What a year we’ve just had! Here’s my round by round review of this year’s championship.
When the new cars were launched, we were treated to the most spectacular looking cars for a very long time. We also had the prospect of the most open championship for years. Volkswagen had left and we had a returning Citroen team.
Round One Monte Carlo
There was sadness on Thursday evening when Hayden Paddon slid wide on ice and a spectator was in the wrong place. Out of respect, Hyundai withdrew the car.
Through the weekend, Thierry opened up a big lead, to over a minute, until stage 13 on the Saturday afternoon. He slid wide and damaged his suspension. After completing a quick fix, he completed the stage. However, he was out for the rest of that day. He would re-join under Rally2 regs, but the win had slipped away. Sebastien Ogier had lost time earlier in the weekend, after sliding wide and getting stuck in a ditch, but he chipped away and after getting comfortable in the car had emerged in the lead after Thierry’s accident.
Several other drivers had starring roles too. Craig Breen was driving the previous years car and produced some giant killing times and ultimately finished in fifth place! Top three in the end was Ogier, Latvala and Tanak. It was M-Sport’s first win in Monte Carlo since 2006 and their first win since Wales Rally GB in 2012.
Round Two, Rally Sweden
It was another spectacular event in northern Sweden. Lots of snow, gave us some very good conditions for all the drivers to do their magic.
Mads Ostberg returned to the championship with a Fiesta WRC run by Team Adapta. He had a very interesting time, losing his rear wing during stage four. On Saturday he attempted to beat the record jump from the year before from Colin’s Crest. It stood at 45 metres and he came very close indeed. In the first run of the stage he reached 42 metres and then later set an amazing 44 metres!
Once more Thierry drove a perfect event, building a decent lead, until the final stage on Saturday when his bad luck struck again and he broke his left front wheel after sliding wide. Incredibly, Jari-Matti in his brand-new Yaris WRC was there to pick up the victory.
After taking the lead with just a 3.8 second gap on Saturday evening, he increased it to almost 30 seconds by the end of the rally! With this brilliant drive, he also took the lead of the world championship, leading Sebastien by four points.
Citroen weren’t having a very good time though, with Kris Meeke sliding out on Saturday and incredibly Craig Breen was their top driver in the championship. On the other side, M-Sport were doing really well after seeing Seb and Ott finish both events this year on the podium. Malcolm and the whole team were delighted.
Round Three, Rally Mexico
A month later, the teams headed for the first gravel event of the year, and well, it didn’t start well. After transporting the cars to Mexico City for two short stages on Thursday night, there was a delay getting them back to Leon, which ultimately meant all of the Friday morning stages were cancelled.
It was time for Kris to shine after a troubled start to the year, and he took the lead of the rally through Friday and increased it on Saturday to thirty seconds. M-Sport, Hyundai and Toyota all experienced car problems, with overheating on the very hot stages. Elfyn Evans was also showing that his year away from the top had done his confidence the world of good, setting some good times and building his knowledge for the future.
Ultimately, Kris won Rally Mexico, but not without some big drama! On the final stage, he went wide and left the road clipping a parked car! After re-joining the stage, he crossed the line thirteen seconds ahead of Seb, with Thierry completing the podium!
After that result, Seb moved back into the lead of the championship ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, who could only manage sixth.
Round Four, Tour de Corse
Day one on the Island of Corsica belonged to Kris and the Citroen team. In the four long stages he felt very comfortable and opened up a lead of 10 seconds over his closest challenger Seb. It was Ott Tanak who would not have a good day. He slid wide in stage three and although the car wasn’t damaged, it was stuck fast and wouldn’t move. Thierry Neuville would have a good day though and was not far off the lead in third.
Saturday would ultimately lead to disappointment for Kris, Paul and the whole Citroen team. After driving really well, they would suffer a mechanical failure with the engine letting go on stage six. It was over. Elfyn would also suffer misfortune, after sliding off and beaching his car.
Sunday would see Thierry continue to lead and take his first victory of the year! A battle for second place between Seb and Dani would entertain us, which ultimately would go to the Frenchman. Jari-Matti would finish in fourth after a very good drive.
Thierry’s drive to victory would see him jump to third in the championship with 54 points, but Seb was in a strong position on top with 88 points.
Round Five, Rally Argentina
Kris Meeke and Haydon Paddon had both won this rally in the last two years, but really anything could happen. Would we see another first-time victor?
Well, through Friday we started to hope! Elfyn Evans would win a number of stages and opened up a lead of 55 seconds from second placed Mads Ostberg! Thierry was third at this point, just five seconds behind Mads. Pretty much all the other driver experienced problems of or kind or another. Kris rolled out and his teammate Craig hit the same bump and damaged his gearbox, leaving him stuck in fifth gear.
Saturday would see a big drive from Thierry getting the gap down to Elfyn from a minute, to just eleven seconds. Even a puncture wouldn’t slow him down. However, he was helped with some problems for the Welsh wizard who got a puncture on stage eleven. Ogier had problems in the morning, but after a lot of setup changes in service, the car was handling better.
On the final day, it all unravelled for Elfyn and Dan. They lost more time in the first two stages, meaning that they were just six tenths of a second ahead going into the final stage. At the very end, Thierry did enough to take the victory from Elfyn, winning by just seven tenths of a second!
Round Six, Rally Portugal
On the first day there was lots of drama, with Jari-Matti and Kris both damaging their cars. Hayden was challenging near the front, but an electrical problem dropped him from third to sixteenth! The top three was Ott, with Dani second and Seb in third at the end of day one.
On Saturday. Ott continued to have a good run, opening his lead up, but then disaster. He ran wide in stage 12 and damaged his car against a bank and dropped to fifth. Through the afternoon, Thierry and Seb would continue to fight for the lead. Ott’s car was fixed during mid-day, and this allowed him to push again in pursuit of Craig Breen who he passed later in the day.
Into Sunday then, and Seb drove to his second win of the year with Thierry just a few seconds behind. Rounding out the podium was Dani who had driven very well throughout the event. Ott drove well after his problem on Saturday getting into fourth place.
Round Seven, Rallye Italia Sardegna
It was the breakthrough we’d been waiting for. Ott Tanak took his first WRC victory! However, it was Hayden who led at the end of the first day after early leader Kris rolled out in the morning. We also saw young Finn Esapekka take his first overall stage victories on Friday, definitely one to watch as we would discover!
On Saturday, Hayden started well, but sadly it didn’t last, with him getting a puncture and broken wheel which then damaged his car too much to continue beyond stage 13. Ott took the lead and by the end of the day, he’d built a decent lead over Jari-Matti, with Thierry in third.
On Sunday Ott used his head and drove to his first victory, whilst Jari-Matti secured second place and Thierry in third. Lappi drove very well to secure fourth as well ahead of Seb.
Round Eight, Rally Poland
Kris was stood down for this round, after his accidents in the previous rounds. It rained in the morning of the first day. After a battle between Jari-Matti and Thierry for the lead on the first day, the top three would be Thierry, Ott and Jari-Matti. On his WRC debut, Teemu Suninen won his first stage behind the wheel of an M-Sport run Fiesta. Very impressive indeed. In the Citroen camp, Andreas would run wide and break his suspension. He would make it back to service though.
A dryer Saturday led to a dramatic day on the roads of Poland. The lead changed hands several times between Thierry and Ott who lost his rear wing during the afternoon stages. Hayden Paddon also won a few stages as well lifting himself into the top three. Jari-Matti sadly retired after his car stopped in stage 16.
On Sunday morning it was raining again. The battle was on between Thierry and Ott for the win. In the second stage of the day, Ott spun out hitting a tree in the process. Seb benefitted from that, moving into third overall. Thierry took his third victory of the year and Haydon finished second which after the year he’d been having was excellent news, whilst Seb finished a lucky third.
Thierry had now closed the gap to Seb after Poland to just eleven points and five rounds remained this year. The fight was on and it could go either way.
Round Nine, Rally Finland
This was an amazing rally, just like twelve months previously, but for very different reasons. The first thing that happened was that Seb crashed out after hitting a tree on stage four. Both he and Julien were taken to hospital. It was also a bad stage for Ott, who hit a rock causing a puncture. Hayden also hit the same rock, but the damage caused put him out. Through all of this came Jari-Matti, Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen! The Finns were taking this rally back in a big way. After lots of lead changes on Friday, it was Esapekka who was in front of Jari-Matti, on only his fourth WRC start!
Saturday saw Jari-Matti take the lead from his younger Toyota teammate. However, after just a few stages it would all come to nought. Jari-Matti ground to a halt in the second run of Ouninpohja, giving the lead back to Lappi. Behind all these quick Finns, was Elfyn Evans and Dan Barritt. They had found some great pace by the end of the day and found themselves just six seconds away from third place overall! Not bad for someone who’d not even run in the pre-event test!
No-one else led this event after Jari-Matti retired and Esapekka Lappi took his first victory! Incredibly, Elfyn and Dan came through and finished in second place! He passed Juho for third in stage 22, but then in stage 23, Juho repassed him, but also emerged in second overall after Teemu spun mid-stage! Anyway, at the end of all of that, Elfyn passed Juho in the very last stage to take second overall by just three tenths of a second!
In the battle for the world championship, things had got very interesting with Thierry Neuville drawing level with Seb Ogier on points, but being counted as leading at that point due to having three wins with Seb only on two.
Round ten, Rally Germany
Ott Tanak took his second victory of the year in a rally that M-Sport had never won before. Thierry who won this rally in 2014, crashed out in the Panzerplatte stage breaking his suspension. Many drivers have crashed in this stage, and the Belgian ace was yet another claimed by it. Kris sadly crashed out during the Thursday night super special, after hitting one of the concrete barriers lining the stage. Ogier finished third, knowing that would be enough to retake the lead in the championship, whilst Andreas, driving for Citroen finished in second place.
Round eleven, Rally Spain.
Kris Meeke took his second victory of the year on the classic mixed surface event that is Rally Spain. Friday sees the crews tackle gravel stage, before switching to smooth tarmac for Saturday and Sunday. Kris mastered the challenge brilliantly, and we saw him and Paul back to their very best form. Andreas made his debut for the Hyundai team, leading at the end of the first day, but ultimately not scoring any points after hitting a rock on Friday.
Thierry also endured an event to forget after experiencing car troubles on Friday which would cause handling problems and then damaging his suspension, putting him out on Sunday. Mads drove a brilliant event, to finish fifth with Torstein alongside him in their Adapta run Ford.
