The championship fight between Ott, Seb and Thierry arrives at the dual surface challenge that is Rally Spain! The Belgian is on balance, given he is forty-one points behind Ott Tänak, the driver least likely to win this years’ championship. Very simply, he has to win this event and take the powerstage as well, and hope that neither Ott, or Seb actually finish to take the fight to the final round down under. Even then, he’d still be behind the Estonian. Seb though is closer, just twenty-eight from the leader, giving him the chance to lead the championship should he win and take the powerstage, assuming that Ott doesn’t finish. Now, the championship could be decided in Spain should Ott finish ahead of either of his rivals.
The Podium Challengers
There are a number of drivers who could finish on the podium. Now, think back to Tour de Corse, we saw a storming drive from Elfyn and Scott on the tarmac, which almost gave them victory. The M-Sport duo will almost certainly feature at the front, and last time out in Wales they made a great return. Kris and Seb will also be quick enough to take stage victories. Now in the Hyundai camp, we’ll have Dani returning to his i20 and last years’ Rally Spain winners, Seb and Daniel as support to Thierry and Nicolas.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I’m looking forward to Spain. As always, I will aim to do my best, but we need to be smart. We know that it could be tricky for us on the first day, as we’ll be running first on the road on gravel. The weather could change things too: We saw last year that we can easily get rain in Spain at this time of year. But I believe that our performance should be good on both surfaces: We were already fast on this event last year and hopefully that will be the case again this time, and we can get the result we need.”
“The combination of gravel and asphalt in Spain is something I’ve always really liked. The gravel stages are quite smooth but very slippery, while the asphalt roads are best that we have in the championship: really smooth and fast. I had a test on asphalt in Spain last week and I had a really nice feeling in the car. I’m very motivated and looking forward to being back in the car, fighting for the best possible result as we try to win the manufacturers’ championship again.”
“Spain is one of my favourite events on the calendar. I’ve always enjoyed the mixed-surface challenge, and last time I did the rally in 2017, I managed to take the win. I’ve had a really good feeling with the Yaris WRC on asphalt so far, so I’m especially looking forward to that part of it. On gravel, we know there will be a couple of drivers who will have ideal road positions and can be very strong on this event. With the manufacturers’ championship being so close now, we’ve got a job to do and we’re certainly going to have to be on our game.”
Citroën Total WRT
“I enjoy racing on different surfaces so I like this rally and I’m very determined to score big points here if I can. We don’t have any choice, really. We have to close the gap to Ott if we are to retain our hopes of retaining the title. Given the influence of road position, the first leg on gravel is bound to be difficult for us but I’m not going to worry about that any more than usual. I’m confident that we’ll be quicker on tarmac. The feeling in testing was much better than recently but only the times and those of our rivals will tell us whether or not the step forward we have made is big enough.”
“I like the idea of racing on a mixed-surface rally, even though it’s a huge challenge. It’s especially tricky on Saturday morning when you have to switch from gravel to tarmac with no transition and be immediately on the pace from the first corner. I hope it will stay dry on Friday and I’ll be able to make the most of my position in the running order, particularly as we have now shown good pace on gravel. I love the tarmac stages here. The roads are smooth and flowing, very fast in places, and on the whole pretty clean if it doesn’t rain. They are the ones that remind me most of my track racing past. We should be more competitive than on the previous tarmac rounds, because we definitely pinpointed something during testing, but we’ll have to wait for the times on the first few stages on tarmac to see where we really stand.”
“We are approaching a critical part of the season, where the championship really intensifies. Our aim is clear: to fight for victory and to outscore our rivals. At the same time, we know that Rally de España is a unique event due to the fact that we are running one day on gravel and two days on tarmac. It has very specific characteristics and it is truly the only one like this on the calendar. It poses challenges to which we all look forward. We have shown that we are strong contenders on both surfaces this year and we will keep pushing as hard as we can for the championship.”
“I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in Spain, my home rally. This is always a very special event as we compete on both gravel and tarmac in the same weekend. It’s nice to start on gravel. With our advantageous position, starting later on the road, we can hopefully gain some time. Then there’s a big fight on tarmac as there are fast crews in every team, so it promises to be an exciting event. As it is in Spain, it is also double motivation for me. The spectators come to see everybody but I think they support the Spanish drivers a little bit more than the others normally!”
“For me, Rally de España is a rally I’ve always enjoyed. I have won it a lot of times but what I like the most is the location: it’s a nice place close to the sea. The mixed surface is something I always enjoyed in the past and it’s the only event we completely change the set-up of the car in the middle of the rally. We are confident we can be on the pace and support the team to extend the lead in the manufacturers’ battle.”
“It was great to be back in Wales, and to see that our pace was strong enough to challenge for the top results. We want to see that pace continue in Spain and I see no reason why we can’t do that. I feel as though we have some unfinished business this year, and I’m keen to deliver some strong results over these final events.
“As the only mixed-surface event on the calendar there’s nothing else quite like this rally. The gravel stages can be quite technical in places, and the asphalt roads are as close as we get to rallying on a race track in full Tarmac trim.
“We completed an asphalt test earlier this week and the feeling is good, so I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and seeing what we can do.”
“We completed a three-day test with Elfyn last week, and got to experience three different types of Tarmac roads. We know that the car is very good on this surface, and on gravel as well, so I’m looking forward to showing what we can do next week.
“My aim is to secure a strong result, and it would be great if we were able to challenge for the podium. The battle between the three Finns in the championship is also really exciting, and I want to do well in that fight.
“We need to be focused, and I will try to find a good rhythm straight away. This is a rally that I have done every year since 2015, so it is quite familiar and if I can get everything right then I think we can challenge for a good result.”
Here’s the stages! There are 325km over seventeen stages, with six gravel on Friday. Once again, getting through the first day in a good position will help give the good start position for Saturday. This will be key, given that the lower that you run on the tarmac, the dirtier it will be, therefore harder to set a quick time.
THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER
9.01am: Shakedown (2,00 km on gravel)
7.00pm: Ceremonial Start (Salou)
FRIDAY 25 OCTOBER
8.00am: Start from PortAventura service park
9.23am: SS 1 – Gandesa 1 (7,00 km)
10.03am: SS 2 – Horta-Bot 1 (19,00 km)
11.13am: SS 3 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 1 (38,85 km)
1.23pm: Service A (PortAventura – 40 minutes)
3.26pm: SS 4 – Gandesa 2 (7,00 km)
4.06pm: SS 5 – Horta-Bot 2 (19,00 km)
5.16pm: SS 6 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 2 (38,85 km)
7.51pm: Flexi service B (PortAventura – 1 hr 15 minutes)
SATURDAY 26 OCTOBER
7.30am: Start & service C (PortAventura – 15 minutes)
9.00am: SS 7 – Savallà 1 (14,08 km)
9.41am: SS 8 – Querol 1 (21,26 km)
10.38am: SS 9 – El Montmell 1 (24,40 km)
12.10pm: Service D (PortAventura – 40 minutes)
2.01pm: SS 10 – Savallà 2 (14,08 km)
2.42pm: SS 11 – Querol 2 (21,26 km)
3.38pm: SS 12 – El Montmell 2 (24,40 km)
5.30pm: SS 13 – Salou (2,24 km)
6.00pm: Flexi service E (PortAventura – 45 minutes)
SUNDAY 27 OCTOBER
6.45am: Start & service F (PortAventura – 15 minutes)
7.41am: SS 14 – Riudecanyes 1 (16,35 km)
8.38am: SS 15 – La Mussara 1 (20,72 km)
9.48am: Service G (PortAventura – 30 minutes)
10.54am: SS 16 – Riudecanyes 2 (16,35 km)
12.18pm: SS 17 – La Mussara 2 Power Stage (20,72 km)
1.41pm: Service H (PortAventura – 10 minutes)
2.01pm: Podium (Salou)
There could be a new world champion by Sunday afternoon and the first not called Seb since Petter Solberg won in 2003. Who’d have thought in 2004 we would have so many years with French drivers dominating the championship? Now anyone could stand on the podium, and this will have a bearing on the manufacturer’s championship in which the fight between Hyundai and Toyota is really close, with just eight points between them. The Hyundai team are very keen to win this one. This is why they have Dani and Seb in the other two cars, giving them the best possible chance to score more points than Toyota. We really are set for a fascinating weekend.
For the second year in a row, the World Rally Championship came to The NEC Birmingham. The only difference was that instead of just the Thursday media day, it was held on the first public day, Saturday the 12th of January.
There was massive interest around the display of full-blooded cars from M-Sport, Toyota WRC Team, Hyundai Motorsport and Citroen Racing ahead of the launch, with the cars all covered up. Then the teams arrived and the cars were unveiled. First the Fiesta WRC, followed by the Yaris WRC, i20 WRC and finally the C3 WRC.
Afterwards, I got to speak to the new co-drivers for Kris Meeke, Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans. They are, Seb Marshall, Marko Salminen and Scott Martin.
First up, Scott. I asked him how he came to join Elfyn in the car?
He said, well Dan and Elfyn weren’t going to continue in 2019, so the opportunity came about. Unfortunately, Craig didn’t have anything organised, no programme to offer, so yeah it wasn’t easy a difficult situation to be in, ultimately an opportunity to have a full season in the WRC and Craig didn’t have something solid, so that’s how it came all about. Since then we’ve been working hard to work together and look forward to the year, to try and put as much preparation in as we can going into Monte-Carlo.
In terms of preparing for the season and in particular Monte-Carlo, you’ve been testing?
Well, that was great to get in the car that we’ll be rallying, and I’ve never competed with Elfyn before, never sat in the car with him before. We’d done some pace note work, around my home in the UK, you know just to understand the notes a bit, we watched on board videos, I watched a lot of Dan and Elfyn from last year, just to try and understand a little bit, but until you actually sit in the car with him and actually go through the motions and get the feelings of how he drives to the notes, that’s when you really get to learn, you get areas I need to get more familiar with and then you go from there. Now there are loads of things we can be doing now and now we’ve actually done the test a lot of things work well and there’s some areas we need to work on to understand each other, so it’s a work in progress and we’ll keep working hard at it and try and be in the best possible way when we start Monte Carlo Rally.
What are your hopes for Monte?
I hope we have a clean rally, I hope we work well together and hope we have a good result.
In terms of preparation for Monte, how many kilometres have you done?
We were sharing the car both days with Teemu, but we probably got about 300km over the two days as a crew, and as a team maybe six to seven hundred. We had all the conditions you’d probably expect to get at Rallye Monte-Carlo, so this was really good. I feel like we had a good test on that point. It was always changing, we were able to do a lot of tyre work and just make sure the car felt comfortable in these tricky conditions, so I think that’s key to have a good result in Monte-Carlo. Yeah, we had a good two days. Now we’ve got to work with the gravel crew, that’s the unique thing about Monte-Carlo, that’s a relationship that Elfyn already has, need to build that up, so that when it comes to Thursday night, we know what we’re all doing.
Is Phil Mills still in the gravel car with Elfyn’s dad?
Actually, there’s been a bit of a change there. Phil Mills is a bit tied up with work, so Elfyn’s got a friend of his that’s co-drove for him before, (it’s not Dan Barritt, Scott said whilst laughing), so I’m working with him and we’re all working together and will continue that right up to the rally. Looking forward to it!
Next up was Seb Marshall.
I asked him testing and preparations have gone for Rallye Monte-Carlo?
Yes, it’s gone well. We’ve had two days before Christmas, and it was the first time that myself and Kris had been in the car together at speed and the first time with the team as well. The first day was on a road that we know quite well, absolutely bone-dry conditions perfect for feeling your way into the car in a very consistent environment. The second day, we were on a new road that in the morning had five kilometres of sheet black ice, that melted throughout the day to get the slush and mud, so it was difficult but, in some ways, it was perfect Monte testing. The feeling as good, it’s one of those events so much is down to tyre choice, that’s it’s not all down to set up, but feeling comfortable in the car.
Do you know how many kilometres you covered over the couple of days?
Something like 350km’s I would have thought. About par for a testing day.
How did the switch from Hayden come about?
Well, towards the last year Kris was in talks with Toyota, managed to sign his deal and felt he wanted to have a change of things in the car. So, he approached me, and asked what I was up to this year, if it something I’d be interested in, so kept talking across the weeks and went from there. So, its wasn’t that I was looking to leave or jump ship, it was just case that an opportunity presented itself. For me, despite I’d been around the championship for a while, I’d never done a full season. Now it’s great to compete at this level, doing anything but of course the chance to do the full championship is quite a big thing, so that was quite a big draw, you know a driver of his calibre, it’s a good opportunity!
