce is going to be really important and there’s going to be a lot of work needed on the pacenotes.

“This is a demanding rally but the stages themselves are really nice to drive. It was great to get a podium last time out in Mexico, and that really propelled us up the championship standings. It gives us a top-five starting position next week, and we need to capitalise on that and aim for another strong result.

“We spent two days testing together with Teemu and the car feels really good. Everything went to plan and I feel as though we should have some good pace. We’re all looking for another podium and will work as hard as we can to achieve it.”

Last year Phil Mills joined Elfyn in the Fiesta WRC. Photo credit M-Sport

Teemu Suninen

“I’m really looking forward to the first pure asphalt event of the year. I started my career on this surface – but driving a go-kart is quite different to mastering a world rally car!

“In preparation, Elfyn and I split a couple of days testing and the car felt really good. On a rally like the Tour de Corse it’s really important to find a good balance with the car and I think we managed that.

“I didn’t compete here last year and the route is said to be quite different this year. From what I understand, the stages are slightly faster and a bit closer to the type we see in Catalunya.

“It will be interesting to see, but for us the most important thing is to finish the rally with a clean bill of health. If we can do that it will make the next part of the season mentally so much easier.”

Summary

I held a poll on twitter to get a feel for who you’d think would be likely to win. Here’s the result.

We are set then for a very interesting event. Pop back next week for a full report!

West Cork Rally- Round Two of the Irish Tarmac Championship

By David Harrigan @dharriganimages https://www.facebook.com/dharriganimages/

West Cork on the southern tip of Ireland is steeped in rallying folklore and history, the scenic landscapes is traversed by some very fast flowing roads, the locals are some of the most welcoming in Ireland and to top it all off, they go rallying on Paddy’s weekend.  The perfect place for a rally.

Round 2 of the Irish Tarmac Championship is based in West Cork and it is a rally has a special appeal.  Added to the mix this weekend was the inclusion of competitors from the British Rally Championship and a few famous faces amongst the 160 entrants.  It was the West Cork Rally’s first time as part of the BRC and it also counted as round 2 of that championship.

The start ramp for the West Cork Rally, Photo credit David Harrigan

Big crowds turned out for the opening ceremony on the main street in Clonakilty on Friday night, dipping in and out of pubs to brave the wet and windy weather, welcoming the crews to the town.  Craig Breen and Paul Nagle were the rally favorites after their win in the opening round in Galway but with more R5 cars than has ever entered a rally in Europe rolling over the start ramp behind them, the competition would be fierce.  In the national rally section, a plethora of Mark 2 Escorts were ready for battle on the sodden stages but all eyes were on 5 time World Rally Championship runner up Mikko Hirvonen.  The Finn is no stranger to the Cork tarmac as he has finished 2nd in the Cork 20 in a WRC Focus previously but was taking a modified class 14 Mk 2 Escort for a rip around Cork this time.

Despite the history and scenery of West Cork, none of that mattered on Saturday morning as the crews launched into the first stage towards Ring Village in horrendous, monsoon-like conditions.  The first heavy braking zone of the rally, at the famous Kitty Macs pub in Ring Village, was an absolute lottery as the drivers attempted to judge the shiny tarmac hidden below pools of water on the beautiful coastal road.

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. Photo credit David Harrigan

Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes were the quickest out of the blocks, splashing their way around the Ring stage faster than anyone else but by the end of the second stage Breen and Nagle had fought back to lead the rally. Over the course of stages 3 and 4, Breen put the hammer down and extended his lead to 11.9 seconds by the lunchtime service halt.  Josh Moffett was in second position, with Alistair Fisher and Gordon Noble in third position only 3 seconds behind Moffett.

The first 4 stages of the rally had been a tough attritional affair, and behind the top 3, many others fell afoul of the standing water, running water, falling water and sea spray that swamped the stages. Notable retirees from before lunch included Desi Henry, Merion Evans, Daniel Cronin, Cal McCarthy and Manus Kelly with numerous other crews falling foul of the rough conditions.

