Rally Deutshland Preview: Who’ll take spoils in German battle?

The WRC heads to Germany this weekend as Sebastien Ogier looks to get back on track following a few disappointing results.

The Volkswagen driver still leads the standings thanks to his stunning consistency at the start of the season and nurses a 45 point lead over team mate Andreas Mikkelsen. However this current season is being lauded as one of the most open and competitive in over a decade.

With six different drivers winning rallies this season, including Ogier, Mikkelsen, Jarri-Matti Latvala, Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville, and Citroen’s Kris Meeke. The latter won last time out in Finland, and along with co-driver Paul Nagle, they became the first British duo to conquer the famous event.

With only five rounds left to go due to the Chinese round being cancelled on safety concerns, Germany poses a much bigger significance than first thought. Famous for its tarmac and asphalt stages and the notorious concrete barriers, known locally as Panzerplattes, lining the roads and not taking any prisoners.

Rally Deutschland joined the WRC calendar in 2002 and is located in Trier, with a mix of vineyard and military area stages, it’s known as one of the most difficult asphalt events of the calendar. The event was dominated by Citroen and Sebastien Loeb from 2002-2014.

The imperious Frenchman took nine victories here, with Ogier and Dani Sordo both taking wins before Thierry Neuville broke the streak in his Hyundai. There’s been a Rally Deutschland since 1982 and it was part of the European Championship.

Neuville is looking forward to what he describes as his home rally, saying: “Rallye Deutschland is the highlight of the season for me. It’s like my home rally, very close to the Belgian border and a lot of supporters come down with lots of Belgian flags. So it’s the rally we are most waiting for in the season, and it’s an event we have always been competitive at. We got our first victory there so I am looking forward to it.”

Ott Tanak, whose best result this season is second on Rally Poland, said he will be ‘pushing as hard as possible’ to get a good result. “I like Tarmac and also enjoy the stages in Germany – you can have different weather on every stage in a loop so it’s always a compromise. We’ve shown how our pace can be on gravel this year and hopefully we will have the right conditions next week. Either way, I will be pushing as hard as possible for a solid result,” the Estonian said.

Championship leader Ogier will be keen to get back to winning ways after a poor couple of gravel events in Poland and Finland. He said: “I always look forward to the Rally Germany, but slightly more than usual this time around. Finally, Julien and I have a realistic chance of fighting for the win under our own steam again after the difficult gravel rallies.

“I am highly motivated and very keen to repeat the success of last year. The Rally Germany is also Volkswagen’s home event and so the whole team wants to deliver a particularly good performance in front of the fans,” the reigning champion added.

With the rally about to get underway in Germany, can Ogier get back to winning ways having not won since Sweden back in round two? Or will one of the chasing pack cut into his lead?

Previous Winners

Sebastien Loeb (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012)

Sebastien Ogier (2011, 2015)

Dani Sordo (2013)

Thierry Neuville (2014)

Rally Finland Review! Meeke becomes Meekenen!

 

|They both came here. Colin and Richard. Looking to take on the Finns, Norwegians and Swedes in a place that the Scandinavians have dominated the top step for decades.

They never won, but now history has been made with the first fully British crew to win and beat them all.

Well, how did it all come about? As ever it all started on the Thursday evening with a short blast around SS1 which gave us a top ten of sorts.

1 A. Mikkelsen
2 O. Tanak
3 S. Ogier
4 T. Neuville
5 K. Meeke
6 J. Latvala
7 C. Breen
8 K. Abbring
9 H. Paddon
10 M. Ostberg

So to the first full day of stages and Kris and Paul really felt comfortable in their Abu Dhabi run DS3 and thus took the lead from Jari-Matti by 6 seconds, with Ott third on the stage. The top three overall was Kris, Ott and Andreas.

Moving onto stage three and Jari-Matti won it with Kris just two tenths behind followed by Ott in third. Early leader Andreas has slipped down the order sadly, now 6.9 seconds behind Kris. Of course the running order which is taken from the championship standings meant that he was second on the road.

Moving onto stage four and Ott went through fastest, but Kris with doing a great job, going through just seven tenths slower. It was all change behind that with Andreas going through third fastest and therefore moving into third overall. Jari-Matti suffered a puncture on this stage after running wide and crossed the line 16 seconds slower than Ott and dropped two places from third to fifth. Craig showed great pace on this stage as well, setting the fourth fastest time.

Onto stage five then and Kris won this one, to extend his lead over Jari-Matti and Craig again showing his talent to finish third through here.

Stage six next and Jari-Matti went through eight tenths faster than Kris, but the lead was still over 18 seconds. It seems that he’d found his inner Finn!

Stage seven saw Ott set the fastest time from Craig and Jari-Matti in third. What this all meant was that Craig was catching Seb for third place on the overall leaderboard, now only 8.9 seconds behind.

Top three on stage 8 was Kris, Ott and Jari-Matti. Craig was continuing to match Seb’s times, and driving exceptionally well, although he’d dropped down to sixth place after that stage as Thierry and Andreas went quicker than him.

Into stage nine, and Ott continued to set quick times after his puncture earlier winning this one from Jari-Matti, with Kris in third.

Stage ten saw a shock. Seb slid off into a ditch and lost over 16 minutes. Jari-Matti won the stage by 1.6 seconds with Thierry third. On the overall leaderboard, with the demise of Seb, everyone behind moved up a place. Andreas moved into third, and there was now just ten seconds between Craig in fifth and Andreas.