Marko Salminen was next.
I asked how good it was that it would be that he would be doing a full season in his debut year?
Ah, well that has been my dream for many years, and now it’s coming true and I’m really looking forward to it and working with Teemu, it’s so good too. He’s a good guy and easy to work with, and I’m just enjoying it and waiting for the season to start.
Now, you were testing this week and sharing the car with Elfyn and Scott?
Yeah, we did two day’s with Teemu and luckily there were some snowy conditions and ice, that kind of stuff, so it really helped to prepare and understand ahead of the rally.
Okay, give us your first impressions of the car.
Of course, the first time, it was amazing but after a few runs you get used to the speed, but I can say that they really go fast!
Now, speaking to Teemu I asked him how his relationship with Marko, his new co-driver was?
Yes, it’s been good at the moment. I know him from 2014 when I was driving against him in the Finnish Championship, and the last two years he’s been driving with Takamoto, who has been driving in WRC2, he has good experience from WRC cars. After the season, I just had a phone call to him, would you be interested to come and co-drive me, as I felt that he had something to give me in the car.
Now, you’ve also got a new suspension partner, in the team. How has that integration gone so far?
The challenge is to change one part of the car because to see how it works with the other parts, so it’s not so easy to find a good balance in the car immediately, but I see it holds good possibilities to improve the car, but we just need the time.
Elfyn next up!
How are things going with Scott?
So far, it’s been really good, we have a lot of preparation now to do before we head to Monte Carlo, it’s probably one of the most complex events to start a new partnership just because there’s the integration of the gravel notes, the way you process the weather information, means everything is much more complex. There’s a lot to get through before Monte Carlo and we’ve only had two half days testing, so it’s a relatively short time to prepare. We’re doing a lot of recce outside of rally, just on normal roads to try and get used to one-another and so far, so good. I’m confident it will turn out okay.
I asked him about the return of Kris to the championship.
Yes, it’s great, I think Kris’ speed is unquestioned, and for the UK it’s a massive thing to have another Brit back full time. Really pleased for Kris and Seb to be there.
I asked Andreas Mikkelsen about if he felt any pressure heading into his second full season, after just one podium in 2018.
Ah, no not chilled. We know we need to deliver, we cannot have another year like 2018, it was a difficult year, the luck was definitely not on our side on many occasions as well but we feel like we’ve taken some steps and we feel confident that we will be back to where we belong, where we normally are. But we know what an important season this is.
I asked Thierry Neuville about his lack of pace in Rally Finland and what he could do to improve it?
We have tried everything in the last five years and in particular the last three years to improve. We come back from testing with the feeling we are fast and then obviously we are not. It’s difficult to say now because now Toyota has clearly a big advantage with their test area in the Finnish woods and knowing that the testing, they benefit from it. The speed is extremely high, but even compared to Citroen which doesn’t test so much over there, they were faster than us there, which was a bit of a surprise.
Part two of my interviews will be up soon, so do pop back and check in.
It really was an up and down season for the former champions. The second season with the new C3 yielded a few podiums and just one win. Kris Meeke had his contract terminated after Rally Italia Sardegna, when he crashed again. Mads Ostberg, who had started the season as a part-time driver, then completed the year.
In Monte Carlo Kris Meeke finished in 4th place and Craig Breen 11th. A good start on the whole, given that Kris was targeting the championship.
Sweden however, saw Kris have an accident which gave him no chance of scoring points, and it was Craig who came through and scored his best result yet with second place behind winner Thierry. In his first event of the year and after a battle with Lappi, Mads scored a fine sixth place in his first drive in the C3.
Mexico was next up, the return to the event which Kris had won the year before, and it was a second consecutive podium for the lead driver, Kris finishing in third. It was a false dawn, though. Seb Loeb also impressed, challenging for the top spots, before finally finishing in fifth place.
This is how the championship positions looked after those three rounds
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Sébastien Ogier – 60 points
Thierry Neuville – 51 points
Andreas Mikkelsen – 34 points
Kris Meeke – 32 points
Jari-Matti Latvala – 30 points
Ott Tänak – 26 points
Esapekka Lappi – 23 points
Craig Breen – 20 points
Dani Sordo – 18 points
Sébastien Loeb – 10 points
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Hyundai WRT – 84 points
M-Sport Ford WRT – 72 points
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT – 71 points
Toyota Gazoo Racing – 67 points
Next up was Tour de Corse, which again Kris had led in 2017, but an oil leak put him out then. This year he was challenging well, but slid off the road after a pacenote mistake from Paul in the final stage of Saturday whilst running in second overall. Seb Loeb was also doing well too, but slid off the road as his tyres hadn’t come up to temperature enough for the dirty road in front of them. They both finished, but down in ninth and fourteenth positions respectively. A shame given the pace that had been shown.
Argentina was next, round five. This would be the final rally Kris would complete for the team, finishing in seventh overall after getting a puncture whilst challenging again near the front. Craig Breen would also go well, until a roll which would damage his rollcage beyond repair, putting him out of the event, whilst Al Qassimi in the other car would finish twelfth.
Portugal next up and with three cars entered for Kris, Craig and Mads the team were looking for good points. Mads finished in sixth place, with Craig in seventh, but all of this was overshadowed by the crash on Saturday for Kris and Paul where the car left the road and crashed into some trees. It was a big one, and at this point there was no suggestion he was heading out of the door. Yet, six days later we got the huge news that the team had terminated their contract over safety reasons.
Italia Sardegna was next, with two cars being run for Mads and Craig. Rain on day one made tyre choice hard, with some stages as muddy as Wales, and others dry! With the following days stages being dry, the two crews ultimately finished in fifth (Mads) and sixth (Craig). For Mads, this was the best finishing position for him so far in this car.
The amazing Rally Finland was next, and the schedule had had some tweaks to make it less friendly for the non-Scandinavian drivers. Three cars were entered for Mads, Craig and Khalid. Craig suffered a puncture during Friday’s stages, leaving him to sweep the roads on his way to eighth place. Khalid went off the road, re-joining under Rally2 regs, but it was the performance of Norwegian, Mads that stood out. He held off a determined drive from three-time winner Latvala to clinch second place.