Marty Gallagher and Dean O’Sullivan crashed out in stage 6. Photo credit David Harrigan

After lunch, the rain stopped and the roads began to dry so tyre choice became a lottery. Strong winds and sunshine began drying the Rossmore and Sam’s Cross stages with dry sections appearing …. But treacherous wet sections still littered the stages due to the volume of water running from the fields.  For the brave, talk turned to soft slicks or dry slicks.

Photo credit David Harrigan

Breen certainly put the correct shoes on his Fiesta, dominating the afternoon by setting the fastest time on all 5 stages.  Josh Moffett struck trouble on the startline of the Sam’s Cross stage, breaking the propshaft of his Fiesta, making the R5 rear wheel drive for the afternoon, eventually finishing the opening day in 8th.  Moffett’s misfortune was Alistair Fishers gain, promoting him to 2nd with Matt Edwards and Patrick Walsh finishing the day as the top BRC competitor in in 3rd.

In the National Rally category Gary Kiernan Darren O’Brien led after the first day with Frank Kelly in 3rd ….. But the biggest news in this class was that Mikko Hirvonen and Jarno Ottman were holding second place.  It was unknown how Mikko would perform before the start of the rally but the Finn adapted very quickly to the 2.5l Escort, bumpy tarmac and the torrential rain to slither the Mk2 around West Cork, displaying the confidence you would expect from a former WRC driver and the flamboyance of a driver out to enjoy the weekend.

Mikko Hirvonen and Jarno Ottman, Photo credit, David Harrigan

Day 2 was dry and sunny, a total contrast to day one, but one thing remained consistent; Breen was dominant.  One slight spin at a hairpin in the afternoon was probably the only blot on his copybook all weekend.  Behind Breen the pace was frantic up and down the field.  Alastair Fisher also kept the pace high and his nose clean, maintaining second position.  Second is a fantastic result for Fisher, who took a sabbatical from rallying in 2018.  A tidy, controlled and fast performance secured back to back second places in the championship for Alistair is testament to his raw pace on his return to the sport.

Craig and Paul tackling one of the yumps at speed! Photo credit David Harrigan

The real battle at the top of the field on Sunday was for the final podium place.  2 of the British Rally Championship contenders, Tom Cave and Matt Edwards spent St. Patrick’s Day swopping stage times in an absolutely enthralling battle.  Edwards held the position overnight but over the morning loop of 3 stages, Cave reeled him in, setting some really impressive stage times in the process.  After lunch it was nip and tuck, with the pair sharing 3rd position with exactly the same time at one stage in the afternoon.  As the crowds lined the stages on a sunny albeit cold St Patrick’s Day the battle raged into the afternoon loop.  In the end, Tom Cave prevailed, taking 3rd place overall and finishing as the top British Rally Championship competitor.

In the National Category, Gary Kiernan had a St Patrick’s Day to forget.  After leading the National Section since the very first stage of the rally mechanical issues ruined his day.  During the morning loop it was reported that the escort was filling with smoke and the times indicated that there was something up with the Escort.  Mikko Hirvonen smelled blood and for a few stages, the demeanor of the Finns Escort changed.  WRC Mikko had taken control of the escort.  For 3 stages, Hirvonen’s head was down and he took lumps of time from the limping Kiernan, who was obviously in difficulties.  Some rapid work in lunchtime service saw Kiernan’s escort reemerge but it was short lived, with the Escort retiring with just 2 stages to go.  A really unfortunate outcome for a driver that had led the National class from the start.

Kiernan’s demise promoted Mikko Hirvonen and Jarno Ottman to first place, a brilliant result for the visiting Finn who was full of praise for the rally, saying he “never had so much fun” as he did in West Cork.  Frank Kelly had been in third place coming into the final day but in the morning loop, the Escort slid off the road, and his rally ended with “Baby Blue” on its roof in a West Cork ditch.  Damien Toner and John McGrath took second place in the National Rally, with Conor McCarthy and Conor Sheehan taking 3rd.