Seb and Ott drove to second and third positions and with that result put M-Sport on the brink of the manufacturers championship, plus Seb had an almost 40-point lead over second placed Thierry.
Round twelve, Wales Rally GB
Elfyn Evans and Dan Barritt drove to a consummate first victory on home soil, the first Brit and also first Welshman to achieve this result and the first home winner since 2000! It started with stage wins on Friday, building on that with good pace throughout Saturday, including the foggy night stages. It was the kind of victory that Seb Ogier would be happy with.
It was also a great weekend for the whole M-Sport team, with the manufacturers championship success, the first since 2006 and their first ever drivers title with Sebastien Ogier.
Thierry drove a great rally to finish in second place, after sliding wide early on Friday and having to fight back from a penalty that he got on Friday. He was driving better again after two non-finishes which had ended his fight with Seb for the world championship. Third place went to Seb Ogier.
Round Thirteen, Rally Australia
Thierry Neuville showed that he was the man on the pace in 2017, with his fourth victory of the year Down Under. The victory came his way when his teammate, Andreas suffered a double puncture on Saturday morning when Thierry started to catch the Norwegian.
Jari-Matti had a pretty decent event, until Sunday. He was firmly in second place until the final power stage, when he crashed out. The weather turned really bad on Sunday and it was these conditions that saw him slide out.
With the Finn crashing his Yaris, Fiesta pilot, Ott moved into second. He’d been as low as sixth place, but had found good pace through Saturday to climb into the podium positions and held it together to take another podium in this stellar year for him.
Hayden completed the podium, bringing his hardest season at the top to an end. It was the second podium of the year for him.
Well, what a season we had to enjoy! Seven different winners and three different leaders in the world championship made this a year to remember. Three new winners as well, with Ott Tanak, Esapekka Lappi and Elfyn Evans all taking their maiden victories.
We had spectacular cars as well. These new generation WRC beasts sounded great, looked great and they tested the drivers to new levels.
We had some answers to some questions too. Could Seb win with a different team? He answered that question. Could anyone challenge him? Well, yes, sort of. Thierry took more victories, but with too many non-finishes, he fell short in the end. Ott Tanak took two wins as well, just like his teammate, but he’s still early in his career and lacked the experience to consistently challenge Seb.
Kris Meeke took two wins as well, but also crashed out too often and was stood down for Rally Poland. In my opinion this was the wrong decision really.
Toyota made a great return to the sport with the team run by 4-times world champion Tommi Makinen, with two victories from Jari-Matti and Esapekka, even leading the drivers’ championship after Rally Sweden. However, they weren’t going challenge all year and they can count it as a really good result to finish ahead of Citroen in the manufacturers standings.
After coming so close earlier this year in Argentina, Elfyn Evans and Dan Barritt took their maiden wrc victory driving a D-Mack shod Fiesta WRC. It had been 17 years since we had last had a British winner.
A record number of fans flocked to the event, numbering more than 100,000, after an amazing season of these new generation cars. What they witnessed was a supreme drive by the 28-year-old. Here’s the story of how it happened.
In shakedown, Elfyn set the pace leading Dani Sordo and Ott Tanak in third. This was looking good. The first stage of the rally was held that evening with Seb winning and continuing his amazing run. Elfyn was sixth, but only 1.1 seconds away.
Friday morning dawned a sunny day with light winds. Stage two was the Myherin test. The cars would head onto the stage in championship order meaning that Seb would be first on the road all day. His time would be good enough for third quickest, but it was the home boys that would be top with Elfyn leading Kris in the stage and the welsh wizard moving into the lead as well. Thierry would go wide in this stage, gathering some grass in his wing!
Out on stage, the ElfynsCorner crew were pretty happy! Top three at this point was Elfyn, Seb and Ott- an M-Sport 1-2-3.
Stage three in Sweet Lamb would see Ott and Thierry separated by just a tenth of a second with Elfyn in sixth, the gap was reduced by a second to 2.2 seconds.
The next stage in Hafren was the longest of the whole event at 35.14 km. Elfyn would emerge quickest again, and increased his lead over Ott to 6.7 seconds. Seb fell from second to fourth, now 16.4 behind the leader. Further back, Craig suffered a puncture, but it wasn’t clear how it happened.
With no service, the cars headed for Newtown to change tyres and fit light-pods.
The second run started at half past two. It was getting quite warm out there, and the road had really dried a lot, so much so, that the cars were kicking up a dust trail as they came through! Evans won the stage from Ogier by 4.3 seconds. His closest challenger for the lead, Ott could only manage eighth fastest, and 8.4 slower, meaning that he was now 15.1 behind Elfyn. Seb also moved ahead of Kris, back into third overall.
Seb would win the second run of Sweet Lamb, and closed the gap to Ott as well. This was going well for Elfyn indeed as he was second fastest and his lead was 16.1 seconds with one stage to go, this was looking good!
The second run of Hafren, saw Thierry take his first stage win of the weekend and he would climb into fourth overall, moving ahead of Latvala and Meeke. Ott was slower again than Elfyn, meaning that the lead was now an incredible 24.6 seconds. Further back, Craig had made a mistake and slid off the road, but he managed to get going again and completed the stage.
It was the first time that Elfyn and Dan had led at home ever, and the first time we had a Briton pairing lead at home since 2001!
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION- Day One
Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:09:20.9
Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +24.6
Andreas Mikkelsen / Ander Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +52.0
Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:13.9
Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:22.9
Juho Hänninen / Kaj Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:43.5
Here then are the thoughts of all the drivers, starting with the leader.
Elfyn won three stages today, to become the first Briton to lead since Colin Mcrae in 2001 and the first Welshman since David Llewellin in 1989.
Elfyn Evans (1st) said:
“It feels pretty good to be in this position at the end of the day. We’ve had a solid run with no problems and no mistakes so, so far, so good.
“It’s definitely not been an easy day – especially this morning when the grip was changing so often through the stages.
“Finding the balance between pushing just enough and over-driving was pretty difficult as the grip was changing from corner to corner. We just tried to concentrate on using the traction we had as best we could, but it wasn’t easy for sure.
“Tomorrow’s stages really are fantastic and so enjoyable to drive. They’re real home territory for me so the plan is just to go out there and enjoy it.”
One stage win combined with good consistency in the other stages means that Ott was in a good position overall.
Ott Tänak (2nd) said:
“It’s not been a bad day for us and it’s been really nice out on the stages. The sun has been shining and I think it’s the first time I’ve actually seen the Myherin stage without the fog!
“It’s still a really close battle behind Elfyn so we’ll have to wait and see what we can do. Tomorrow’s stages are completely different but they’re also really enjoyable.
“I’m sure it’s going to be another exciting day, but it will be difficult to make any big-time differences. We’ll keep fighting and keep pushing as always.”
Rounding out the top three was Seb, only a couple of seconds behind Ott, meaning that M-Sport filled the top three positions. He’d taken two stage wins and set some very consistent times.
Sébastien Ogier (3rd) said:
“I feel good at the end of the day. Some sections were quite tough and I struggled to read the grip through the first pass of Hafren. I was a bit disappointed at the end of that one, but other than that it has been a good day for us.
“I took my 500th stage win today, at exactly the same place where I took my very first stage win in 2008, so that is a nice story and it seems that I like Sweet Lamb! Actually, the profile of today’s whole loop is really nice – nice flowing stages and nice corners which are really enjoyable to drive.
“So long as you can read the grip, you can have a lot of fun out there and for sure Elfyn has had a lot of fun today. We knew he could do well here and, even though the tyres are working well for him, it was still a very strong performance. No matter what tyres you have, you still have to drive the car and he deserves to be where he is tonight.
“All three championship contenders are really close now and if I want to stay in the fight I have to push. That will be the plan for tomorrow – to enjoy, to push, and to see the fight continue.”
Thierry Neuville (4th) said:
“We have made improvements during the day and can be satisfied with where we are considering our time penalty from Thursday. The pace is there and we would have liked to be fighting at the top but that put us behind before we’d even really started. I struggled with the settings of the car on the first stage this morning, stalling the engine after running wide and losing some seconds. We changed the differential settings midway through the loop and found some improvements, which have allowed us to move up. Finishing the day with a stage win is encouraging and gives us the motivation we need to keep pushing on Saturday.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (7th) said:
“It is always a pleasure to come back to Wales. I started my career here and it’s fun to be driving this year with Hyundai Motorsport. Although the weather conditions have been fine today, the stages are still incredibly slippery and that has made things quite difficult. From our road position, there hasn’t been much more we could do today. We are still learning about the car in these gravel conditions, and doing all we can to adapt and learn. That is our objective also for the rest of the weekend, and we hope to make up a few more positions on the way, as well.”
Dani Sordo (8Th) said:
“The stages this morning were a lot more slippery than I anticipated which I wasn’t expecting. The grip in SS4 (Hafren) was better, so we hoped to push more in the repeat loop, after the remote tyre fitting zone. Unfortunately, the grip changed again in the afternoon, which prevented us from doing much more. The stages were really fast at times, and I remain hopeful that we can make up some ground over the next two days.”
Hayden Paddon (9th) said:
“Wales Rally GB is a great rally, but it has certain particularities that you need to deliver against in order to be quick. First, you need absolutely bags of confidence and to be completely comfortable in the car. We always seem to struggle with understeer on the opening day, so we were mentally prepared for that, but it held us back today. The conditions were tricky, as you’d expect in Wales, but I’d almost have preferred it to be raining. We changed the settings for the afternoon loop but the conditions changed as well, so it’s a bit of a moving target. Tomorrow is, of course, another day and I hope we can enjoy it a bit more.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th) said:
“The conditions have been difficult for everybody today. There was heavy rain overnight and then the roads started to dry, which actually made the situation worse as the moisture came to the top of the road and the surface became slippery. In the morning I was struggling with understeer and didn’t have the confidence to push, but we changed some things at the regroup and the car definitely felt better, even though were still struggling a bit with the traction. To be in fifth position is not so bad, but we have been discussing things that we can do to improve for tomorrow.”
Juho Hänninen (10th) said:
“It hasn’t been so easy today. I knew the conditions would be tricky but trying to estimate the grip this morning when it was changing on every other corner made it hard to find a rhythm. This afternoon the driving didn’t feel too bad but the times were not good at all. Now we are thinking carefully about how we can change the setup a bit and get some more confidence for tomorrow.”