The summer break followed, and the points standings looked like this after eight rounds, with five still to go.
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Thierry Neuville – 153 points
Sébastien Ogier – 132 points
Ott Tänak – 107 points
Esapekka Lappi – 70 points
Dani Sordo – 60 points
Andreas Mikkelsen – 57 points
Jari-Matti Latvala – 55 points
Elfyn Evans – 52 points
Mads Ostberg – 48 points
Kris Meeke – 43 points
Craig Breen – 39 points
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Hyundai WRT – 228 points
M-Sport Ford WRT – 202 points
Toyota Gazoo Racing – 201 points
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT – 153 points
Following the long summer break, Rally Germany restarted the season after a six-week break. Mads and Craig once again would be in the cars. A tricky event, with rain on Friday, really mixed things up. Unfortunately, Mads didn’t complete the event, after going off the road and damaging the cooling system, whilst Craig finished in seventh place.
The return of Rally Turkey to the championship would definitely make things interesting. A totally new event for this year, therefore the crews would have to create new pacenotes from scratch. Three cars were entered for Mads, Craig and Khalid. After taking the lead on Friday, Craig then suffered two punctures, dropping him down the field. After climbing back up the standings, his car burst into flames on Saturday, completely gutting it. Meantime, Mads was doing well, till broken suspension followed by turbo failure then put him well down the order. Khalid also suffered turbo failure, but he re-joined and finished in fifteenth.
Next up was Wales Rally GB, and with two cars for Mads and Craig, what would this event hold? Well, after a very spirited attack, and finally getting some good luck during Friday with no punctures, Craig finished in fourth overall after challenging for a podium throughout Saturday and Sunday. Mads also had a good event running in the top five, before a spin on Sunday relegated him to eighth in the end.
Rally Spain was next, the dual surface event. Seb Loeb, Craig and Khalid would drive the cars. The nine-time champion was taking part for the last time this year and he didn’t disappoint! After good runs through Friday and Saturday, he seized the lead on Sunday after taking a gamble on hard tyres and won for the 79th time! Meantime Craig had a couple of spins on the wet tarmac, finishing in ninth and Khalid in twenty-third in his final appearance this year.
The last event of the year, Rally Australia saw Mads and Craig line-up. They both drove really well, with Mads and Craig holding first and second at the end of day one. Moving into day two, Mads continued to show good pace, but Craig suffered first with a sticking throttle, before then damaging his suspension, which he fixed after the stage, but gained time penalties dropping him down after arriving at the stage late. When the rain arrived on Sunday, Mads put a great performance together and kept the car on the road for his second podium of the year, ultimately finishing in third. Craig put his troubles from Saturday behind him and drove to seventh overall.
The Citroen team had a tricky year, and ultimately didn’t get the results that you’d expect. Sacking Kris the way they did was certainly a surprise, and they didn’t really have the person that could really lead the team. Next year will be very different, with Seb Ogier and Esapekka Lappi joining the so-called Red Army. What this means for Mads and Craig, it’s hard to say right now. Khalid will almost certainly be driving the car at some points and perhaps we’ll see either Craig or Mads in a third car on occasions.
By signing Seb, they’re certainly making a statement of intention that they want next year’s world championship. These last two years, with finishing bottom of the pile the manufacturers championship will have been very painful for them.
The decider down under had it all! Here’s the story of how the title was won, while Jari-Matti took victory!
Shakedown took place on Thursday, with these results.
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:53.8
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:54.0
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:54.0
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:54.1
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:54.6
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:54.7
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:54.9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:55.0
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:55.1
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:55.2
Østberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:55.4
There would be 52km’s of stages on Friday with runs through Orara East, Coldwater and Sherwood run twice and a double run of Destination NSW spectator special at the end of the day. There were rumours of rain developing adding to the anticipation. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Neuville, Tänak, Lappi, Latvala, Mikkelsen, Evans, Breen, Paddon, Suninen, Ostberg, Serderidis. There would be a service break after the first three stages.
With Seb opening the road, he was hoping it would rain, thus giving him an advantage. However, this didn’t happen. The rain did arrive, but only in the service park, thus not affecting the stages.
The short SS1, Orara East stage, saw Esapekka go fastest, and therefore lead from his Toyota teammates, Ott and Jari-Matti. On such a short stage, Ogier was not losing too much time, completing the stage just 2.6 seconds slower in eighth place, just half a second behind Thierry who held fifth place. Craig Breen hit a kangaroo, but the car wasn’t badly damaged, allowing him to continue.
The longer SS2, 14km Coldwater stage would shake things up a bit more with the rain holding off. It was certainly very dry out there, and starting to warm up too as the final cars completed. Jari-Matti took the stage victory and moved into a shared lead with his younger teammate, Esapekka. Craig said his car was understeering, but he still was on the move up the leaderboard anyway, moving to sixth from eleventh. Meanwhile, Mads was just 2.4 seconds behind the overall leaders. Those to lose time were Ogier, who fell to eleventh, but still keeping Thierry in sight who was one place ahead.
The final stage before service, SS3 Sherwood, at 26km’s did see some drama! Sixth on the road, Andreas came across a tractor on the stage, and whilst taking avoiding action, crashed out damaging his radiator and putting him out for the rest of the day. Now there has been a lot of debate as to why it was there. One thing I know, is that it was there to help manage the chicane that was in this stage. Anyway, the stage was won by Mads and Craig was second fastest despite believing he had a cracked brake disc, and this speed moved him up to fourth! The top two in the championship were rounding out the top ten.
After service, the re-run of Orara East, SS4, was won by Ott, thus moving the Estonian into fourth overall. Ogier also went well, setting the third fastest time and keeping Thierry insight. Mads was still leading overall, now 4.5 seconds ahead of Lappi.
It was all change in Coldwater, SS5. Thierry won the stage and moved up to seventh place overall, almost ten seconds ahead of Ogier. Lappi lost time, dropping almost 23 seconds and falling to ninth. Our top three was now Mads, Jari-Matti and Ott.
There was more drama in the longer SS6, Sherwood stage though! After setting the fastest time, Craig moved up to third from fifth, now just 7.5 seconds from the lead that Mads still had. However, it was one of the championship contenders that suffered misfortune. Thierry had a tyre come off after landing from a jump, losing close to a minute and severely denting his hopes of winning the championship as he was now thirty seconds behind Ogier.