West Cork 2019 Podium. Photo credit David Harrigan

The Irish Tarmac Championship now sets it sights to the opposite end of the county, to the very northeast corner for round 3, the Easter Stages.  With 2 dominant wins, Breen and Nagle hold a commanding lead in the Championship on 34 points but Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble are hot on his heels on 28 points and heading back towards home territory. Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes are in 3rd.

Phil Hall’s Junior WRC Rally Sweden Diary

It might sound obvious, but Rally Sweden is cold!

I know this year there has been a lot of talk about ‘the conditions’ in the stages, how temperatures were quite warm and there was a fair amount of gravel in places, but that doesn’t mean the event was what you’d call tropical.

Everything you do has to take into account the environment in which you are competing – the low sun of the Scandinavian winter, finding an ice-free spot to jack the car up to change the wheels around (so you can stand up!), or even just not bringing snow into the car on your boots (which then melts and turns the footwell into a swimming pool).

Recce on Sweden is logistically quite straight forward, however the days are quite short because of the day light. You have to get a lot done in a reasonably short amount of time – you aren’t pushed for time but you need to remain focussed. We had a good recce and really saw the work we had put into our pacenotes over the winter start to show.

The event starts with a long drive down to Karlstad for the opening super-special, which is always packed with fans. I really enjoy the whole atmosphere at Rally Sweden, and this is where it all starts – live acts, lots of entertainment, and hugely enthusiastic crowds.

The Rally itself was not only a test of speed, but also of tyre strategy. There was quite a lot of gravel in the stages, and this meant the tyre preservation was absolutely key. We were moving tyres around on the car after every stage to maximise the studs we had between each service. It also meant we had to plan where we pushed and where we saved our tyres.

Phil Hall and Tom Williams tackle the amazing Colins Crest! Photo credit M-Sport

A characteristic of Sweden which is not always noted is that it has some very long days. On most competition days we would be up for 6.00am to go to get the car from Parc Ferme, and we might not be back to our hotel until around 11.00pm in the evening. It’s a physically and mentally demanding rally, and it’s one I remember for a lack of sleep.

We came away from the event with our first top 3 time in the JWRC, and 4th overall in the JWRC – which we are really happy with. It’s been a great start to our season and hopefully we can keep building and improving throughout the year – next stop, Corsica!

Select Car Leasing – Why are Finns so good at motorsport?

Article by Select Car Leasing.

 

Another Formula 1 (F1) season draws to its conclusion and it’s another Drivers’ Championship win for Lewis Hamilton. It’s also been another year that has seen strong representation from Finland on the leaderboard, with Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate, sitting in 4th position with one race to go while his compatriot, Kimi Räikkönen is placed just above him in 3rd. The continuing trend of Finnish drivers succeeding in motorsport got us thinking – just how has a nation of only 5.5m people managed to have such a strong influence on the motorsport world?

Select Car Leasing investigated some of the key reasons behind the incredible rise of the Finnish nation over the years.  Here are five ways that have been crucial to Finland’s ascent to becoming a motorsport powerhouse:

–       Sisu… The ancient Finnish art inspiring its drivers

–       Forest roads & Harsh winters… These allow for drivers in Finland to hone their skills and pave the way for successful motorsport competitors

–       Putting the population through its paces…  Finland has one of the hardest driving tests in the world

–       Folk racing… The Finnish pastime which tests drivers endurance and encourages competition on the road

–       The art of the ‘Scandinavian flick’…  How a unique driving style has caught on all over the world

Lend Car Leasing

However, it’s not just F1 that Finn’s have been dominating, the list grows into the World Rally Championship (WRC), with 4 of Finland’s own competing in the 2018 Championship, namely Esapekka Lappi, Jari-Matti Latvala, Teemu Suninen and Kalle Rovanperä. Two of which, Lappi and Latvala, occupy 4thand 5th place in the championship respectively.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, though. Finland have enjoyed considerable success over the years in motorsport and boast a rich history and driving tradition. Finland is home to many of the most famous drivers in the sport’s history, including 1980s icon Keke Rosberg.