Esapekka Lappi (11th) said:
“Today has been quite frustrating, as we have just been lacking grip. This morning I was missing some confidence, but it’s hard to build confidence when the pace isn’t there. I think we have something wrong in the setup because I was quite on the maximum in the last stage and we were still losing a lot of time. Now we have the opportunity to make changes in service to find some more grip and to learn for next year.”
Kris Meeke (6th) said:
“I’m very pleased with how today’s leg went. I managed to maintain a good rhythm throughout the stages. To be honest, I don’t think I could’ve done much more. I was expecting to have a hard time of it, given our position in the running order but the grip was actually pretty good this morning, when the mud cleaned a bit and you were left with the cobblestones. I think tomorrow should be even better, because the road conditions will be more even for all of us.”
Craig Breen (36th) said:
“I tried to keep it neat and tidy, but we started by losing a minute this morning, with a slow puncture. I hadn’t hit anything, so I was very disappointed to lose contact with the leaders so early in the rally. This afternoon, I spun the car and there was an enormous water hole. The front went in and we couldn’t get out. It was a very small, simple mistake but we didn’t get away with it. Thanks to the spectators for helping us!”
Khalid Al Qassimi (28th) said:
“It was a very tough day. I’m really not used to driving in conditions like these. Most of the time, it’s been like driving on ice. We are going to work with the engineers to see if it is possible to make it easier to drive the car.”
Mads Østberg (12th) really struggled through the first day. Setup issues and the challenging conditions left him outside the points. He said:
“We don`t really know what is wrong, except that the set-up on the car doesn`t work in these conditions. Regrettably we had technical issues during our test on Monday and managed only a few runs, and that meant we couldn`t test different set-ups. Today we have been guessing, but not found any answers. We tried a setup from Spain in the afternoon, but that made the car harder to drive. We shall analyse all data during the evening service and hopefully find a better solution for tomorrow”
Day two dawned cloudy and cooler. It was an earlier start as well for everyone with service at ten past six, a full hour earlier than Friday. Nine stages made this day the longest of the weekend, and with two held at night after service, it would really test the crews out.
Aberhirnant was first up, and Elfyn picked up where he had left off on Friday, taking the stage and increasing his lead over Ott to 30 seconds. Kris moved ahead of Latvala into fifth place. Andreas found some good pace as well, going third in the stage.
Stage nine, Dyfnant was next up and second placed Ott fell further behind Evans, but Seb was having a worse start after only setting the ninth fastest time. Thierry was closing on his rival for the championship. Elfyn was pulling away, the gap now 36 seconds.
Into stage ten, Gartheinog and Elfyn made it three from three, taking his lead to almost 40 seconds over Ott. Thierry also moved ahead of Seb into third. Latvala also closed a little on Kris. It was getting close behind our home leader!
Stage 11, Dyfi next and a lot happened in this one! Kris spun in the chicane losing time after a stall as well. The other news was that Thierry moved ahead of Ott and into second place. Further back, Dani Sordo was really struggling.
The rerun of Gartheiniog, stage 12 saw Elfyn extend his lead some more with his lead now 54 seconds over Thierry. The big news was that Kris lost part of his wing during the stage! I was stage-side, and he came past me with the top part missing! Andreas was also closing the gap to Jari-Matti in their fight for fifth place.
In stage 13, Dyfi, Thierry stopped Elfyn winning all the stages with a very good drive to take top spot, but Elfyn was still firmly in charge. The gap between Jari-Matti and Andreas was getting smaller and smaller, now just 1.6 seconds between them.
The short spectator stage at Cholmondeley Castle, stage 14, saw Juho Hanninen crash out of the event. His teammate, Jari-Matti also dropped behind Andreas in their battle over fifth place. With Thierry winning the stage from Dani and Ott, Elfyn kept it simple and set the ninth fastest time.
Now we just had two stages left, but they were run once the sun had gone down. The crews headed to the second run of Aberhirnant. It was going to be a much harder this time round though! The fog had descended, making everything much harder! Kris Meeke said, “It was completely crazy. You can’t see 10 metres off the start line. It was hellishly crazy.” Jari-Matti felt at home, setting the fastest time and moving back ahead of Andreas into fourth place overall. Ogier also moved back into second overall after Thierry only managed the ninth fastest time, a full 33.8 slower than Latvala.
The final stage of the day saw the crews return to Dyfnant and Elfyn returned to the top of the times with a very good time and extended his lead over Seb to 53 seconds. He had driven brilliantly all day, able to find the speed to pull away, and able to play it safe when it was needed.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:32:39.2
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +53.1
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +53.6
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +57.7
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:03.6
Tänak / Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:06.1
Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:27.6
Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:04.0
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:41.0
Sordo / Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:35.8
Let’s catch up with the drivers after day two.
Six stage wins helped Elfyn pull away from his closest challengers, adding almost 30 seconds to his lead throughout the day.
Elfyn Evans (1st) said:
“It’s been a really good day for us and a really enjoyable one as well. I’ve always enjoyed these stages but I have to say that I was glad to get through the night stages!
“They really were tough. With the fog on Aberhirnant [SS15] you couldn’t even see the road in front of you so it was very, very challenging. But we made it through and actually managed to increase our lead.
“That’s given us a good cushion for tomorrow and there aren’t so many kilometres left, but they’re not easy. There are some very tricky stages coming up with a lot of big breaking areas into not a lot of run off and Gwydir [SS19] is massively technical and not been in use since 2013. There’s plenty in there tomorrow, so we need to keep focused and keep at it.”
Seb endured a puncture and then a failure on his brakes on the same wheel that he got a puncture, although it didn’t hold him back.
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“It’s been a tricky day and we’ve been lacking some pace compared to yesterday. We need to understand why that was, but I’m just happy to be here after this evening’s night stages!
“When you drive in conditions as challenging as the ones we faced tonight, there is no way of making it risk free. Do that and you can easily lose a minute or more. The visibility really was terrible at times, but we just decided to go for it.
“It was so close between second and fifth that I had to try and it was working pretty well up until the last kilometre when I didn’t see an almost none existent corner. We hit the bank in the fog, damaged the front-left wheel, lost the brakes and honestly thought it would be difficult to finish the day.
“Without the brakes it would have been un-driveable but we managed to close the damaged system and carry on with only three brakes. Somehow, it was still possible to drive and we didn’t lose too much time.
“With only small gaps between a lot of drivers, and 40 kilometres left to complete, we’ll have to keep pushing if we want to stay on the podium.”
Thierry Neuville (3rd) said:
“Overall, it was a better day than Friday in terms of the driving, more consistent and we were able to make up a good chunk of time, although I am disappointed with the way our day has ended. We probably had the worst of the fog and honestly could not have gone any faster. We tried to push but it was impossible in those conditions. I expected poor conditions in the evening, but nothing like we experienced. I gave it all I had in the final stage but all our hard work was undone by the weather conditions.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (4th)
“Things started a bit slowly in the first stage this morning but they just kept improving after that. We had much better traction than we did on Friday, and although we have still been struggling with understeer, we kept playing with the dampers during the day and this helped the car to feel better and better, and the stage times became quicker. Tonight, in the dark and the fog I was quite happy with the performance. Sometimes you have to attack when the conditions are trickiest. The grip was quite good and the feeling with the car was good. I’m looking forward to tomorrow now.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (5th) said:
“On the whole, we have had a good day. The daylight stages were particularly positive. We benefitted from a better starting position today so we wanted to capitalise on that and regain some time. We were able to achieve that and were not far off the lead times. The car set-up was amazing. We knew the evening stages would be tough, with the fog, but we had nothing to lose so I drove as quick as I could. We set our light pods too high in the penultimate stage of the evening, and couldn’t see anything. We tried to modify those but with no fog in the final stage they were too low and visibility was worse. Still, there are a lot of good things to take from today’s running.”
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“It has been a long, tricky day, but also a typical Wales Rally GB day. There was just one really foggy stage where we lost a lot of time. For sure it’s disappointing, but it’s done now and that’s how it is. The gaps behind Elfyn aren’t too big so let’s see what we can do tomorrow. Hopefully we can show more pace than today and be able to fight. It will be an interesting day for sure.”
Kris Meeke (7th) said:
“As we expected, it was a long day with a lot of time spent behind the wheel! I stayed in touch with the group fighting for the podium until I made a small mistake and stalled in a chicane: that cost me a good ten seconds or so. But I don’t think it made that much difference to our situation. Most of the time, we were able to match or get close to the performance level of our rivals and I enjoyed driving the Citroën C3 WRC today. Our position in the standings isn’t brilliant, but we’ll be ready to seize any opportunities if they come up tomorrow.”
Hayden Paddon (8th) said:
“There have been some positives and some problems today. On the positive side, the car has felt much better today and I have felt more confident. However, we have also encountered some trouble, which has set us back. We had a puncture at the start of the second stage and then hydraulic issues on the second run through Dyfi – the longest stage of the day. We had no gearbox or differentials for the entire stage, and it was an absolute handful if I’m honest. I was looking forward to the evening stages and felt that we got more out of ourselves. It’s the same conditions for everyone, but I am able to trust Seb implicitly on the pace notes, so we could push that bit more.”
Esapekka Lappi (9th) said:
“Today was certainly better than yesterday. It helped that we were the third car on the road. We made some big changes in service last night and the car started to feel good. I was still struggling for confidence but it has been a bit more enjoyable today. We made more changes in service before the night stages and I think these helped, as the grip felt better than on the previous stages.”
Dani Sordo (10th) said:
“There is nothing I can say. It has been a difficult day, and it ended with a poor stage where we lost a lot of time. The car has performed well, mostly, but we haven’t been able to make progress. I was struggling with the traction and grip this morning and the suspension was too soft for my preference. This rally is very special and unique, but so far, I haven’t been able to dial into it fully. I am definitely hoping to turn things around on the final day.”
Craig Breen (17th) said:
“On this rally, the handbrake really is the driver’s best friend. And today, I lost my best friend right at the start! The first runs on the stages were very difficult. It was a bit better on the second pass, because I could use the ruts to get the car to turn on the tight bends. It’s a shame we lost the handbrake, because the speed was definitely there today to set some very good times.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (23rd):
“It was one of the most difficult days in my WRC career! On the second pass, I was driving on a layer of mud just as slippery as ice. I wasn’t pushing at all, I was just trying to avoid going off the road. The night stages were also very tricky, with a lot of fog. I nonetheless enjoyed myself when there was a bit of grip.”