After the double run in the spectator friendly stage, Destination NSW, which completed the first days action, the only change in the leaderboard was that Craig had brought himself into second overall, giving Citroen a one-two at the end of the first day.
Here’s the day one standings then.
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) 53:37.4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +6.8
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +8.7
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +12.5
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +16.9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.3
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +38.2
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.2
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.2
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:11.9
Here’s the drivers views then….
“I thought I would need time to get used to the car again, having not driven it since Wales but I felt confident in the car very quickly. I gradually got my bearings again and adjusted my driving stage by stage. In the end, I really enjoyed it. For sure, we pushed but without risking everything. Obviously, we are right in the mix and I’m really determined to stay there!”
“Other than the first stage of the loop, where I wasn’t quite on it a couple of times, I had a good opening leg. We were right on the pace all day, which you can see with our win on the longest stage. Importantly, that helped us to gain a place in tomorrow’s running order. I can’t wait to get out there again, because the second leg looks like it will be the best day of the weekend!”
“Today has mostly been very good. This morning I did some mistakes and lost a little bit of time, but in the afternoon loop in the forest stages I was really satisfied with how it went: the driving was very consistent and clean. I did lose some time on the super specials, as I had the hard tyres and I was missing some traction. Still, everything remains close and tomorrow we will have a good road position, which is going to be important.”
Hayden Paddon (4th)
“We have had a nice clean day and find ourselves involved in a close fight at the front. The feeling inside the car has been pretty good on all stages. I have spent Friday just trying to get the natural rhythm back, learning to push in the car and gaining confidence. Our approach was right. We had an issue midway through the afternoon when a tyre came off the rim; we were forced to use a worn soft tyre for the second run through Sherwood. I was surprised not to lose more time than we did. We can definitely go faster, and we have to keep pushing for the team. There’s no other option.”
Thierry Neuville (10th)
“We can’t lose our hopes despite what’s happened. It’s still only the first day and although our championship chances are now reduced, we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next two days. It had been going quite well. Even from second on the road this morning, the cleaning was huge and our aim was just to stay in front of Sébastien, which we were able to do. A stage win in the afternoon was nice but then, in SS6, we were on a long right-hander with a few bumps, and on the landing of a jump we took the tyre from the rim, which lost us a lot of time. We will continue to drive and see where we end up on Sunday.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (Retired/Rally2)
“What happened today pretty much sums up my season, to be honest. We approached a crest and saw a marshal waving us down. Anders told me to stop so I slowed right down and saw a tractor driving out of the chicane. We kept going but my head was in a different place rather than the pace-notes that were coming up and we went off. I am disappointed and angry. This situation has destroyed a really important rally for us, and it should never have happened. It’s a shame because we were feeling comfortable and doing well up to that point. We will be back on Saturday but there’s not much we can do now.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (5th)
“Overall, the morning loop was good and we were in a nice rhythm. This afternoon there were some mistakes from my side, which I cannot be happy about. On the first stage of the afternoon loop I hit a gate, which did some damage to our suspension. Then on the second stage, in a big watersplash we lost the front bumper so we had a lot less aero than usual. The car wasn’t easy to drive but we did all we could, and we are still in the game and everything is possible.”
Esapekka Lappi (6th)
“Everything went really well and smoothly this morning. I was quite surprised: I expected to lose more time as we were running quite early on the road. Unfortunately, one watersplash this afternoon ruined our day. I tried to approach it the same as I did on the first pass, but it didn’t work out at all. We lost a lot of time but thankfully we could continue. I have been really enjoying the driving and everything on the car is working nicely, so I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (7th)
“Every stage has been like a Power Stage for us today. Opening the road is really tough here and we had to push really hard through every stage. It’s always a little frustrating when you’re not in a position to fight for the top results, but that’s the way it is.”
“Unlike our rivals, we didn’t make any mistakes and we’re in a good position for the championship which is the main objective this weekend. A big thanks to my team mates also for their help this afternoon which should make our road position better for tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans (8th)
“We focused on delivering a clean and tidy drive through today’s stages. The competition was really close and I think we did a pretty good job – not far from the lead before the last gravel stage of the day.”
“But this is a team sport as well as an individual one and we had to play our part to give Seb the best possible position going into the weekend. We’re all competitors and we all want to compete, but we’re also here to do a job for the team and we have to respect that.”
Teemu Suninen (9th)
“I think we’ve had a good day. The pace has been good and we were able to improve a lot over the second pass – just 0.1 seconds away from a stage win on the middle one this afternoon [SS5]. On the next stage we had to give the position to Seb, but that’s part of the game – he’s fighting for the championship and we need to play our part to help him.”
Day two would see the crews tackle much more stages, adding up to 133km’s of action. The starting line up looked like this – Serderidis, Neuville, Evans, Suninen, Ogier, Lappi, Tänak, Paddon, Breen, Latvala, Ostberg, Mikkelsen.
A much longer day featured four stages run in the morning, with the loop repeated in the afternoon and then a double run at the end of the day in the spectator friendly stage.
Into SS9, Argents Hill Reverse then, quite literally run in the opposite direction to last year and Hayden started well, winning it from Latvala and Andreas. Craig dropped behind Jari-Matti who was now Mads closest rival for the lead. Thierry was also finding things hard, second on the road again and losing more time to Ogier.
The second stage of the day, SS10, Welshs Creek reverse was won by Ott from Latvala and Hayden. Mads lead was reduced by a little over three seconds and he revealed that he was not happy with his tyre choice. Meantime, Craig was suffering from a throttle that was sticking open when he was on the brakes, making the car push on and very tricky to drive indeed, and he dropped to fifth overall! Hayden moved into third as a result of this. Ogier was still in the box seat for the championship, with Thierry now 43 seconds behind the Frenchman.
Onto SS11, Urunga. It was all change in this one. Mads lost 13 and a half seconds, falling from the lead, to third overall. Those to benefit were Jari-Matti and Ott who were now first and second respectively. The gap widened even further for Thierry, now almost fifty seconds from Seb in tenth. Craig was suffering with his tyres and this led to a spin, which then resulted in damage to his left rear suspension.