So, stage eleven. Kris and Jari-Matti continued their battle at the front with Kris just edging the stage win by nine tenths of a second and keeping his lead at around 19 seconds over the Finn.

So, the last stage of the day and Andreas won it from Thierry and Jari-Matti in third. Kris was fifth, 2.6 seconds slower.

This was the full leaderboard at the end of Friday.

01. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (GB/IRL), Citroën, 1h 13m 22.2s
02. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen, + 18.1s
03. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai, + 44.3s
04. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen, + 45.4s
05. Craig Breen/Scott Martin (IRL/GB), Citroën, + 53.8s
06. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai, + 58.2s
07. Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene (N/N), Ford, + 1m 02.9s
08. Ott Tänak/Raigo Mõlder (EST/EST), Ford, + 1m 14.4s
09. Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (F/F), Ford, + 1m 22.6s
10. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN), Škoda, + 2m 01.8s

Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen, + 16m 53.3s

This is what the top three drivers had to say at the end of the day.

1st

Kris Meeke (#7): “I’m really surprised to have led throughout this first leg and to finish with a twenty-second lead. Latvala and Tänak were very quick today, but I managed to pull clear when they had problems. Otherwise, it was a constant battle, like it always is here. A really close fight with just a few tenths in it. My aim is still the same: do the best job possible. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I don’t absolutely have to win. So I’ll stick with the same strategy tomorrow, doing my best whilst staying just within the limit. It will be very difficult with two runs on Ouninpohja, in the reverse direction to recent years. I’ll have to be really focused, especially on the morning run.”

2nd

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“It’s not easy for me to sum up today. It definitely got off to a bad start, but fortunately my slip on the fourth special stage didn’t have too much of an effect. But the puncture cost us a lot of time. After that we kept on improving our rhythm and threw everything at the task in hand. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for us to overtake Kris Meeke. The advantage of the starting position is too great here in Finland. But we aren’t going to give up, we will keep driving at the limit and trying to pile on the pressure. Tomorrow’s action includes the stage “Ouninpohja”. A lot can happen; nothing is for free here.”

3rd

Thierry Neuville said: “It’s been a day of two halves, really. In this morning’s first loop, we were pushing to the maximum but we weren’t really seeing the results on the timesheets. The car felt OK but we just struggled to find any traction. This afternoon we took the same approach. We got everything we could out of the car and the results were a bit better. It seems the morning loop doesn’t suit our settings so we will have to be aggressive first thing tomorrow. Still, I am pleased we are holding third position at the end of this first day. We know how unforgiving the rally is, and there’s a long way to go, but we’re there or thereabouts. We’ll try to make some improvements to the car ahead of tomorrow’s stages.”

Comments from the rest of the drivers.

Volkswagen

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
“The morning went really well for us: I was really pleased with the handling of my Polo and with our speed. Some sections were new to me and I noticed that I was faster in places. Then I found these tracks a little easier on the second pass. However, the competition also stepped it up and the battle for third place couldn’t get much closer. We also have the legendary Ouninpohja stage ahead of us on Saturday – there is a lot of work to do before the finish on Sunday.”

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
“There is a hairpin turn at the point at which I was too hard on the steering and wanted to cut the corner. As a result, I slid into the ditch on the inside. It was totally my mistake, and then at perhaps one of the slowest sections of the entire rally of all places. But that can happen when, like Julien and I, you have constantly been at the limit for the last six rallies. Or need to give 110 percent to try and make up for the disadvantage of the starting position. Initially, it didn’t look all that bad and the fans did their best to help us. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many spectators there as I would have hoped for. But without their help, Julien and I would never have got back on the track, so Kiitos!”

Hyundai

Hayden Paddon said: “It’s been a disappointing day but if you take the top two drivers out of the equation, we are not too far off. The morning was difficult. We tried to be aggressive but we struggled with the car on the loose and slippery conditions. We were sliding around and couldn’t stay in the lines. We tried to enjoy it a bit more in the afternoon but it’s hard when the times are not as we’d like them to be. Still, we will come back fighting tomorrow and aim to make up some positions.”

Kevin Abbring commented: “I’d summarise by saying it was a pretty satisfying day. There are little bits that we can improve in all areas but this is normal in our first ever event with the New Generation i20 WRC. We didn’t do Poland so it’s been tough to get up to these incredibly high speeds and to find the confidence to drive flat-out. We’ve made improvements to the car as we’ve learned more about it, and adapting it to our style. The only real issue we had today was in SS8 (Mökkiperä) when I hit the front after a heavy compression. It seemed fine to begin with but by the penultimate stage of the day, we had some front right suspension damage so had to nurse the car back. Tomorrow’s another day – and I’m looking forward to it!”

M-Sport

Mads Østberg (7th) said:

“It’s been a really fun day today – as offices go you don’t get much better than this! We’ve had some good sections of stages, and some not so good, but that’s okay. We’re still within touching distance of the podium, and anything can happen with two days of challenging stages still to come. We’ll keep pushing.”