Mads Østberg had a troubling day. After four stages on Saturday, he retired his car. During stage eleven, the car stopped. He and his co-driver Emil got the car going again and they completed the stage.
Mads explains: “We had a couple of major high-speed “moments” that nearly sent us out among the trees. With no proper service during the day there was no other choice than to retire, and possibly have a chance to sort out the issues and restart on Sunday.”
“Something plays up with the centre differential and suddenly and without warning it stops functioning. We have also had the engine cut out completely at two different occasions on SS11. Both issues are really something that you don`t want to happen flat in sixth gear.”
Juho Hänninen (Ret) said:
“Things were better this morning than they were yesterday. We made some changes with the car that helped us compensate for all the mud that we are collecting on stages, so the rear was not sitting down so much meaning we could have better traction at the front. Unfortunately, on the Cholmondeley stage I braked a bit too late and hit a hay bale, broke a front damper and had to retire. There is also some damage to the chassis so we won’t be able to restart tomorrow.”
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny like Friday. The crews faced five stages to complete the event. Elfyn had a 53 second lead over his teammate Seb, who was on the verge of his fifth world championship. M-Sport were also looking at winning their first manufacturers championship.
Stage 17, Alwen, fell to Ott, but the big news was that Thierry went three seconds faster than Ogier and with that moved his Hyundai back into second overall.
Next stage, Brenig, which would later be the powerstage, was won by Andreas. Elfyn was on cruise mode, just getting around the stage and using his advantage to his benefit.
Stage 19, Gwydir saw Jari-Matti and Thierry set exactly the same time! Kris was third fastest, which was excellent news for him and Citroen.
Just two stages to go now and history being made. Could Elfyn deliver the win that we had been waiting for at home for 17 years and also become the first driver from Wales to win a World Championship event?
The re-run of Alwen went to Andreas and with the pace he found, he climbed back into fourth overall at the expense of Jari-Matti who could only manage ninth, five seconds slower than the Hyundai driver. Our leader Elfyn was pretty comfortable with this one, going fourth!
Time for the powerstage then and just 6.43km! The top five positions were taken by Thierry, Kris, Jari-Matti, Seb and Andreas.
Seb and M-Sport had done it. Together they’d won the drivers and Manufacturers Championships. However, the big news was that Elfyn had taken his maiden victory at his home event! What a result! Just fantastic!
Let’s hear then from the drivers starting with our seventh different winner this year.
Elfyn Evans (1st) said:
“I’m feeling pretty good, and just about managed to keep the tears away at the podium. It’s been a really long and difficult weekend, so this one feels good and it was made all the more special when you combine it with everything the team has achieved today.
“Already after Shakedown, we knew if the conditions played into our hands then the speed was there to challenge for the victory. As the weekend went on, I felt that it was always in my reach, but this is an event you can never predict. A clean run with no punctures, spins or mistakes is very difficult. It’s all about finding the right balance and I think that’s what we managed to achieve this weekend.
“I’m definitely hungry for more wins now, so let’s wait and see what next year has in store. Now that I have felt this feeling, it’s one that I would like to repeat!”
Thierry Neuville (2nd) said:
“Our congratulations to Sébastien on his fifth WRC title, and to M-Sport. We got the message just before the start of the Power Stage that he had done enough. It has been a really exciting battle this year and although we have had our moments of misfortune, we have enjoyed some great fights along the way. Everyone in the team has worked incredibly hard this year, so we can be pleased with our performances and for playing our part in the Championship fight. We could not have done any more this weekend. Elfyn was on incredible form, so to finish second to him is a great achievement. Our five Power Stage points shows our performance level this weekend, and I have enjoyed the rally, despite having to concede the Championship. We will now aim to finish the season well in Australia and to secure second place ahead of Ott.”
Sébastien Ogier (3rd) said:
“Emotion is something you cannot control. There is something beautiful about that and I have to say that this was the strongest feeling of emotion that I have ever experienced in my professional life. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but it is most definitely a good one.
“Twelve months ago, we decided to take what could have been considered a risk. We decided to team up with Malcolm and set ourselves a challenge. Today, we have succeeded in that challenge and know that we made the right choice.
“I felt immediately proud and very happy for the team. A drivers’ title is something that has never happened for them and it was so well deserved. What they are able to do is amazing. Really, a big thanks to all of them.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (4th) said:
“We have done our absolute best this weekend, trying to go as fast as we could. We wanted to show progress from Spain and we definitely did that. The battle for the podium was really close and I am pleased that we could finish so close to Séb. Fourth place in our second event with Hyundai Motorsport is pretty good. We took a few stage wins this morning, but also made a few mistakes as well, so there is still room for improvement. Overall, I am happy. As a team, we must now prepare to finish the season in the best way possible in Australia, and then aim to make another improvement in the Championship in 2018.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th) said:
“I couldn’t have gone any quicker than I did on the Power Stage: I gave it absolutely everything! This has not been a perfect rally for us, but we’re happy to score some points, we know what we can do to improve, and it doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the Toyota Yaris WRC is the best car that I’ve ever driven. Conditions between the rally and the test were not exactly the same and that was one of the problems we experienced: on the polished stages today, it was impossible to get the car to turn, so that was frustrating. But I’ve still enjoyed the rally: it was fantastic to see so many spectators out on the stages. Wales is always one of the most difficult events of the year, but after Finland it is definitely my second home rally: I’m always very happy to be competing here.”
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“Our weekend might not have played out as we had been hoping, but crossing the line and securing the manufacturers’ championship for the team was something very special. Malcolm, and everyone in the team, have done such an incredible job this year and we’ve achieved huge success together. They really do deserve everything this weekend.”
Kris Meeke (7th) said:
“Normally, I wouldn’t be happy with seventh place. But to be honest, Elfyn Evans was in a different class this weekend, he produced an exceptional performance throughout the rally. The battle was mainly for second place and for a long time, we were only thirty seconds or so back, among a group of drivers that were quite tightly bunched together. I dropped back slightly when I made a little mistake yesterday, but I’m still pleased with my rally. I felt good all weekend – it’s been a while since I felt that comfortable on this type of surface, throughout an entire rally.”
Hayden Paddon (8th) said:
“We have been in a bit of a no man’s land today, so we have concentrated on keeping things nice and smooth. The result isn’t what we wanted, of course, but we have started to regain our confidence in the car, and just enjoy ourselves a bit more. It has been hard to read the stages this weekend, but it’s been fun to get behind the wheel and to be part of the team again. We can now reset and refocus our efforts on Rally Australia, where we have our sights set much higher!”
Esapekka Lappi (9th)
“For me the most important thing was to get to the finish, so I made sure that I concentrated on that above everything else, in order to improve my experience of these challenging conditions. Today we had a good run through the first loop of stages and set some promising times, but on the second run when the roads were cleaner, it was more difficult and I struggled to find the grip. We learned a lot on this rally, so even though it wasn’t the result that we wanted, it was very valuable experience that will help us for the future. I’m learning all the time and so is the team.”
Dani Sordo (10th) said:
“It has been a challenging rally for everyone, with slippery and often unpredictable conditions. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the confidence that we needed to mount a stronger attack this weekend. It’s nice to extend our run of rally finishes this season but it isn’t the result we know we are capable of. We have had some positive results this year. Although I am not competing in Australia, we will be hoping for a competitive event for the team as we prepare to come back stronger in 2018.”
Mads Østberg and co-driver Emil Axelsson finished the event in 39th place after the problems inflicted on Saturday. He said:
“It`s just a bit comical to finish inside the top forty, but this has been the most difficult and frustrating rally this year. The team worked hard to find the source of the electronic “glitches” yesterday, but we haven`t been able to cure the problems. So today has been about driving through the five stages to collect further data and possibly find a solution.”
Mads won’t be driving in Rally Australia and there are no confirmed details as to what is happening with him next year.
“Finishing the season with the problems we have had here in Wales is of course very frustrating, but all in all there are many positive points from 2017. We have been able to fight for the lead in several rallies and I know my speed is very competitive, especially on the “loose”. Spain became a highlight with leading the rally on gravel the first day and securing a solid and good result after two days on tarmac.”
Sébastien Ogier – 215
Thierry Neuville – 183
Ott Tänak – 169
Jari-Matti Latvala – 136
Elfyn Evans – 118
Dani Sordo – 95
Juha Hänninen – 71
Kris Meeke – 70
Craig Breen – 64
Hayden Paddon – 59
M-Sport World Rally Team – 398
Hyundai Motorsport – 305
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC – 241
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team – 210
Well, what an amazing Wales Rally GB that was! A home winner and two world championships secured as well!
I hope you enjoyed my recap of the event, and now it’s just a couple of weeks to the last round of the championship.
Let’s see what happens when the teams head down-under!
It’s time for the UK round of this year’s championship. Twelve months ago, Ott Tanak took the fight to his future teammate Seb. It was one of the closest finishes for a long time.
M-Sport can wrap up the Manufacturers Title this weekend, which will be an amazing achievement for this privateer outfit run by Malcolm Wilson.
Here’s his thought’s ahead of the team’s home event.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s hard to find the words to describe just what a momentous achievement we are on the verge of securing this week.
“When we started developing the Ford Fiesta WRC, I knew we had the people to design a competitive, rally-winning car, and we always hoped to be in this sort of position. Now that it is a reality, it really is hard to find the words.
“But it’s not done yet and we cannot forget just what a challenging event Wales Rally GB can be. The changeable weather, unpredictable grip and long days make it one of the most demanding events of the year.
“All three of our drivers have proven what they are capable of in Wales, and I have no doubt that all three of them are capable of securing the best possible result. But anything can happen and we must remain at the top of our game to get the job done.”
Reigning champion Sébastien Ogier heads to Wales looking to take the championship for an amazing fifth time in a row.
Here’s his thoughts.
“This event is steeped in motorsport history and I think it’s fair to say that Wales Rally GB is one of the most iconic events on the calendar. It’s one that everyone wants to win and we’ll certainly be hoping to be in the battle for victory.
“It’s one of the most challenging rallies of the year and there is a real art to judging the grip levels through the forests. It’s an event that takes a while to get to grips with – quite literally – but I have to say that I now feel at home on the Welsh stages.
“Clearly, this could be a very special event for the team and it also provides us with our first mathematical chance of securing the drivers’ championship. But we can’t think too much about that. We just need to focus on enjoying the rally and delivering the best performance we can.”
Now, here’s the full details on the all the stages! There are twenty-one stages with a total of 304.36km of competitive, twisting muddy welsh roads!