SS12, so named Raleigh, saw Elfyn and Ott share honours with the fastest time. Breen however picked up a time penalty after arriving late for the stage. He and Scott worked on their car between the stages, fixing the broken suspension as best they could and they were now in tenth place.
After service, came the second run of Argents Hill, SS13, which saw Hayden take another stage victory, thus consolidating fourth overall and keeping him and Seb Marshall close to the podium positions, with Mads in third still, only three seconds ahead of the Kiwi. Thierry needed a mistake from Ogier to bring himself back into the fight, but it was hard to see him taking the title now. In fact, Ott had a more realistic chance given how close he was to the leader, who was his teammate, Jari-Matti.
The longer Welshs Creek followed, SS14, and Ott moved ahead of Jari-Matti into the lead. Also, on the move was Thierry who moved ahead of Teemu, but had actually lost a further few seconds to Ogier, who was now in sixth overall. The Belgian was going to need a miracle now, as he was almost two and a half minutes from the leader.
The second run of Urunga, SS15 saw Hayden set the third fastest time and with Mads only tenth fastest the Kiwi was now in third overall, behind Ott and Jari-Matti. Thierry was doing his best to keep the gap to Ogier under a minute, and he was a second faster than the Frenchman.
The short Raleigh, SS16 stage followed, with Ott, Elfyn and Seb the top three. Ott’s lead was now almost ten seconds from his teammate, Jari-Matti.
After the double run of Destination NSW, during which the rain came, causing all sorts of mayhem, the Estonian had widened the gap to Latvala giving him a lead of twenty seconds, whilst Hayden had consolidated his third place overall, a full twenty seconds ahead of Mads. Thierry was in eighth place, fifty seconds behind Ogier. The chance to win the title was getting more remote.
So, let’s hear then from the drivers at the end of day two.
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:07:52.0
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +21.9
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +26.3
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +46.6
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +50.4
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:44.8
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:04.6
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:35.2
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:49.0
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +6:26.8
“It has been a good day. This morning, we were back in our normal rhythm and the car was feeling good. I tried to attack a bit and we managed to take some time back. This afternoon we continued to push to make more of a margin to the drivers behind. Tomorrow we know there will be some tricky stages and maybe some tricky weather too, so it won’t get any easier. But for the moment everything is going in the right direction and we are doing everything that is in our control.”
“I had a really good morning. The car was working really well, I was enjoying the driving and we were able to gain some places. The afternoon started well but I was probably too aggressive with the tyres. They became very worn, so I had to back off and I started to lose some time. Then in the super specials we were unlucky with the conditions. Still, we are in second place and we just need to bring that to the end: this would be really important for the manufacturers’ championship and for myself and to finish the season with a good feeling.”
“It has been nice to get back onto some of my favourite stages of the year. I have really enjoyed myself out there. There’s still more pace to be found, but we set ourselves the minimum target of a podium and we’re looking in good shape for that so far. The weather might still have a role to play tomorrow so we have to keep pushing. I’ve had a great feeling from inside the car and started to really get into the groove. Winning the repeat of the Argents Hill stage was probably the most fun I’ve had in a rally car all year. We now have one final day to see what more we can do – it’s still pretty close up top.”
Mads Østberg (4th)
“We struggled a bit more today to find the right rhythm and balance, especially on the second loop of stages, then we were really hampered by the sudden rainfall on this evening’s super special stage. But together, we fought hard and gave a good account of ourselves. We didn’t give up at any point, and that’ll be our mindset tomorrow as well.”
Craig Breen (10th)
“It just wasn’t our day today. I was unlucky this morning with a minor mistake that proved to be a very costly one. It’s especially disappointing because we still had the speed to do well. Although we’ll be first on the road tomorrow, we’re going to enjoy these magnificent stages as much as possible right to the end.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“I think we have done a good job today. The gaps were quite big in front and behind me so I was a little bit in no-man’s land, and it’s hard to keep the concentration when you don’t need to push so much. In the second stage of the afternoon I tried to back off a bit and immediately I started to make mistakes, so I decided to push again and we were fastest on the next stage. That helped bring us quite close to fourth, but tomorrow the main aim is to bring the car to the finish.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (6th)
“The loose gravel has made it a difficult rally for us so far, but it’s been a positive day in terms of the championship and I’m very happy with that.”
“First on the road yesterday was really tough. Fifth on the road today was a little bit better, but we still lost a lot of time compared to the guys starting further back.”
“It was a bit frustrating sometimes, but the main target is the championship and scoring the points we need. That’s what we’re doing at the moment, but tomorrow’s final kilometres will feel pretty long and we’ll need to be focused.”
Elfyn Evans (7th)
“We all knew it would be difficult being early on the road today. The gravel was really loose and you could see how much it was cleaning and how much faster the road was getting with every car. Still, we delivered a clean and tidy drive and it was nice to show some speed through both passes of the Raleigh stage.”
Teemu Suninen (9th)
“Today has been more difficult for me and I still have a lot to learn about how to drive in this loose gravel. I didn’t have the best rhythm, but we got a bit better in the afternoon and now there is just one more day to go.”
Thierry Neuville (8th)
“Starting from second on the road here in Australia, you know it’s going to be tough. We had to try and give it everything, to minimise the time loss but there’s only so much you can do. Despite the slippery conditions, I really enjoyed the stages and we had a reasonable run all things considered. There was a small moment towards the end of the morning loop when we broke the rear wishbone after clipping a bank, but we were able to fix that. We have had no choice but to keep pushing, focusing on our driving and have an eye on what’s happening in front in case anyone encounters any trouble. It’s a frustrating situation but it’s not over until it’s over.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (Rally2)
“Today we’ve been able to enjoy ourselves very much. It is always a pleasure to drive these beautiful Australian stages. Unfortunately, we are no longer fighting for a podium but we’ve tried to get into a good rhythm nonetheless. We haven’t been taking those final risks, which enable you to compete for stage wins but I’ve been happy with our pace and performance in the i20 Coupe WRC today.”
The final day then. Normally, the stages are short, but we had a very large almost 84km’s to go, over six stages. To fit it all in, it was another early start, with the first stage starting before seven in the morning. The start list looked like this – Serderidis, Breen, Suninen, Neuville, Evans, Ogier, Lappi, Ostberg, Paddon, Latvala, Tänak, Mikkelsen.