Éric Camilli (9th) said:

“It’s been a great day for us. Rally Finland is such a special event and it’s never easy for a Frenchman to go fast here, especially when they are driving a world rally car for the first time!
“We’re so happy to have set some competitive times today. I know that we have a lot more to learn before we can be consistently setting top times on these stages, but it was fantastic to challenge the guys with much more experience at times.
“The car has felt fantastic and the team have been working really hard. The aim will be to continue learning and progressing tomorrow.”

Elfyn Evans (6th WRC 2) said:

“We came here with the intention of challenging for the win so this afternoon was obviously really disappointing. I think that we showed some good speed today, but these things happen. It’s disappointing for everyone as we were on course to challenge for another really strong result.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Craig Breen (#8): “I might just be the happiest man in Jyväskylä tonight! From start to finish, we thoroughly enjoyed every moment in the car today. Even though I have competed here many times before, you really do go a lot quicker in a World Rally Car and the feeling is immense. Obviously, everything wasn’t perfect, but we learned a lot, especially on the second pass. I think I can safely say that it was best day of my career as a rally driver! I didn’t think that I’d be so high up the standings and within ten seconds of the podium…”

Khalid Al Qassimi (#24): “It’s been a fantastic day for us. We tried to steer clear of the worst of the trouble and we had a strategy that enabled us to start with a good rhythm. The car worked just as I wanted it to and we were a lot quicker than last year on the same stages. I even felt that I could have gone even quicker still. The second pass was very difficult for the car, with a lot of embedded rocks. I opted to drive more cautiously in these sections.”

Saturday morning then and a long day of action, with Ouninpohja run twice and 33km in length!

Kris had got up early to watch a video of the stage and had decided to push. Well, he certainly did that, setting a time that we would expect from Jari-Matti and winning the stage by 13. 4 seconds from the Finn. The lead that Kris now had was now 31.5 seconds. Ott was third, but the great pace of Craig had seen him take seven seconds out of Andreas’ lead and close to within 1.4 seconds of third overall. Thierry lost a lot of time and fell from third to fifth on this stage.

A shorter stage beckoned in the form of stage 14 and Ott won it from Kris who once more was faster than Jari-Matti by 3 seconds, opening up his lead further over the VW driver. There was a big crash on this stage, with Lorenzo Bertelli rolling his Fiesta, thus meaning any drivers behind would be given a nominal time for the stage. Craig was one of these, so although Hayden was shown in third place, it was extremely likely that position was Craig’s.

Moving into stage 15 next and Kris won the stage from Seb with Jari-Matti a further 2.4 seconds behind, thus meaning that the overall lead was now over 37 seconds.

So, stage 16. Seb and Mads shared the quickest time through this one, with Thierry slotting into third.

Overall, we got confirmation that Craig was up to third overall, just Jari-Matti and Kris ahead! A remarkable drive from the young man.

The Saturday afternoon action started with a re-run of Ouninpohja, stage 17. Kris went even quicker than he did in the morning and won the stage again, beating Jari-Matti by almost 6 seconds and thus taking his lead to over 40 seconds. Just totally in the groove!!

Stage 18 next and the duel for supremacy continued between the chaser, Jari-Matti and the man at the top, Kris. Ott was taking the fight to Craig for the final podium place, going through ten seconds faster and closing the gap to him to 14 seconds.

Into stage 19 then and Ott finished second behind Seb, taking almost another 2 seconds from Craig and the gap just 11 seconds between them.

Stage 20 and the last stage of the day. Craig matched Ott through this one to stop the young Estonian catching him. All the while the gap between Jari-Matti and Kris remained the same at the top.

This was the leaderboard at the end of Saturday then.

01. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (GB/IRL), Citroën, 2h 22m 00.8s
02. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen, + 41.0s
03. Craig Breen/Scott Martin (IRL/GB), Citroën, + 1m 43.0s
04. Ott Tänak/Raigo Mõlder (EST/EST), Ford, + 1m 54.5s
05. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai, + 2m 00.9s
06. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai, + 2m 03.6s
07. Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene (N/N), Ford, + 2m 06.0s
08. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen, + 2m 24.0s
09. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN), Škoda, + 4m 23.6s
10. Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (FIN/FIN), Škoda, + 5m 10.5s

Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen, + 19m 51.6s

Here are the thoughts of the top three then.

1st

Kris Meeke (#7): “Yesterday was my best day in a WRC. But that wasn’t the case for long, because today has surpassed it! This morning, I got up an hour early today to watch the video of my recce on Ouninpohja. I think it’s the greatest stage in the world, and the most iconic as well. So I was really determined to do something special on it! I knew Jari-Matti Latvala would try to close the gap so I had to push really hard… At the end, I felt that I couldn’t have done any more. But I was still surprised when I found out just how big the gap was! In the afternoon, the rain tended to improve the grip and I was able to go even quicker, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as the first pass. We’re now in a good position to see out the win. We’ll have to stay focused to manage our lead tomorrow and finish the job we have done over the last two days.”

2nd

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“Like yesterday, we had to settle for second best on the day. Kris Meeke produced a very strong performance and also had the better starting position. Put these two things together, and we had no chance. It is not as though we did not try, but after the first running of the Ouninpohja stage it was clear to us that we had to focus on making sure we picked up some valuable points towards the championship. Plus, we also have to think about the Manufacturers’ Championship. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the fans out on the stages for their support. That means an awful lot to Miikka and me, particularly here on home soil. We must all keep our fingers crossed for the Power Stage now.”