THURSDAY 26 OCTOBER
8.00am: Shakedown – Clocaenog (3.32km)
6.57pm: Start (Tir Prince Raceway)
7.00pm: SS1 – Visit Conwy Tir Prince (1.49km)
8.00pm: Parc ferme (Deeside)
FRIDAY 27 OCTOBER
7.15am: Service A (Deeside – 15 mins)
10.20am: SS2 – Myherin 1 (20.28km)
11:00am: SS3 – Sweet Lamb 1 (4.24km)
11:15am: SS4 – Hafren 1 (35.14km)
1.27pm: Tyre and headlamp pod-fitting zone (Newtown – 15 mins)
2.31pm: SS5 – Myherin 2 (20.28km)
3.11pm: SS6 – Sweet Lamb 2 (4.24km)
3.26pm: SS7 – Hafren 2 (35.14km)
8.01pm: Flexi Service B (Deeside – 45 mins)
SATURDAY 28 OCTOBER
6.10am: Service C (Deeside – 15 mins)
7.55am: SS8 – Aberhirnant 1 (13..91km)
8.47am: SS9 – Dyfnant 1 (17.91km)
9.59am: SS10 – Gartheiniog 1 (12.61km)
10.28am: SS11 – Dyfi 1 (25.86km)
12.08pm: SS12 – Gartheiniog 2 (12.61km)
12.37pm: SS13 – Dyfi 2 (25.86km)
3.48pm: SS14 – Cholmondeley Castle (1.80km)
4.55pm: Service D (Deeside – 30 mins)
6.55pm: SS15 – Aberhirnant 2 (13.91km)
7.47pm: SS16 – Dyfnant 2 (17.91km)
10.26pm: Flexi Service E (Deeside – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 29 OCTOBER
7.00am: Service F (Deeside – 15 mins)
8.34am: SS17 – Alwen 1 (10.41km)
9.08am: SS18 – Brenig 1 (6.43km)
10.06am: SS19 – Gwydir (7.49km)
11.09am: SS20 – Alwen 2 (10.41km)
12.18pm: SS21 – Brenig 2 Power Stage (6.43km)
1.35pm: Finish (Llandudno)
Friday will see the #ElfynsCorner in Myherin! Very big support for D-Mack WRT driver Elfyn Evans has built up since I broke the story back in September. Stickers have been made and sent! Money will be raised for the Welsh Air Ambulance as well.
Saturday sees a mammoth 17-hour day! A very long day! There’s two-night stages as well. These will be very tricky indeed.
Now then what chance a home winner? Could Rally Spain victor Kris Meeke, Craig Breen or Elfyn Evans take victory in the welsh forests this weekend? It would be very popular, that’s for sure!
Here’s the thought’s then of the home-grown talent.
Kris Meeke said:
“Wales Rally GB is obviously a very special event for me. I competed in my very first rally here, almost twenty years ago! So, it’s the event that I know the best and the surface that comes most naturally to me. Our win in Spain was a great morale boost for the whole team. Having said that, it doesn’t guarantee anything for this event. We’ll see what sort of performance level we have in the Welsh forests. Obviously, a lot will depend on the weather. Running ninth on the road on Friday will be a handicap if it rains. In any case, I’m very motivated and will be doing everything I can to secure another good result for Citroën.”
Craig Breen said:
“Between my appearances in the British Rally Championship and the WRC, I feel like I know this event pretty well. I have a lot of good memories here, the highlight being when we won the Junior WRC title. That was in 2011 and it was all more special because my co-driver at the time, Gareth Roberts, was Welsh. After missing the last rally, I’m very happy to be back in the C3 WRC for the final two rounds of the season. As always, it’s pretty difficult to set a specific target, given how much the conditions can affect the standings. But after finishing fifth six times, I would certainly love to do a bit better!”
Elfyn Evans said:
“There’s nothing quite like rallying at home and we’re in for a classic Wales Rally GB this year. The iconic stages, the weather, the night stages, the long days – this year’s offering has it all and it’s that sort of challenge that I really enjoy. I’m looking forward to it and to playing my part in what could be a really historic event for the team.
“It’s always amazing to see the Welsh fans out on the stages, and it’s true that their enthusiasm gives you that little bit extra. We’ll have to wait and see how the conditions suit our package, but we’re hungry for a strong result before the end of the year and will be giving it our all this weekend.”
Now then, what of the Belgian challenger Thierry Neuville? He saw his challenge for the drivers crown really take a dive after a no score last time out in Spain.
He explains: “We were dealt something of a harsh blow in Spain, but we are ready to fight back in Wales. It is a unique event on the calendar, a rally where weather conditions can really dictate performance and confidence levels. If it’s raining, windy and muddy, the stages become incredibly slippery. It is without doubt a tough event, but one that I relish. I have finished on the podium a couple of times, and get a buzz from the fantastic atmosphere. Driving at high-speed through the forest stages, sometimes in the dark, is just incredible. I intend to keep pushing right to the end of the Championship.”
Last year’s runner up Ott Tanak in this rally, will be looking to cement his second position in the championship, with a strong run. Here’s what he had to say:
“Wales Rally GB is a classic in every sense of the word. The days are long and the conditions are unpredictable, but that is rallying and that’s what makes it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. When you secure a strong result in Wales, you know that you have delivered.
“This will be my seventh time competing in Wales, and six of those were with the top-specification Fiesta. I’ve got good experience here, and the stages are fast and flowing which I really enjoy. They can get quite slippery and ‘polished’ over the second pass but, again, that just adds to the challenge that makes this rally so special.
“Obviously, this will be a very important weekend for the team. We’re on the verge of securing something really amazing and everyone will be working their hardest to secure that goal. If we could top the weekend off with a win, it would be even better!”
Hayden Paddon fans will be happy too. He returns to his i20 and after finishing 5th in 2015 and then 4th last year, perhaps he could stand on the podium this year? His thoughts for you.
“Wales Rally GB is an iconic rally with plenty of driving challenges. The event has always been run late in the season, so we can expect some rain and potentially foggy conditions. In many ways, it is like being back home in New Zealand. There are some very nice, fast stages, and it is a rally I enjoy. Hopefully we can put together a good result and build up to a positive conclusion to what has been a tough season.”
Now, what of Mads and his Adapta Motorsport run Fiesta WRC? He will not be driving in Australia, and that means he’ll be looking to end his season on a high. He has scored well in this event, having got top results in previous years.
He has another co-driver alongside him. Emil Axelsson who was his co-driver in an Norwegian rally last month will be working very hard to guide Mads through the welsh forests.
Here’s the thoughts from him then.
“I can`t see why I shouldn`t be positive. I have two podiums from before in this rally and I like the often-changing conditions and grip in the Welsh forests. This autumn has also been very “uplifting” and positive, with a very good first day on gravel in Spain where I led the rally after four stages. In September we ran the Norwegian Championship finale as a competition test, and managed to find a very good set-up for the car on quite similar roads and conditions as we are expecting in Wales. I feel I have the necessary speed to be among the lead drivers, and Wales is the place to show it.”
Talking about the conditions on these classic stages, he continues:
“I won`t say that this is my absolutely preferred conditions for rallying, but I like the challenge and the special character of this rally. It`s a classic gravel rally on roads with proper ditches and trees in the forest. To imagine Wales Rally in sunshine and dry roads feels completely wrong. Wales is rain, fog and mud, and that in itself is a great challenge.”
Finally, what of Toyota? It was recently announced that Ott Tanak will be with the team next year. Lead driver Jari-Matti has won this event twice in 2011 and 2012. It’s not been so kind lately though.
Here’s his thoughts then.
“Britain is a bit like my second home as it’s where I started my career and it was also my first world championship rally. There are some fantastic stages like Myherin and Dyfnant, which I’m looking forward to going back to. We obviously had a few technical issues in some of the recent rallies, but I feel confident that the team has got completely on top of those now and I just want to have two strong events to finish this incredible season. The first few rallies were challenging but maybe less demanding on the car than these events now at the end of the year, so we are learning more all the time as it is still only our first season as a team.”
Rumours abound that Juho Hanninen will not be driving in Australia as well, so this will be the last time I believe we’ll see him in the Yaris this year.
Here then are his thoughts.
“I’m happy with what we managed to do in Spain, so we go into Rally GB with a lot of confidence. This will be my last rally of the year, so most of all I just want to enjoy it. I’ve not actually competed there since 2014, but luckily most of the stages are still quite the same. Even though I don’t have a huge amount of experience in Wales I’ve always liked it, so I want to make sure that this rally is a nice one for us. We don’t have a particular plan: we just want to take it stage by stage and build on our pace. It’s a strategy that has worked well before.”
Finally, Finland winner, Esapekka says:
“Our pre-event test was good but it was very strange weather: I brought my winter jacket and my hat, but when I stepped out of the hotel it was 22 degrees! Still, I think what we worked on can still be useful if it’s wet and muddy, which is normally what happens on Rally GB. I just hope that there’s not too much fog, as that can be really difficult. We changed some suspension settings and there are a few other lessons that we learned from Spain that I was able to improve on, so we made a lot of progress during the test. Normally I have a good feeling with Rally GB, so now I’m looking forward to getting out on the stages and hopefully we can have a good result at the end.”
Well, this looks to be an amazing event this year! In addition to that, I will be stage side throughout the rally, having secured a guest pass from the ever-helpful Wales Rally GB media team.
I’ll be joining the Elfyns Corner crew in Myherin on Friday and will journey around with them throughout the rest of the weekend. I can’t wait! Make sure you’re following both @PitCrew_Online and my own twitter account @Warren_S_Nel.
Enjoy the rally and if you’re coming to watch, come and find me!
The foundations for Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle’s victory were laid on Friday’s gravel stages. After just two stages, Kris was in the lead and despite some mistakes in the afternoon, at the end of that first day’s action, he was just three seconds from the lead.
Overnight leader was Andreas Mikkelsen on his first outing for Hyundai. His fellow teammates, Dani and Championship challenger Thierry were in sixth and seventh position. The wrong tyre choices and hotter than expected conditions on the stages had meant that there was little that Thierry could do other than get through the day and see what he and Nicolas could do on the smooth wide tarmac on Saturday.
It was an impressive Friday for Seb Ogier that despite running at the front of the field on the loose gravel, he was just 1.4 seconds from the lead. Ott Tanak was also driving very well. Third on the road, he maintained top ten pace in each of the six stages and holding fourth overall.