 

On average, Finns are the best at F1.

The United Kingdom has had the most individual winners and overall wins in the F1 Drivers’ Championship, but that’s hardly surprising considering a population which reaches over 65m people. The win rate by nation tells a more interesting story about how inhabitants from this sparsely populated land, which kisses the edge of the Arctic Circle, lead the line. For every 1.375m people, Finland has won a title, making it a clear leader across all nations home to a championship winner. Austria is the closest competitor to Finland with a title win for every 2.193m people. In comparison, the UK win rate is over 1 in 4.7m people.

Finland also tops the charts when it comes to individual winners, with 3 Finn’s winning an F1 Championship throughout history, that’s 1 in 1.834m.

*All population data is from 2017.

*Rates are calculated by dividing the population of a country by the number of winners / wins.

 

Finns top the charts for WRC

Finland’s story in WRC is a similar one. They hold the highest individual and overall win rates of the competition, eclipsing most other nations. Finland has had a huge 7 different winners of the WRC trophy throughout history. That’s over double the second-placed nation France.

Their overall win rate by population is also untouchable, with 1 in 393,021 winners of the competition – over 4m more than their nearest competitor, France, who despite becoming the superpower of WRC in recent years, still lag behind the Finns.

*Rates are calculated by dividing the population of a country by the number of winners / wins.

*All population data is from 2017 except West Germany (1990).

 

Finns love motorsport

Motorsport started to become popular in Finland in the early 1950’s, due to the birth of rallying competitions. Ten years later, Finnish drivers were dominating the world of rally, with the likes of Timo Mäkinen, Pauli Toivonen and Rauno Aaltonen regularly picking up podium positions and rally wins.

Moving forward into the 1980’s, the success of Keke Rosberg, who was the first Finnish winner of the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship in 1982, catapulted the sport into the limelight in Finland. This legacy is still evident today by the amount of Finn’s who have participated in the two biggest motorsports in Europe.

When comparing how many Finn’s have been a driver in F1 compared to their population, we found that Finland had the 7th highest participation rate in the world when discounting micronations such as Monaco and Lichtenstein.

Again, when we discount the micronations of Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, who will naturally have a high participation rate by population due to their citizenship not reaching 100,000 people respectively, Finland are second, only behind Estonia. The consistency of Finland’s participation in these two motorsports is unmatched by any other major nation in the world and shows how much F1 and WRC is loved in the country.

So why exactly are the Finns so good?

There are several key reasons that have been attributed as to the reason why Finn’s are so good at motorsport:

 

The Finnish art of Sisu inspires all its drivers.

Sisu has no direct translation to English but can be roughly translated to simply “go”. However, it has a much deeper meaning to the Finnish people. Often described as a form of inner strength and perseverance through adversity, many of their drivers such as Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen are famous for their cool, calm and collected persona.

Speaking on the mentality of Finn’s, former Ferrari driver Mika Solo said: “Our mentality is very good for racing – never give up. We’re very stubborn, jealous and selfish people. So, you’d rather do well yourself than let somebody else do well. Everyone is very calm – not a lot of mistakes. I don’t know why it is, but I am the same. Emotional things don’t affect what I do at all.”

 

Most of the country is made up of forest roads

Lend Car Leasing

In total, Finland’s road network stretches to approximately 454,000 kilometres (km). However, if you discount 78,000 km of highways and 26,000 km of municipal streets, that leaves around 350,000 km of private and forest roads for Finn’s to navigate, according to the Finnish Transport Agency.