3rd

Craig Breen (#8): “I never thought I’d be fighting for a podium place before the start of this rally! This morning, I learned a lot during the first run on Ouninpohja. I then didn’t complete SS14 because it was cancelled after Lorenzo Bertelli’s crash. We kept improving though and we had already moved up into third by the mid-leg point. I did feel a little bit of extra pressure for the second loop due to my position. As was to be expected, I lost a bit of time on the stage that I hadn’t contested this morning. But I was pleased to hit back at Ott Tänak on SS20. He knows that I will try to defend my position tomorrow, even though I won’t go over the limit to do so. Once again, I’m delighted with how things are going for me!”

The rest of the drivers

Hyundai

Thierry Neuville said: “All in all it’s been a decent day. We have done the maximum we could do, and we’re involved in a nice, close fight with Hayden. I didn’t really feel comfortable at the start of the morning loop but we have tried to make improvements to the car throughout the day. We were hoping to gain more confidence in the afternoon but it wasn’t easy. Still, we are in a very close battle and the gaps are so small that it won’t take much for us to suddenly be back in podium contention. We just have to keep focused on our job and hope that we have a trouble-free Sunday morning.”

Hayden Paddon said: “We started the day feeling more confident. It was certainly a better morning loop than we had yesterday. We made some changes to the car balance, adjusting some suspension settings, and it was more to my liking. Of course, we were second on the road so we were sweeping on the morning stages, which didn’t help. We were preparing for a good fight in the afternoon but we weren’t able to find the speed we were expecting. It was difficult to pinpoint why we were losing the time because I couldn’t have driven any faster. We’ll sit down with the team, do some homework and try to sort things out. I can’t be too negative – we get to drive a WRC car on these amazing Finnish stages and that’s special.”

Kevin Abbring commented: “We have just continued to acclimatise to the New Generation i20 WRC again on today’s stages. We’ve had to find the best compromise between finding speed and staying cautious. When you see people in front of you go off, as happened this morning, you’re reminded to take things carefully. To be in Finland for the first time in a four wheel drive car, it’s not realistic to be on the pace immediately. It’s the first time I drive this car competitively too, so we’ve been making changes on each stage to get a better understanding. We had an issue on this afternoon’s loop when we lost the paddleshift. The car was also misfiring with the mechanical lever too, so we had to drive around that. Our aim is still the top-ten, and we have four stages to achieve that tomorrow.”

M-Sport

Mads Østberg (7th) said:

“We’ve been fighting really hard today – you never give up in Finland because anything can happen. I can’t believe how close it is. At the moment we are in seventh position, but the gap to the podium is actually relatively small. Even though it’s just a short day tomorrow, we have to keep pushing and keep the pressure on. We never give up.”

Éric Camilli (DNF) said:

“My pacenote into a left-hand corner was too fast. We went into a ditch and then into the trees and rolled the car. It was a big one – a proper crash – but we are both okay which is the most important thing.

“We have proven that we have the potential to be fast here in the future. Finland and Sweden are the most difficult rallies for a Frenchman – especially a Frenchman experiencing them for the first time – so it was a positive to challenge some of the more experienced drivers this weekend. We need to remember that.

“This wasn’t the finish that we wanted, but it wasn’t a bad weekend either; and next we have a series of Tarmac rallies that I am really looking forward to. I know that I have more knowledge and more feeling with the car on that surface.

“Rallye Deutschland is my favourite event of the year. We have competed there twice before and we are really motivated to do well there.”

Elfyn Evans (4th WRC 2) said:

“It’s been a much better day for us today. We’ve been driving well and managed to keep out of trouble for the most part. We climbed ahead of the two guys in front, but the gap is too big to reach the podium on driving alone. We just need to be reliable tomorrow and wait and see if anything happens.”

Volkswagen

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
“Although the atmosphere is fantastic and the routes are incredible fun, this is just not going to be my weekend at the Rally Finland. After yesterday’s mistake, we struggled with braking issues this morning. Unfortunately, the repairs then took so long that we were given a time penalty. That is obviously frustrating for Andreas, as he then had to take over the role of road sweeper. If anyone can understand how he feels, then it is me. For Julien and me, the priority on Sunday is to at least pick up a few points in the Manufacturers’ Championship and, obviously, to push for the three points on the Power Stage. There is nothing more at stake for us.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
“Our first day in the role of road sweeper was not particularly easy, but we did learn a lot. On the one hand, we can be happy with our performance: Anders and I really pushed and came through the day without any problems, except for one slight slip-up. Unfortunately, however, our hard work was not reflected in the results. Some of our times were only on a par with the slower R5 cars. However, we will take that on the chin and do our best again tomorrow – even though it is unlikely that we will be able to improve our position under our own steam.”

Citroen

Khalid Al Qassimi (#24): “The start of the day was difficult, with SS13 being cancelled after we had started driving on it. I made good progress in the afternoon, despite the weather conditions which made the stages very slippery in places. At the same time, I was thinking a lot about the performances of Kris and Craig. They are both enjoying a really great race and I’m delighted to see them so well placed this evening. I hope we can secure a great result for the Abu Dhabi Total team tomorrow.”

It was the last day and just 4 stages stood in front of Kris and Paul for an historic win. There had been four British co-driver winners before, sitting alongside local drivers, but never a fully British crew. All they had to do was bring it home.