Also setting a great pace in his Fiesta was Mads, although in the final stage of the day the heater in his car got stuck on! What with the high temperatures outside, plus the heater on, it quickly became unbearably hot inside the Fiesta WRC. The two Norwegians therefore did well to make in to the end of the stage, just five seconds from the lead.
The first retirement of the event was Jari-Matti in his Toyota. After a very solid start in the morning, he won the first stage of the afternoon, but later in stage five he noticed that the car was starting to lose oil. This was the result of a strong impact under the car which made the lubrication system fail. He would not start the final stage of the day, and the damage to the engine would prove to be too severe. The team would be looking to Juho and Esapekka to bring the team some good results.
Elfyn Evans, running on D-Mack tyres, would start well, but after struggling in the afternoon, it was a case of get around and see what he could do on Saturday.
Here’s the driver quotes for day one.
Andreas Mikkelsen said: (1st)
“We could not have asked for a better start to our Hyundai Motorsport career. It has been a good day and I have been pleased with our approach. We started this morning carefully, to understand the car’s behaviour and generally just finding our feet.”
“A few changes to the settings allowed us to gain some time through the first Terra Alta run. The car felt very stable and there were no surprises. In the afternoon, we became more and more confident in the car. The final stage wasn’t ideal; we thought we had a puncture so took it a bit easier. We made it to the end safely and it’s nice to be fighting at the very top. It’s really close but it has definitely been a positive start for Anders and myself.”
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“I’m really happy with our day. It wasn’t easy, but our position this evening is really amazing. Being so close to the lead after a full day opening the road is not something we expected, but it’s a very nice surprise.
“The gaps are all so close so we’re all going to have to keep pushing tomorrow. For sure Andreas [Mikkelsen] and Kris [Meeke] will push hard, but I’ve always had a good feeling with the Fiesta on Tarmac so hopefully we can stay in the fight for the victory.
“But the most important thing for us was to stay ahead of Ott [Tänak] and Thierry [Neuville], which we have managed to do so far. Our target is clear, and we will keep our main focus on Ott, Thierry and the Championship fight.”
Kris Meeke (3rd) said:
“This morning, we didn’t make the right tyre choice. The soft tyres went off on Terra Alta, so I had to manage my pace a little and drop some time. It didn’t matter that much, because the gaps remained pretty small. On hard tyres, I was able to push almost from start to finish and I really enjoyed driving the C3 WRC. It’s a bit frustrating to have made a mistake on SS4; if it weren’t for that, I’d be leading. But in any case, I’m in a good position and am pleased with the day.”
Ott Tänak (4th) said:
“Overall I think the performance has been very good today. We expected to lose quite a lot with the loose gravel but actually the gaps are very small at the end of the day.
“It will definitely still be interesting tomorrow. It looks promising for the moment so let’s see how it goes in the morning and if we can find a good rhythm. These Tarmac roads are very unique but also very enjoyable, so we’ll try to find a good set-up with the car and see what we can do.”
Mads Østberg (5th) said:
“Really disappointing with the heater, and extremely hot and uncomfortable for us both with nearly 100 degrees Celsius inside the car. It`s hot enough inside these cars without hot air blowing into it, but we didn`t manage to turn it off.”
“As it was a very long stage we lost a bit of concentration and focus and of course we lost some time. Still I am happy with our performance this Friday, without the problems on the last stage we could have been in the lead. We also had some issues with dust coming into the, but that we could cope with.”
“In the preparation for the rally we have concentrated mainly on the tarmac set-up and driving. This will be the first time I drive the Fiesta “in anger” on tarmac, and we have much less experience with this than our competitors. A special challenge for me will be the much more advanced aerodynamics on the 2017-car than the car I have driven before. The aerodynamics plays a much bigger role on fast tarmac roads than on the loose.”
Dani Sordo (6th) said:
“It is great being back rallying at home, and I am so thrilled with the support of the fantastic spectators. We had a solid start today. The morning loop was tough for tyre selection, as the softs were a bit too soft, and the hard compounds were a bit too hard. However, we found a good compromise and it was a very close fight at the front. The grip levels were better in the opening afternoon stages, and I was pretty happy with the car. The repeat of Terra Alta was more slippery with not much traction, but we made it through the opening day in a respectable position – and with only ten seconds to the lead, I think it will be an exciting battle this weekend.”
Thierry Neuville (7th) said:
“We know what we need to do this weekend, and our sights are firmly set on achieving that. It wasn’t the easiest of starts after we opted for soft tyres on the opening loop. The temperatures were higher than we expected compared to our data from testing. We started to lose grip quite early in the long Terra Alta stage. It was a real pity because we had a good feeling in the car and we were pushing hard. In the afternoon, we were carrying six tyres, which slowed us a bit too much, particularly in the repeat of the long stage. It is very close on the timesheets, so although we are not in the position we would want to be, we are definitely in striking distance.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (ret) said:
“In the morning it was difficult and the car was oversteering a lot, but we made some changes and things were starting to get better. We won stage four. I made a couple of mistakes in stage five and then we noticed we were losing oil, and before we got to stage six the engine stopped and wouldn’t start again. At the time we didn’t know whether anything was damaged but sadly it will not be possible to restart tomorrow.”
Juho Hänninen (8th) said:
“Today was not as good as I had hoped; I lost too much time to the top guys. I wasn’t fully confident, I was hesitating in some places, and you can easily start to lose time with that. I was struggling a little with the rhythm when the grip was changing. Tomorrow we need to make it better. There are some really nice stages coming up so I’m looking forward to that.”
Esapekka Lappi (10th) said:
“This morning I was happy with the balance of the car but then on the last stage I overheated the brakes and lost them completely towards the end. In service we made some changes to the suspension and on the first stage this afternoon, which was really smooth, it helped us to set a good time. But I really struggled on the last one with the dampers in these settings. We were a bit unlucky today but at least we have done the stages twice, which is good experience, and tomorrow will be a new start for everybody on asphalt.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (9th) said:
“After a long break, it was difficult to come back and compete at event that is almost unknown to me. I took it easy in the trickier sections and pushed when I felt more confident. We didn’t make any mistakes and I managed to add to my experience. The two passes on Terra Alta showed that you really need time to understand this type of stage. We’ll have to reset in order to tackle tomorrow’s leg on tarmac in the best possible shape.”
Elfyn Evans (11th) said:
“The feeling in the first two stages was okay but it’s fair to say that we struggled after that. This just wasn’t our day, but we made it through and tomorrow is a completely new day with a completely new surface so let’s see what we can do.
Khalid Al Qassimi (19th) said:
“I had a good feeling this morning, although I felt the car lacked precision on occasions. I was cautious, especially on the tarmac section on Terra Alta. We made quite a lot of progress with the set-up during service and I was happy with the handling. I think the upgrades on the dampers are a definite improvement.”
Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. The cars had been switched into tarmac spec and were ready for the day’s action.
Kris Meeke took the lead from overnight leader, Andreas, in the first stage of the day and then proceeded to pull away from his closest challengers.
The Hyundai’s all experienced problems throughout the day with Andreas and Dani both hitting rocks hidden at the edge of the road in stage 12. Thierry’s rally wasn’t going so well either, suffering hydraulics problems which affected his handling of the car. This lead to a spin before stage nine which resulted in damage to the rear of the car. The team did a good job to get the car fixed before the afternoon stages and this lead to a better afternoon for the Belgian driver.
M-Sport duo Seb and Ott were both driving well, with just minor issues holding them back through the morning, mainly being setup. With some tweaks, they Seb was able to push much harder and won all three afternoon stages. Ott heard a strange noise from the gearbox, so the team decided to change it during the midday service break.
The remaining Toyota drivers, Juho and Esapekka both enjoyed a very good day on the unique Spanish roads. Juho was third fastest on the opening stage before winning stage eight and nine. Lappi was focused on understanding the level of grip available, and with an imperfect setup on the car, struggled for confidence. However, after making a few changes in the service break, he felt more confident and this lead to a better afternoon.
Mads Østberg had a good day too. Despite hitting the same rock in stage twelve, that had put Andreas and Dani out, he got some luck and was able to finish. There were further technical issues with the car, but Mads made great progress throughout Saturday and completed the day in sixth.
Let’s hear from the drivers then.
Kris Meeke (1st) said:
“Today couldn’t have gone any better, to be honest. We’ve known about the potential of the C3 WRC on tarmac since the rounds in Corsica and Germany, but I was nonetheless a bit apprehensive because we hadn’t done any pre-event testing on this surface. The first stage looked like it would be tricky with the rain, but everything went well. The rest of day went much the same way, although it was pretty close with the other drivers. I’m very pleased to be leading and I obviously want to convert this first place into a win tomorrow. There are still six stages to go before we get there, the first of which will be contested in the dark. So, we won’t get ahead of ourselves: one step at a time!”
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“The general picture is a positive one for us at the moment and, if we can secure this podium at the end of tomorrow, it will be another good step towards the championship.
“Of course, I always want to fight for the victory but, realistically, I think Kris [Meeke] is probably a bit too far ahead. We lost quite a lot of time to him this morning when I wasn’t super confident with the car. When you’re not perfectly committed you lose tenths everywhere and that can easily amount to ten seconds at the end of the stage.
“We worked hard on the set-up throughout the day and I had a much better feeling this afternoon. Hopefully we can start tomorrow morning with that same feeling as we will for sure still have to push.”
Ott Tänak (3rd) said:
“The podium is always the target, and we’re in a good position to secure that at the moment so it has been a good day. We weren’t so happy with the feeling in the car first thing [this morning], but we soon found a good balance and improved the times after that.
“The goal is to secure as many points as possible but, as we have already seen, everyone is pushing very hard and it’s difficult to make the difference. Even if you have the perfect stage, you can still miss out on the fastest time by a couple of tenths.
“Kris is very strong so it’s going to be hard to compete with him, but we’re still in a very competitive position and it will be important to get to the end and secure these points for the team and for ourselves. We’ll certainly keep the pressure on, so let’s keep it going and see what happens.”
Juho Hänninen (4th)
“It has been a really good day. I was a bit disappointed after yesterday but I knew that the asphalt would be better for me. Even still, I was a bit surprised with how good the stage times were this morning. I was really, really happy with the car and I didn’t need to change anything in service. I drove the afternoon the same as in the morning and it felt good. I haven’t really been looking at the overall classification and it could be difficult to catch the guys ahead, but I haven’t given up and I will push tomorrow for sure.”