Many of these roads are quiet, often not illuminated by street lights, poorly maintained and could be mistaken for most rally stages on the WRC calendar. They act as perfect proving grounds for many aspiring Finns to hone their driving skills!

 

Finland has incredibly long winters.

Finnish winters are typically long and dark. Snow begins falling in November and typically lasts until at least May. During these winter months, the poorly maintained private and forest roads, which make up most of the countries transport network, become submerged with snow, which would make driving for the average European extremely difficult.

The quality of many of these roads over the winter periods make rally stages look like a piece of cake!

 

Finns start driving early

In order to prepare their children for these driving conditions, parents tend to start them off early, making use of the many private and deserted back roads throughout Finland to improve their driving. There are also a vast array of approved driver training tracks and facilities which can be partly attributed to the popularity of motorsport. The school of hard knocks is serving Finns well in motorsport, when speaking on driving in Finland, Kimi Räikkönen said: “You really have to be a good driver to survive in Finland. It is always slippery and bumpy.”

 

The country has one of the hardest driving tests in the world.

Once these young drivers become 18 and begin to think about taking their driving test, they have a mountain to climb. The challenging road conditions in the country mean that driving assessments must be stringent to avoid accidents in challenging circumstances. The Finnish driving test is one of the hardest in the world, with the possibility of students having to demonstrate their skid control or even their driving ability at night.

Finn’s must undertake 18 hours of practical lessons, and 19 hours of theory before they qualify to take a driving test. Drivers are then given a 2-year interim license which requires them to undertake advanced driving classes, often using a simulator. Only once that’s complete will they be awarded a full license.

 

Folk racing takes place all over Finland and is a great starting point.

Folk racing is an extremely popular past time in Scandinavia, originating from Finland. Known as Jokamiehenluokka or “everyman’s class”, it’s a relatively inexpensive form of motorsport in which competitors turn old or unused vehicles into racing machines for little expenditure.

Lend Car Leasing

Races are typically operated on special gravel or tarmac tracks in secluded locations. To ensure that folk racing is accessible for all, there are rules on the amount competitors are able to spend on their vehicles. The fixed price is €1400, or £1,240. It’s been known for drivers as young as 14 to compete. This makes it the ideal training ground for Finn’s wanting to gain experience before they enter the world of professional motorsport.

 

The older generation teaches the young how to succeed.

Lend Car Leasing

Finnish youngsters benefit from excellent role models, with Finnish drivers rarely involving themselves in controversy. They also conduct themselves excellently on and off the track. With so many great Finn’s of the past, it makes sense that they should impart their wisdom to the younger generation. For example, former F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg has mentored both Mika Häkkinen and Jyrki Järvilehto.

Personal connections and relationships can also be a large factor in determining success. Professor Matti Urrila, who specialises in the physiological coaching of athletes and has worked with Marcus Grönholm and Mika Häkkinen recently said “As a result of our drivers’ success, Finland has an abundance of expertise in how to become a World Champion in Formula One, for instance. Beginning with sponsorship and connections, there is a very realistic understanding of what it takes. And that puts Finland in quite a unique situation”.

 

Pioneers of the Scandinavian flick.

The Scandinavian flick, or Finnish flick, is a technique used in rallying to negotiate difficult corners. As the name suggests, the move originated from Scandinavian rally drivers during the 1960’s who mainly drove front-wheel-drive cars. They would approach the corner slightly outside of centre. Before entering the corner, they’d then swing to the outside of the road before immediately turning in the correct direction. While doing this, the driver taps the brake pedal, causing a shift in weight to the front of the car. The “flick’ part refers to turning the steering while in the correct manner so that the car exits the corner at peak efficiency.

This method of tackling corners went against the historical consensus on how to deal with corners. The Finnish flick serves as just one more example of Finland’s contribution to motorsport and the innovation that they bring.

[ Select Car Leasing’s original article can be found here: https://www.selectcarleasing.co.uk/news/finland-motorsport.html ]