First stage of the day, stage 21 saw a push from Ott and Raigo to catch Craig and Scott and they were 4.3 seconds quicker closing the gap to around 5 seconds.

The following stage saw that push end unfortunately. Ott and Raigo hit a rock and were forced to retire. Thierry won the stage from Hayden and Jari-Matti. Craig had a 7 second lead over Thierry who had benefitted from the demise of Ott to move up into fourth place.

Stage 23 then and how would Craig respond to this pressure then with the Rally Sardegna winner closing on him? Well, he went out there and took his first stage win, beating Hayden by a tenth of a second! A brilliant performance.

So, one stage left then and Kris held a large 32.4 second over Jari-Matti and Craig in third.

Thierry won the power stage, picking up the three points and beating his teammate, Hayden by a tenth of a second, with Jari-Matti just 6 tenths off in third. Craig was sixth and Kris eighth, but with that they’d won this rally and become only the sixth driver not from Scandinavia to win this event.

A truly remarkable performance! This is what he had to say.

1st

Kris Meeke (#7): “For a WRC driver, winning Rally Finland is the ultimate goal before becoming World Champion. It’s an incredible feeling to win on the greatest roads in the world. This result was largely determined yesterday with the two runs on Ouninpohja. At the end of the first run, I didn’t know my time but I knew that I had driven really well. But I could hardly believe it when I found out that I gone thirteen seconds faster than Jari-Matti Latvala! Last year, in the other direction, he beat me by six seconds when I thought I had driven the perfect stage. That just goes to show the progress we have made, through a combination of work with the team and my growing experience. I also have to say that the car worked perfectly all weekend. We only did one day of testing, last Sunday, but that was enough for us to see that we already had the best set-up. I felt really confident right from the word go and that was a key factor in the win. This morning, I was totally relaxed. I just had to drive the last few stages to finish off the work that we had done in the first two days.”

2nd

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“I am happy with my performance this weekend, even though I came up just short of a hat-trick of wins at the Rally Finland. Second place and a point on the Power Stage is a very good haul. I also climbed a place in the overall standings. All in all, we could not have done any more against Kris Meeke this weekend. I would like to say another big thank you to all the many fans who supported me. It is always very special to drive here on home soil. We now move on to the asphalt season, which was remarkably good to me last year. We must now back up this weekend’s performance in Germany.”

3rd

Craig Breen (#8): “It’s the best day of my career again. But it seems that with this car, every day is a bit better! When I grabbed third place yesterday afternoon, I already felt that I had moved up another level. There weren’t many kilometres left to complete today but it was still pretty tough because I was put under pressure by my rivals. I couldn’t be happier, claiming my first WRC stage win and finishing on the podium. The finish was very emotional. I couldn’t believe it, but it was fantastic to celebrate this moment with the people who have supported me. It’s also a richly-deserved result for the guys in the team, who had to work hard to repair the car after I went off during testing on Monday. I’ve taken a step closer to where I want to be this weekend.”

The rest of the drivers

Hyundai

Thierry Neuville said: “We have given our maximum throughout the weekend and been absolutely on the limit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get on the podium – but it was very close! We had a strong finish with two stage wins today including the Power Stage, so that was a nice way to end the rally. It was particularly pleasing for the whole team to have a 1-2 in the Power Stage after a tricky weekend. We have had some difficulties with the car settings and grip levels on most stages so I think we can be reasonably satisfied. It was an exciting battle with Hayden and to have the opportunity to compete on these incredible Finnish stages is always a pleasure. There are definitely some more things we need to learn about the performance of our car in these conditions. We can now look forward to Germany – a rally where we have fond memories!”

Hayden Paddon said: “It’s been a challenging weekend but there are some positives to take away. We were second on the road for much of the weekend, so to come away with a top-five result is not too bad. We had a decent final day even if the driving was a bit untidy at times. We didn’t take any massive risks and concentrated on getting the cars home. With that in mind, to take 1-2 in the Power Stage was a nice consolation. We gave it our all but we’ve struggled with the car in the slippery conditions. It was a close fight with Thierry and I’ve really enjoyed these fantastic stages.”

Kevin Abbring said: “I am happy with how this weekend has gone all things considered. We haven’t made any mistakes and we’ve come away with a top-ten result in Rally Finland. It has been an extremely valuable learning experience and I’d like to thank the team for giving us the opportunity. The New Generation i20 WRC has performed well and it’s been a real pleasure to drive. We have made improvements with each stage, refining our pace notes and we’ve done what we set out to achieve.”

M-Sport

Mads Østberg (6th) said:
“It’s been a really good weekend and we’ve been pushing hard on all of the stages. There’s been a fantastic fight for the podium throughout the entire rally. It’s quite incredible to see so many cars fighting for the top positions – and it’s just a shame that we’ve finished towards the end of that fight.

“I felt something wasn’t quite right on the back of the car and that prevented us pushing to our maximum today. It’s a shame that’s the way it ended – and that we had to settle for sixth – but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

Éric Camilli (DNF) said:

“We knew before the rally that it would be challenging. Like Sweden, it is hard for a Frenchman to come here for the first time in a world rally car and show immediate speed, but I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by our times.

“It was a pleasure to be battling with the guys who have a lot more experience than us and we were gaining a lot of confidence with every stage. Maybe we gained a little too much confidence!