Thierry Neuville (5th) said:
“I honestly think we deserved far better than we got today. We experienced hydraulic problems at the end of SS8, which we worked on at stage-end to keep the car going. Suddenly, the car wouldn’t start, and when we finally got going we had to move quickly to get to the next stage. Without hydraulics under braking we spun the car, which caused some rear damage. We checked into SS9 three minutes late, so we were given a time penalty. The team did an incredible job to get the car repaired at service in time for the repeat loop, where we were able to show good pace again. The rally is not over but it was another frustrating day and not representative of what we know we can achieve. We set some of the quickest times in the afternoon stages, and were much happier and confident with the car. It’s hard to keep up the fight when you lose so much time, but others can have problems, especially with a longer than usual Sunday with six stages. We won’t give up.”
Esapekka Lappi (6th) said:
“On the first stage this morning I was not confident enough, as the grip was much higher than in my test, but step-by-step during the morning I found the confidence. I wasn’t completely happy with the set-up but we managed to improve it during service and the car felt even better in the afternoon, especially on the penultimate stage: it was the best that the car has ever been on asphalt. So I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. We will try to carry on in the same way and maybe get some points on the Power Stage.”
Mads Østberg (7th) said:
“It really has been the best day at school ever! This is my first proper tarmac experience with the 2017 spec car, and I was very uncertain how we would manage and how fast we could expect to be. Yesterday we led the rally after four stages, but that was on gravel. Today we have lost some time to the leaders, but that was expected. I am learning on every stage and the progression from the start of the day, not to mention my understanding of the car, has been enormous. We started the day 1 second per km slower than the fastest guys, now we are down to 0.3 seconds”.
Speaking about the rock that he hit…
“There was a massive rock right on the driving line in a corner where we were cutting. I hit it hard, but for once I had some luck. The steering and a wheel was damaged, but I could continue and finish the stage without much loss.”
In the final stage, Mads suffered an additional problem with the hydraulics.
“The car became nearly impossible in the very tight corners. It was frustrating, but as it was a short stage the time loss wasn`t extensive.”
Finally, he explained how much fun the car was to drive on these roads.
“I feel we are getting more and more competitive, which hasn`t really been the case for some time on tarmac. The split-times on several stages shows that I am closing in on the fastest tarmac guys. I am also enjoying every moment as the driving experience with the 2017 Fiesta on these roads really is awesome.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (8th) said:
“The switch from gravel to tarmac between the first and second day is not easy at all, especially as this is the first time I have experienced this situation. I feel like I made progress throughout the day, without making any mistakes. The handling of the C3 WRC helped to give me confidence. On SS10, for example, I pushed and my time was about 2/10ths per kilometre off the pace of the stage-winning driver. I’ll be able to build on this experience to try and finish on positive note tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans (9th) said:
“It’s been another pretty tough day for us. The pace isn’t there and we’ve just been struggling for grip. That’s the way it is and we need to focus on getting all the kilometres under our belts and collecting as much information as we can for the future.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (18th) said:
“This was my first competitive outing with the C3 WRC on tarmac. And I hadn’t driven on this surface for a year! I’m pleased with the day, I had a good feeling in the car. However, I opted to take it easier on the second pass, because the roads were very dirty. I preferred to stick to the lines.”
Sunday morning was much like Saturday- warm and sunny.
Could Kris take his and Citroen’s second victory of the year? Could Thierry score some points to stop Seb opening a big lead in the championship?
Six stages awaited the crews and no service break either. They all took spare tyres in their cars. One puncture could destroy all the hard work.
The first stage was held in darkness, but it didn’t trouble Kris. He took the first stage of the day and then added the other two, thus increasing his lead to almost 25 seconds over the M-Sport duo of Seb and Ott.
Stephane Lefebvre was also pushing hard through these stages, bringing him closer to Mads. Stage 16 would see Thierry retire from the event after hitting something out of sight and damaging his right front suspension. Esapekka would also retire after sliding on some slippery tarmac and hitting a barrier.
Setting some good times as usual were Seb and Ott, ultimately bringing their Fiesta’s to a double podium behind Spanish master Kris. Juho would also have a very Sunday morning, guiding his Yaris into fourth place overall- pretty impressive given that he’d not driven this event for six years!
Fifth place fell to privateer Mads in his Adapta Motorsport Fiesta. With Torstein Eriksen alongside him through the weekend, they found good consistency, even leading on Friday for a short while. The pre- event testing, they did on the tarmac clearly paid in off in spades.
Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen both had an up and down event, but Dani came through and won the power stage. Andreas would suffer a broken windscreen after his bonnet came loose and flipped up in front of him! It was all good learning for next year though, having never driven the i20 on these surfaces.
Elfyn Evans in his D-Mack shod Fiesta drove as best he could to seventh place, as his tyres couldn’t give him the consistent grip on the tarmac he needed. However, there were positives and it was the best result he’d scored in this event.
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta R5) +8m22.7s
9 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +8m54.5s
10 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Skoda Fabia R5) +9m04.8s
Here’s what the drivers had to say.
Kris Meeke (1st) said:
“This completes an exceptional weekend for me. Since our win at Rally Mexico, we’ve had some tough moments, but we’ve picked ourselves up each time by working hard. We always knew this car was terrific on asphalt and I think that we have demonstrated that since yesterday! This win shows the quality of the work done by the entire team and it gives us all a huge confidence boost for the rest of the season.”
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“We’ve taken a really positive step towards the championship this weekend. I think we were on course to extend the lead anyway, but with Thierry’s mistake that changed the picture completely and we’ve been able to extend the gap even more.
“We were never really in a position where we had to take all the risks, but we still had to keep a good rhythm. There was no chance to fight with Kris [Meeke] as he was just on another level on the Tarmac, but we had a clean drive and it’s definitely been a positive weekend.
“It’s been good news for the team too as the manufacturers’ championship is now pretty much done and we can start to plan a bit of a party for their home event in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Ott Tänak (3rd) said:
“We feel good at the end of this one. This result was more or less the maximum we could do this weekend so a great result overall.
“I think our first day was particularly good. We were quite early in the running order and still managed to stay close to the lead. Then on Tarmac we had a couple of small issues but generally a good run and a good feeling with the car.
“For sure there will be a big fight for second place in the drivers’ championship now. Sébastien is pretty safe, but there is still something to fight for and two more exciting events ahead.”
Juho Hänninen (4th) said:
“I’m very happy with this result. Yesterday and today have been two of the most enjoyable days of rallying I’ve ever had. Yesterday was really good and today I tried to keep it quite steady because there was a big gap behind. On asphalt we have had a really, really good car. I have felt really confident with it and I haven’t had to take any big risks. It’s really important for me to see that I am able to fight for the leading positions even though I haven’t been here for a long time.”
Mads Østberg (5th) said:
“The team performed brilliantly. Its five years since we did a WRC rally with our own Adapta Motorsport crew, but it`s like they haven`t been away at all. I would also like to thank Torstein Eriksen, who did only his second WRC-event and really did a professional and great job.”
“The tarmac experience from Spain will be put to good use later, but not until next season as the championship finishes with gravel events. Already in less than three weeks the stage is set for fog, mud and possibly sleet and snow in Wales.”
“It`s one of my favourite rallies where I have been very competitive before. The gravel stages here in Spain gave us the answer that we are right on the mark on the loose stuff. My goal for Wales is to fight for a possible victory.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (6th) said:
“We tried to push and managed to claw back some time on Mads Østberg in the first loop. After that, it became more difficult with some hydraulics problems and then we lost the intercom. From that point onwards, I was just making sure I held position. Sixth place is pretty good, considering my limited knowledge of this event. I would say this result was more or less comparable with my top-five finish in Poland. Little by little, as I gain more experience, I’m improving and I hope to be able to confirm my progress in the future. Congratulations to Kris and Paul on winning again – it’s a morale-boosting result for everyone in the team!”
Elfyn Evans (7th) said:
“Everyone knows that this was a tough weekend for us, but we kept our heads down and got the job done. It’s not been easy, but we managed to get a lot of information from all of the kilometres and now we can start to focus on Wales Rally GB.”
Teemu Suninen (Fiesta R5) (8th) said:
“This has been a really good weekend for us and I think we have made a big improvement on Tarmac. We’ve had good pace on both surfaces and I think I can be really happy with the rally and what we have done.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (17th) said:
“It was a very good day. As the day wore on, I enjoyed driving the car more and more and I’m very pleased with the progress made by the Citroën C3 WRC. But I’m most pleased of all about Kris Meeke winning the rally. He had a fantastic race this weekend, it’s a great moment for us all and I’m very proud to see Abu Dhabi promoted by these performances.”
Well, there you go…. Two rounds left and M-Sport have almost secured the manufacturers championship. Also, it’s looking very likely that Seb will win the drivers crown after Thierry failed to score any points in Spain.
A great drive from Kris and Paul in the number 7 C3 WRC for Citroen’s 98 WRC victory and his fifth as well, puts to bed any worries about his abilities behind the wheel.
2017 FIA World Rally Championship for drivers after round 11:
1 Sebastien Ogier 198
2 Ott Tanak 161
3 Thierry Neuville 160
4 Jari-Matti Latvala 123
5 Dani Sordo 94
6 Elfyn Evans 93
7 Juho Hänninen 71
8 Craig Breen 64
9 Kris Meeke 60
10 Hayden Paddon 55
11 Esapekka Lappi 49
2017 FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers after round 11:
We are getting closer to the end of the season, and M-Sport driver Seb is 17 points ahead of Thierry and there are just three rounds left. Rally Spain takes place from the 5th to the 8th of October.
It’s the only round to feature gravel and tarmac stages as well, with Friday being all gravel, with the teams getting extra service time to convert the cars into tarmac spec for the smooth fast stages that follow on Saturday and Sunday. A total of 19 stages, covering 312km makes Rally Catalunya a very tricky event.
Here’s the stage information for you.