The rain had arrived and the first stage, SS19 Coramba was very muddy. Jari-Matti won the stage from Andreas and Thierry. These conditions were helping the Belgian, but how much? The gap to the leaders was still big and on balance, Ott had a better chance of the title, as he was ahead of Seb. Elfyn was doing a very good job, shadowing Ogier.
So, to SS20, Sapphire then and Hayden took this one from Latvala and Mads. Ott dropped to second place, five seconds behind new leader, Jari-Matti, after suffering a spin! In fact, Craig had spun at precisely the same place earlier and he suffered another spin as well later in the stage too!
Last stage before service then, SS21 Wedding Bells, and Craig suffered another spin after clipping something that was on the line. Lappi took the stage victory from a very quick Neuville with Toyota twins, Latvala and Tanak sharing the third fastest time.
After service, the re run of Coramba, SS22 and Thierry was going for it while the rain was pouring down. After reaching the 1km board, he spun after hitting a bank! He did get going again, however a light came on the dashboard. He found somewhere to stop and retired from the rally. Jari-Matti won the stage from Lappi and Tanak was third.
The re run then of SS23 Sapphire saw more drama. Ott stopped in the stage after an off, which he had got going after earlier in the stage, and was pushed to the side of the road by some spectators. Latvala was holding the lead now from Hayden and Mads was now in third after the demise of the Estonian. This confirmed Seb and Julien as this year’s world champions, with their closest rivals now out.
The final stage then of the rally and the entire year…. SS24, Wedding Bells and the power stage. Top five was, Ogier, Lappi, Ostberg, Evans and rally winner Latvala, taking his first victory since Rally Sweden 2017.
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:59:52.0
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +32.5
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +52.2
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:02.3
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:30.8
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3:05.1
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +8:59.1
What an amazing rally. Seb and Julien emerged as champions again after a thrilling battle throughout the year. In their second year back, Toyota have taken the manufacturers world title. Very impressive indeed.
Let’s hear then from the drivers, top three first.
“I am so happy to win again. It was quite a relief after such a long time! The conditions today were incredibly demanding, and it would have been very easy to go off the road. Everything went my way today, and I am sorry for Ott that his rally ended in the way it did. I was very excited and nervous at the start of the final stage, but we managed to do it. To win the manufacturers’ title is fantastic. I am so proud of the team and what they have created. Everybody has worked so hard and they deserve this reward!”
“A great weekend for us! I’m really pleased to be back on the podium and to take our best result of the season. This feels like a proper podium. I felt the last few we’ve benefitted from others’ misfortune but we’ve definitely earned this one. Each year we’ve been getting one place better in Australia, so I must be on to win it next year! We’ve made good strategy calls all weekend and I’ve felt comfortable in the car. Thanks to the team and to the travelling Kiwi fans who have come out in their droves to support us. It makes all the difference. We have to see what happens next season but I hope this result helps our cause.”
“It really has been a weekend of ups – particularly on Friday’s leg when we were leading the rally – and downs, especially yesterday when we were a little bit less comfortable on the stages. It wasn’t easy to come back after two months on the sofa and such a long break since Wales Rally GB. But we kept on fighting, we never gave up and continued to put pressure on our rivals today. Our consistency and strength today on the extremely slippery stages were rewarded in the end!”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (4th)
“Today was definitely one of the toughest days of the season: the conditions were very tricky and that meant you couldn’t enjoy the driving quite as much. It is nice to end this part of my career in this way, by helping the team to win the manufacturers’ title. I really wanted to finish on top but at least we had a good rally where we were back on the pace. Thank you to everyone in the team for their support.”
Ott Tänak (Retired)
“Congratulations to everybody in the team. They have done a great job. Personally, I can be disappointed about how it ended for me today, but in general I am really happy: I have the strongest car in the championship and strong people around me. It was a great battle all year; we were always trying our best. I went off in a really tricky stage with a lot of muddy places. I think it didn’t change too much in either championship though. I am really happy with my season and we will keep pushing next year.”
Sébastien Ogier (5th)
“It’s been an incredible season and the fight has been so close. Not so long ago we thought it was going to be difficult to take the title again, but we never gave up. We gave it everything and had such an amazing team around us. I am so proud of all of them and of course I want to thank Malcolm for another amazing job. What we achieved together over the past two years has been really special, and I am very proud of that.”
Elfyn Evans (6th)
“Congratulations to Seb, Julien and the whole team. I’m glad they were able to secure this one and – even though it wasn’t always easy – I’m glad we were able to help them where we could. Obviously for various reasons our season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but the speed was there and hopefully we’ll have a chance to prove that again next year.”
Teemu Suninen (DNF)
“It was a shame not to have finished this rally, but I am really happy for the team and for Seb and Julien who really deserved this Championship. Everyone has worked really hard and it’s nice to see this result for them.”
“For me, I think I showed some good improvement this weekend and was able to set some good times on Friday. On the weekend I learnt a lot about how to drive in the loose gravel, and I’m looking forward to next year when I can build on everything, I learnt this season.”
Craig Breen (7th)
“It’s been a really tough event for us, especially since our mistake yesterday meant we had to open the road on these very tricky stages today. Saying that, the positive for me is that once again we had really good pace in the C3 WRC, especially during the first leg.”
“We gave it everything and had to take some risks today to try and capture the title. Even it was only a small chance, we had nothing to lose. In SS22, the conditions were really bad, and we simply went wide and clipped a tree. That was it, championship over. It has been a difficult and tricky weekend, and not the way we wanted the season to end but it’s part of the game. I would like to say thanks to the team and everyone at Hyundai Motorsport in Alzenau for giving us the car to fight for the title this year. Congratulations to Sébastien and Julien; it has been great to fight with them this year. We knew there would be one winning crew and that two would go home empty handed. It’s unfortunate we are the unlucky ones on this occasion. It’s been a great season for WRC and we’ve attracted some new fans, so now we have a short break and we can look ahead to another season.”
“In many ways I am pleased that the 2018 season has come to a close. It has been a troublesome year for me. This weekend is a perfect example; we’ve been quick and competitive at times but our event has been overshadowed by pure bad luck. Throughout the year we have made improvements and felt increasingly comfortable with the car, we just haven’t been able to translate that into results. Still, it has been a great season for the fans and it has been a pleasure to be part of it. We have had great support from the team and we’re all pushing in the right direction. We now look forward to a bit of time off, and then some proper testing ahead of Monte when we’ll go again in good spirits.”