“Through the first pass of Ouninpohja (SS13) we could see that our pacenotes were too slow. All of our minuses were in fact pluses, so I decided to change them for the next stage (SS14). But one left-hand corner was a minus, not a plus. We went wide into the ditch and rolled the car at high-speed.

“Thankfully both myself and Ben were okay which is the most important thing and we have to put this one down to experience. We’ve learnt a lot this weekend and I think we have shown that we have the potential to do well in the future.

“Now, we are really looking forward to the Tarmac rallies. I have a lot more experience on that surface and a lot more knowledge. Germany is an event that I know quite well, and I hope it will be possible to do something there.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd WRC 2) said:

“It’s been a challenging weekend. Some problems on Friday put us on the back foot and dropped us down to sixth. Third place was probably the best we could have hoped for after that. We’ve had a clean rally with no mistakes and the speed has been really good in places too. It’s a shame as the result could have been a lot more.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Khalid Al Qassimi (#24): “The pressure was on all our shoulders today! Between the stages, I kept up to date with Kris’ progress and Craig’s fight for third. Finishing with both Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team cars on the podium at Rally Finland is an extraordinary performance. We couldn’t really have hoped for a better result. I’m also very pleased with my performance. I managed to up my pace and improved significantly on my times from last year.”

D-Mack

Ott Tänak said: “Once again we’ve shown a top pace and been able to set top times on the fastest event of the season. But a few problems have stopped us from challenging for the victory, even though we pushed to the maximum all weekend. We had prepared really well for this rally and put in so much work before hand.”

Karl Kruuda said: “It wasn’t the final result we were after but our pace has improved steadily over the last three events. We had been pushing pretty hard here and the speed at the front really was fast. Finland is one of those special events and it really was an enjoyable weekend here.”

Marius Aasen said: “After the accident in Poland it was important for us to get a strong finish here. We improved our pace over the weekend and never made any mistakes and I was really having a nice enjoyable event. We made a few changes with the car and everything worked pretty well during the event.”

FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally Finland – Final Results*

01. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (GB/IRL), Citroën, 2h 38m 05.8s
02. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen, + 29.1s
03. Craig Breen/Scott Martin (IRL/GB), Citroën, + 1m 41.3s
04. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai, + 1m 45.9s
05. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai, + 1m 48.2s
06. Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene (N/N), Ford, + 2m 04.6s
07. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen, + 2m 22.4s
08. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN), Škoda, + 4m 53.8s
09. Kevin Abbring/Sebastian Marshall (NL/GB), Hyundai, + 5m 22.4s
10. Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (FIN/FIN), Škoda, + 5m 35.5s

24. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen, + 19m 50.6s

2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings

S. Ogier 143 points
A. Mikkelsen 98
J. M. Latvala 87
H. Paddon 84
T. Neuville 76
M. Østberg 70
D. Sordo 68
O. Tanak 52
K. Meeke 51
C. Breen 25
E. Camilli 23
H. Solberg 14
S. Lefebvre 12
M. Prokop 12
T. Suninen 8
M. Ligato 6
E. Evans 6
E. Lappi 6
L. Bertelli 4
K. Abbring 4
P. Tidemand
N. Fuchs 2
A. Kremer 1
V. Gorban 1
J. Kopecky 1

2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings

Volkswagen Motorsport 227 points
Hyundai Motorsport 168
M-Sport World Rally Team 112
Volkswagen Motorsport II 109
Hyundai Motorsport N 86
DMACK World Rally Team 58
Jipocar Czech National Team 18
Yazeed Racing 6

So, what an incredible event! Fantastic to see the man who was mentored by Colin win a rally that is so specialist, that you just don’t see the Finns get beaten like this.

Also, what about Craig?! This young man has shown what he is capable of and driven amazingly through the weekend! Surely he has to be considered for the other seat next to Kris by Citroen after that performance.

So, the next rally up is Germany, and Thierry Neuville won there two years ago. Can that be repeated this year? It’s a fully tarmac event and this will certainly see Seb fighting at the front for the win.

See ya!


9th August 2016

Rally Finland Preview…. Round Eight

This is a very important rally. It’s one of the absolute classics. Formerly known as the 1000 Lakes Rally, the roads are so specialized that it took years for someone not born in the region to win. First held in 1951, it took till 1990, when Carlos Sainz won driving a Toyota Celica GT-Four.

The drivers with the most wins are Hannu Mikkola and Marcus Gronholm, each winning the rally seven times.

Now this event features one of the most spectacular stages in the world. It’s called Ouninpohja. It is 33km (21 miles) long and is a real roller coaster of a stage! This year it features twice on Saturday and the drivers will need to be ready, as it is the first stage on Saturday morning! That will make them wake up for sure! It’s also being run in the opposite direction this year, so this adds a further twist!

Here are the details of this year’s stages.