RALLY DE ESPAÑA SCHEDULE (GMT+2)
THURSDAY 5 OCTOBER
8.00am: Shakedown – Salou (2.97km)
8.00pm: Ceremonial start (Salou)
FRIDAY 6 OCTOBER
9.53am: SS1 – Caseres 1 (12.50km)
10.21am: SS2 – Bot 1 (6.50km)
10.56am: SS3 – Terra Alta 1 (38.95km)
1.11pm: Service A (PortAventura – 30 mins)
3.19pm: SS4 – Caseres 2 (12.50km)
3.47pm: SS5 – Bot 2 (6.50km)
4.22pm: SS6 – Terra Alta 2 (38.95km)
6.32pm: Flexi Service B (PortAventura – 75 mins)
SATURDAY 7 OCTOBER
6.45am: Service C (PortAventura – 15 mins)
8.00am: SS7 – El Montmell 1 (24..40km)
9.07am: SS8 – El Pont d’Armentera 1 (21.29km)
9.54am: SS9 – Savalla 1 (14.12km)
11.35am: Service D (PortAventura – 30 mins)
1.08pm: SS10 – El Montmell 2 (24.40km)
2.15pm: SS11 – El Pont d’Armentera 2 (21.29km)
3.02pm: SS12 – Savalla 2 (14.12km)
5.00pm: SS13 – Salou (2.24km)
5.30pm: Flexi Service E (PortAventura – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 8 OCTOBER
6.00am: Service F (PortAventura – 15 mins)
7.00am: SS14 – L’Albiol 1 (6.28km)
7.38am: SS15 – Riudecanyes 1 (16.35km)
8.38am: SS16 – Santa Marina 1 (14.50km)
10.14am: SS17 – L’Albiol 2 (6.28km)
10.53am: SS18 – Riudecanyes 2 (16.35km)
12.18pm: SS19 – Santa Marina 2 – Power Stage (14.50km)
1.41pm: Service G (PortAventura – 10 mins)
3.00pm: Podium (Salou)
Let’s hear from the top two in the championship.
Sébastien Ogier said:
“We’re feeling fully refreshed after the break and ready to get back to business. Spain is always an enjoyable event. Its mixed surface makes it truly unique and the fans are so enthusiastic. I have a lot of special memories here, and it would be nice to add to them next week.
“Opening the road is a good thing in one sense as it means that we are back in the lead of the championship. But if it’s dry the championship lead also comes with its challenges and we’ll need to work hard to minimise the time loss through the opening gravel stages.
“Then, it’s onto the fast, smooth asphalt that this event is famed for. We had a one-day test to get used to this circuit-like asphalt and the car felt pretty good. We completed a lot of kilometres for a one-day test, and that sees us well prepared to deliver our best.
“With the championships so close, that’s exactly what we will have to deliver. We have a 17 point lead, but with 90 points still available there remains all to play for and we all need to work together to maximise our potential – starting with Rally Spain.”
Thierry Neuville said:
“Entering this crucial part of the season for the championship, we must stay focused and look to target the podium, if not victory, in all rounds. Things are delicately positioned in the Drivers’ Championship between Ogier, myself and Tanak, so anything can still happen.”
“Spain is going to be a huge challenge, as it always is with the change of surface. It is a rally that all crews enjoy, with a good atmosphere and, usually, great weather. We are rested after the long break and determined to put in our strongest fight for the title.”
Here’s the thoughts of the rest of the drivers.
Andreas Mikkelsen signed to Hyundai Motorsport for the next two years during this past week. He took his first WRC victory in this event two years ago when Seb crashed out in the final stage.
Here’s his thought’s….
“I am really pleased to be making my debut as a Hyundai Motorsport driver. Since the announcement, Anders and I have had the opportunity to test the car on both tarmac and gravel; I have been very impressed with what we’ve experienced.”
“The car has already shown itself to be versatile, and there’s nowhere better than Spain to showcase those characteristics. It’s a special rally for me, as I took my first win in Spain in 2015, so it has fantastic memories. The changes in surface can be demanding, particularly with the quick switch from gravel to tarmac. It is a challenging, but highly enjoyable event, and I hope to be able to fight at the front in my first WRC event with the team.”
Dani Sordo said:
“It is always a pleasure to return to Spain for my home rally, and to have the chance to compete in front of so many enthusiastic supporters. We definitely want to give them something to cheer. I think our road position will be beneficial on the opening gravel stages on Friday. We then move onto tarmac for the final two days, where we push to secure our third podium of the season – and our third in a row in Catalunya for Hyundai Motorsport. That’s the aim.”
Ott Tänak said:
“I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel. It was really nice to have some time at home with the family, but I have to admit that I was also starting to miss the thrill of competition!
“We’ve proved that we can be competitive on both gravel and asphalt, so I’m not daunted by the mixed surface of Spain. Going from one surface to the next in the same weekend can be a little strange at first, but we all get up to speed pretty quickly.
“The gravel roads are really nice with a mix of fast and technical sections and we had a Tarmac test in Spain last week which reminded me just how amazing those roads are. They’re so smooth and it really is like driving on a circuit in some places.
“With both championships so close at the moment, I think we’re in for an interesting weekend and we’ll certainly be aiming to deliver our best for both the manufacturers’ and the drivers’.”
Elfyn Evans said:
“As the only mixed-surface event on the calendar, Rally Spain is really unique. I’ve not had the best of luck there in the past, but we’ll be hoping to put that right this year.
“The gravel stages can be quite technical and on the Terra Alta stage we have long sections of asphalt in amongst the gravel. That can make the car move around quite a lot and you have to drive with the whole stage in mind.
“It’s quite a strategic rally in that sense and you have to think about the long game with a day and a half of pure Tarmac to follow the gravel. The weather could also prove a deciding factor so it’ll be interesting to see what the Spanish forecasts have to offer us this year.
“With the championship so close, this event could be really crucial and we’re all determined to deliver our best.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
Kris Meeke said:
“We had a good test session and it was interesting to work with Seb [Loeb]. There is always room for improvement, but I think we are moving in the right direction. I’m looking forward to being back in a competitive environment again after a frustrating Rallye Deutschland and this long break. I have to say, though, that I can’t quite believe that this is going to be my tenth appearance in Catalonia! Potentially, we have a good starting position, but that’ll depend on the level of dust or whether it rains. For the last two legs, we know all about performance level of the C3 on tarmac. The main thing is that I want to enjoy myself in the car. If I do that, then we can aim for a good result and that’d be good news for the entire team.”
Stephane Lefebvre said:
“I’m very pleased to be back behind the wheel of the Citroën C3 WRC. It has been three months since we finished fifth overall in Poland and I’m going to have to find the right pace on stages that I am relatively unfamiliar with. We have to bear in mind that I am undoubtedly the least experienced driver in the field at this event. I’m pleased with how testing went last week. I had the opportunity to try the new front-to-rear wheel torque distribution for the first time. This upgrade matches my driving style really well and it was therefore a very positive experience. If the conditions are favourable, we’ll try to make the most of our position in the running order on day one.”
Kalid Al Qassimi said:
“This will be my tenth appearance in Spain! This round is one of my favourites on the WRC calendar. I love the challenge provided by the mixed surface route, and especially the fact that switching from gravel to tarmac during a stage encourages you to drive more quickly. I really like the atmosphere here; the supporters are incredible and the organisation is absolutely fantastic. That’s why I like to keep coming back to compete in Catalonia every year. We’ll try to find a good pace depending on the stages, pushing whenever I feel comfortable. I wish Kris and Stéphane all the best.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“I like the combination in Spain of having the first day on gravel and then two days on asphalt. They are the best asphalt roads in the championship – as close to a race circuit as is possible – and the gravel stages are also quite good. I did two days of testing for Spain this week: on the asphalt, we were focused on the suspension, and on gravel we concentrated on the differential. The change of surface creates extra work for the mechanics and the engineers, and as drivers we need to adapt our driving style overnight. Our car showed winning speed on gravel in Finland and the performance was also there on asphalt in Germany, so I believe we should be very competitive.”
Juho Hänninen said:
“The car has felt good in testing, just like it did in Germany. We plan to continue in the same way in Spain. Friday will be challenging for me because the stages are exactly the same as recent years and I haven’t done this rally for a while, so I will need to push a lot on Friday in order to be in the fight. But unless it rains like last year, I don’t think the time differences will be too big. Then there will be some new stages on Saturday and Sunday, which should help.”
Esapekka Lappi said:
“Spain is a really challenging rally with the mix of gravel and asphalt. It’s a completely different type of rally to what we are used to. The gravel part is similar to Portugal in my opinion, and then the asphalt stages are quite unique: I think they’re the best stages on asphalt in the world. They are pretty clean and smooth, and are not as twisty as Corsica and not as narrow as Germany, so really enjoyable to drive. I’m really looking forward to it. There were some ups and downs in Germany but in the end, we could match the speed of the others and our performance should be good on both surfaces.”
Onebet Adapta WRT
Mads Østberg is back after missing Rally Germany. His co-driver will be Torstein Eriksen. He’s been keeping busy though. Its two months since the last WRC event for Mads, but he has had competitive outings in the meantime. Three weeks ago, he did a couple of races as a guest driver in the Swedish Porsche Carrera Championship, and with good results. Last weekend he drove the last round of the Norwegian Championship with his Fiesta WRC and Emil Axelsson as codriver. As expected he won the rally with a clear margin.
Mads explains, “The Porsche drive in Sweden obviously couldn`t compare with rallying, but it was valuable driving experience on tarmac. And I wasn`t too bad as a tarmac racer, really! The rally in Norway was used as a gravel test, and we had very good progression trying different set-ups during the day. The rally also gave me the chance to have Emil Axelsson in the car with me, as we are still evaluating different co-driver choices for next year”
Final words to the Team Principal’s.
M-Sport WRT Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve had a fantastic season to date, and we’re now entering the decisive final phase. The competition could not be closer and the next three rallies will be crucial – Rally Spain in particular.
“With its mix of gravel and asphalt, this event is truly unique and the teams will have to master both surfaces in their pursuit of victory. Having secured a podium on every event this season, the Fiesta has proven competitive on every surface and we hope to see that continue next week.
“Sébastien certainly knows what it takes to win here, and Ott and Elfyn will both be determined to settle a few scores. A strong result will be imperative to the outcome of the championship, and that is exactly what we aim to deliver.
“It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, and the competition will be extremely tough, but I have confidence in the team who are working their hardest to deliver our best.”
Hyundai Team Principal Michel Nandan said:
“We have had a long summer break but we have used the time wisely to try and turn around our recent misfortunes. Finland and Germany were both frustrating, and saw us lose ground in the championship. From Spain, and in the final rounds of the season, we are determined to do all we can to catch up. We welcome Andreas and Anders into the team from Spain, an event they won memorably in 2015, alongside Thierry and Dani, who have both had podiums at this rally. For Dani, it will be extra special, as his home event, so we are in optimistic and hopeful mood. With an upgraded Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, our primary target is to get back onto the podium.”
Enjoy the event, and let’s see who comes out our winner!