Thursday evening

SS1 Harju 1 2,31km 19h00

Friday Morning

SS2 Mökkiperä 1 13,84km 07h13

SS3 Halinen 7,07km 07h46

SS4 Jukojärvi 1 21,24km 09h02

SS5 Surkee 1 14,95km 10h39

SS6 Horkka 1 15,01km 11h32

Friday afternoon

SS7 Äänekoski-Valtra 7,39km 14h10

SS8 Mökkiperä 2 13,84km 15h08

SS9 Jukojärvi 2 21,24km 16h38

SS10 Surkee 2 14,95km 18h15

SS11 Horkka 2 15,01km 19h08

SS12 Harju 2 2,31km 20h30

Saturday morning

SS13 Ouninpohja 1 33,00km 08h08

SS14 Päijälä 1 23,50km 09h11

SS15 Pihlajakoski 1 14,51km 10h34

SS16 Saalahti 1 4,23km 11h52

Saturday afternoon

SS17 Ouninpohja 2 33,00km 14h48

SS18 Päijälä 2 23,50km 15h51

SS19 Pihlajakoski 2 14,51km 17h14

SS20 Saalahti 2 4,23km 18h32

Sunday

SS21 Lempää 1 6,83km 08h28

SS22 Oittila 1 10,15km 09h21

SS23 Lempää 2 6,83km 11h15

SS24 Oittila 2 (Power Stage) 10,15km 13h08

The total competitive distance of the stages is 333,60km over the three days and this promises to be an exciting weekend of fast and flowing stages and hopefully a big battle for the win.

We can expect the drivers from the Nordic states to be near the front, so watch out for Jari-Matti, and Andreas from Volkswagen to challenge for the podium. The other driver I expect to be near the front, if not in the lead is Ott Tanak. After his total domination last time out in Poland, and finishing 4th last year in this rally, he will want to fight at the front again.

This was the result from last year

J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2:33:03.8

S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +13.7

M. Østberg / J. Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:36.8

T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:58.7

O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:29.3

J. Hänninen / T. Tuominen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:44.3

M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:20.3

E. Lappi / J. Ferm (Škoda Fabia R5) +7:11.2

P. Tidemand / E. Axelsson (Škoda Fabia R5) +8:52.2

L. Bertelli / L. Granai (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +9:37.4

D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai i20 WRC) +10:17.8

Here are the thoughts of the drivers ahead of shakedown then.

Volkswagen

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1

“The Rally Finland is unquestionably one of the highlights of the year. I love driving there, because rallying is everything in Finland. I am also looking forward to Finland, because the Finns manage to produce perfect route conditions. The roads are not only beautiful, but are tailor-made for rallying. The starting order has denied me any realistic chance of winning any of the gravel events this year. As such, the weather situation will also play a major role again in Finland. Let’s wait and see, and keep our fingers crossed that it is nice and damp. Admittedly, what matters most in the end is that we defend our title. We are looking good in that regard at the moment, but it would be nice to have another fair shot at winning a rally in similar conditions. Particularly as the series is blessed with some very strong drivers at the moment.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2

“The Rally Finland is obviously the highlight of the season for me. I am really looking forward to it, even though the pressure is naturally greater than at any other rally. That can also serve as a motivation, as you obviously want to do well in front of your home crowds. The expectations of the Finnish fans are huge, particularly as I have only won once so far this year. The characteristics of the rally suit me. Fast gravel roads and big jumps – that is my kind of rally. The keys to this rally are ensuring the pace notes are correct and choosing the right line for jumps and fast sections. I will relax ahead of my home race in a very Finnish manner – in the sauna.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9

“The way I see it, it will not be easy to repeat our victory in Poland at the Rally Finland. The rally has a completely different character. The surface is much harder and there are many more crests and jumps. On the whole, the rally is far more demanding than the one in Poland. It is particularly important to get the pace notes spot on. As such, we will focus hard during the ‘Recce’ to get the pace notes as accurate as possible. Because there are a lot of blind crests, you need to know exactly what to expect on the other side. That then gives you the confidence you need to be fast. One of the new features this year will be the ‘Ouninpohja’ stage, which we will drive in the opposite direction to recent years. That will add a bit of extra spice to the occasion.

Hyundai

Thierry Neuville said: “Finland is probably one of the most challenging rallies of the season. Everybody is always a bit nervous going there. It’s a very fast event with huge grip and big jumps. You need to get everything 100% right to be fast and not make any mistakes. It’s very enjoyable once you get a good feeling and you are ‘on it’. It is the rally where you get the best sensations. But, it can be a difficult rally if you don’t find the best settings and get a good feeling, then it can quickly turn into the worst rally of the season! Nicolas and myself have had some positive results recently, so we want to build on that in Finland.”

Hayden Paddon said: “The result in Poland was really important for us and allowed us to bounce back after two tough results. I think Finland is the one we always look forward to the most. It’s like the home of rallying, the Monaco Grand Prix of the World Rally Championship. It’s a rally that I aspire to win one day, it’s very high on my list! We have a good car and a good package this year, so for sure we are going to try and fight right up near the front. But the Scandinavians on home turf are also very fast so we’ll have our work cut out for us. We’re feeling up for the challenge.”

Now, Dani Sordo was injured in pre event testing in an accident, so Kevin Abbring will be stepping into the i20 for this weekend. He’s not driven the new generation i20 competitively yet.

Kevin Abbring commented: “First of all, I would like to wish Dani a speedy recovery and thank Hyundai Motorsport for this opportunity. Our debut in the New Generation i20 WRC will be at rallying’s most challenging event. We’re obviously really excited for it, but we know that it’s a tall order. Rally Finland is just special; the roads are really fast and the fans are passionate about rallying. It has such an amazing atmosphere! The plan will be to continue to gain as much experience as possible and get more acquainted with the New Generation i20 WRC – I cannot wait to tackle the amazing stages this week.”

M-Sport

Mads Østberg said:

“It’s time for a comeback and we’re fully focussed on Rally Finland. We’ve all been working really hard in the lead-up to this event, and myself and Ola have spent a lot of time preparing. We’re determined to return to the stage-winning pace we showed in Sardinia.

“Eighth place in Poland was not what we came for, but I was ninth there last year and ended up on the podium in Finland. We need to keep that in mind and focus on being as competitive as we can from the very first stage.

“This is one of the events that everyone looks forward to. It’s such an adrenaline rush and when you hook up that perfect stage there really is no better feeling. We’re looking forward to that, and I can promise you that we’ll be aiming for a strong result. If everything goes to plan, there is no reason why we can’t be challenging for the podium again.”

Éric Camilli said:

“Rally Finland is a very special event, and I can’t wait to discover these stages for the first time in a world rally car. We have some knowledge of the rally from last year, but this year will be a completely new challenge. The speed of the world rally cars on these roads is incredible. We really enjoyed our test and did a lot of work with our engineer which should see us well-placed for the rally.

“Even though the event didn’t go to plan for us last year, we were pleased with our speed. With only a few gravel events under our belt, we were still discovering what it takes to perform on that surface but were able to set some really competitive times.

“We’re keen to keep up the same level of progress that we have shown recently. We’ll take everything in our stride and focus on our own rally, but I hope to build on the speed we had in Poland.”

Elfyn Evans said:

“The WRC 2 field is extremely strong at the moment and it will be a challenge to beat the Scandinavians on their home turf. This is probably one of the most competitive events of the year, but we’re ready to give it our all. We’re feeling well prepared and ready to challenge for the win, but we know it won’t be easy.

“Speed and precision is what we’ll need. The stages are so fast that any time loss is hard to recover. You need to have precise notes and the confidence to drive to the maximum. We’ve shown some pretty good speed here in the past so, if we can couple that with a clean run, anything is possible.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Kris Meeke (#7): “Finland is a unique moment in the WRC season. I have excellent memories here, such as my first race with Citroën Racing in 2013 and my podium finish the year after. Every year, I take pleasure, above all, in driving on the most amazing routes in the world. I’m not competing in every race this season, but I was determined that Finland should be part of my programme. It’s a rally that often comes down to just a few tenths of a second and it will provide a good opportunity for me to work on my turn of speed. I won in Portugal, but I don’t have any particular goals. I’ll be doing my best to learn, understand and enjoy myself at the wheel. The weather forecast is for rain every day in Jyväskylä, which will no doubt have an influence on performances depending on the starting orders. But once again, it doesn’t really matter to me, as I don’t have any special aims this season. I think it’s going to be a big challenge from reconnaissance on. There are a lot of new special stages, including Ouninpohja, which we are going to be taking on in the opposite direction from usual. We’ll have to forget our usual markers and approach that sector as if it were totally new.”

Craig Breen (#8): “Obviously, I feel much better prepared for this race than for my first two rallies with Abu Dhabi Total WRT! I’m going to be able to draw on my experience from a month ago and my aim will be to pick up where I left off at the end of Rally Poland. For this rally to be a success for me, I’ll have to produce a consistent race, without making any mistakes, and attacking a little harder when I feel able. I’m familiar with Rally Finland as I’ve already taken part six times. Two years ago, I was at the wheel of a WRC, but in a totally different context, with my dad working on the car and my mum doing the catering! That family effort has got me here and I fully intend to take this new opportunity.”

Khalid Al Qassimi (#24): “I can’t wait to be back in Finland. It’s a really special event for the WRC. The course is known for being fast and for its high-speed jumps. We will be able to draw on our experience from last year, but more than half of the special stages are new and we will have to be focused from reconnaissance on to make sure we take good notes. It will be important to feel good at the wheel again, particularly after such a long break since Portugal. You need a lot of commitment for this rally and we will be working hard to gradually get to grips with the car. I hope we will enjoy ourselves and that Kris and Craig will do the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team proud.”

D-Mack

Ott Tänak said: “Finland is always a highlight of the season and all the drivers love the high speeds and rollercoaster roads. Our confidence is good after Rally Poland and once again we will push as hard as possible. I’ve done the rally quite a few times now and have a strong level of experience so, if things feel good, then we should have a chance.”

Karl Kruuda said: “The feeling is quite good after Poland and I’m looking forward to some fast stages again. The aim is to try and be up there with the other guys and pick out a few stages where we can beat them, but Finland is still a tough and sometimes daunting place. Poland highlighted a few areas where we can make some changes so we will aim to improve further.”

Marius Aasen said: “Finland is one of my favourite rallies and I have always dreamed of participating there in a R5 car. This will be my fourth time doing the rally, but I know the Fiesta R5 is much faster than the cars I have driven there before, so it will be a big difference. After our crash in Poland I think we will need some stages to get back into the good rhythm. This time we will use some of our pacenotes from last year and I’m sure that will help us.”

So, can Ott and Raigo challenge at the front again? Will Jari-Matti continue his winning form at home? Can Mads find some good form, and finish on the podium like last year, or will he beaten by his teammate, Eric? What about Kris Meeke, who is back in an DS3? Could we see him challenge at the front? After all, he won in Portugal.

I strongly recommend you follow this event. It is astonishing!

Enjoy!

Warren Nel

27th July 2016

@Warren_S_Nel