Well, what an event! Look out soon for my season review.
Well, what a year we’ve had! Just the final round left, but what a humdinger we are set for! Three crews can win this weekend. Ott Tanak is the outsider, given that he is 23 points from Ogier. However, I believe he will win the rally and quite possibly the powerstage. Now Thierry and Seb are the two of the three that are most likely to win the championship, and their chances will come down to how the cars feel on the stages.
Given that the teams cannot test outside of Europe, shakedown will be really important, particularly for the Hyundai team. The car they have built is very quick as long as the set-up is spot on. M-Sport have a very good car, and they have been very good this year. However, if Thierry can get the car as he liked it in Rally Italia, we know how that Sunday finished. All he has to do, which he mentioned in my interview with him last week, is score four more points than Seb, and he will be the champion.
The challengers will be looking to their teammates to get in the mix and take points away from their rivals, which makes the job of Elfyn, Teemu, Andreas, Hayden, Jari-Matti and Esapekka even more important.
Finally, Toyota and Hyundai are fighting for the manufacturers title, and it is Toyota’s to win, as they sit at the top. A quite remarkable feat, given it’s only their second year back!
Well, let’s take a look at the stages that they have to tackle. A total of 316km’s of stages are ahead of them, and they have very tricky small stones covering the roads. If dry, the dust can hang in the air, plus the road cleaning becomes very significant.
RALLY AUSTRALIA SCHEDULE (GMT+11)
THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER
8.00am: Shakedown (5,07 km)
FRIDAY 16 NOVEMBER
7.15am: Start Coffs Harbour
8.03am: SS 1 – Orara East 1 (8,77 km)
8.43am: SS 2 – Coldwater 1 (14,12 km)
9.41am: SS 3 – Sherwood 1 (26,68 km)
11.14am: Service A (Coffs Harbour – 30 mins)
12.32pm: SS 4 – Orara East 2 (8,77 km)
1.12pm: SS 5 – Coldwater 2 (14,12 km)
2.10pm: SS 6 – Sherwood 2 (26,68 km)
5.17pm: SS 7 – Destination NSW SSS1 (1,27 km)
5.27pm: SS 8 – Destination NSW SSS2 (1,27 km)
5.57pm: Flexi service B (Coffs Harbour – 45 mins)
SATURDAY 17 NOVEMBER
5.50am: Service C (Coffs Harbour – 15 mins)
7.08am: SS 9 – Argents Hill Reverse 1 (13,13 km)
7.51am: SS 10 – Welshs Creek Reverse 1 (28,83 km)
8.59am: SS 11 – Urunga 1 (21,28 km)
9.47am: SS 12 – Raleigh 1 (1,99 km)
10.35am: Service D (Coffs Harbour – 30 mins)
12.08pm: SS 13 – Argents Hill Reverse 2 (13,13 km)
1.02pm: SS 14 – Welshs Creek Reverse 2 (28,83 km)
2.10pm: SS 15 – Urunga 2 (21,28 km)
2.58pm: SS 16 – Raleigh 2 (1,99 km)
5.17pm: SS 17 – Destination NSW SSS3 (1,27 km)
5.27pm: SS 18 – Destination NSW SSS4 (1,27 km)
5.57pm: Flexi service E (Coffs Harbour – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 18 NOVEMBER
6.00am: Service F (Coffs Harbour – 15 mins)
6.53am: SS 19 – Coramba 1 (15,55 km)
7.36am: SS 20 – Sapphire 1 (19,27 km)
8.38am: SS 21 – Wedding Bells 1 (7,16 km)
9.53am: Service G (Coffs Harbour – 30 mins)
11.01am: SS 22 – Coramba 2 (15,55 km)
11.44am: SS 23 – Sapphire 2 (19,27 km)
1.18pm: SS 24 – Wedding Bells 2 Power Stage (7,16 km)
Now, according to early weather reports, there is a small chance of rain on Friday and this will make the starting position very important, as it helps those at the front of the field. We shall see what happens.
Hear from the drivers then.
M-Sport Ford WRT
“The Championship could not be closer and we head to the final round in Australia with a slender three-point lead at the head of the standings. It’s a very positive place to be compared to where we were when we were 23 points behind two rallies ago, and the pressure is now on our rivals to overhaul the deficit.”
“Of course, we’re aware that opening the road will not be an easy task, but anything can happen and we are ready for the challenge. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success in Australia over the years and our goal is to add to that success next week.”
“We’re ready to do our best, ready to push for a sixth world title, and hopeful of ending what has been an enjoyable and rewarding two years with Malcolm and his team in the best possible way.”
“I’ve always enjoyed Rally Australia and we’ll be aiming to bring our season to a close with another strong result next week. Following our podium in Spain, it would be great to end the year with another personal best in Australia.”
“There’s a friendly and relaxed atmosphere at this event and we’re made to feel welcome from the second we arrive in Coffs Harbour. But the event itself is a real challenge; and totally different from anything else we encounter throughout the year.”
“Visibility is often an issue and you have to have complete trust in your notes. Hanging dust isn’t uncommon and when the sun is low it can create a strobe effect through the trees which makes it difficult to read the road. The trees themselves also cast unfamiliar shadows and you really do need to be fully focused and concentrated throughout the weekend.”
“I can’t remember a more exciting time in the sport and I think everyone is excited to see what happens next week – ourselves included. We’re ready to give our best and will work hard to deliver the best possible result for the team.”
“This will be my first time competing at Rally Australia, but my preparation is the same and I’ve been watching the videos to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be. I did the recce in 2016 but don’t have all the notes for this year’s stages. We’ll need to be concentrated on the recce to be ready to compete on the same level as everyone else.”
“As the last round of the season and with the championships being so close, this is also going to be a really interesting and exciting rally. Seb is still in with a strong chance of taking his sixth world title, and the team also have a chance in the manufacturers’ championship. I am ready to give everything in order to be a part of those fights and to end my season on a high.”
“Recent rallies have not gone our way and we now find ourselves involved in an incredible and intense championship fight. All manufacturers and crews have had ups and downs this season, but we need to put all of this behind us and to focus on a perfect weekend in Australia. The benefit of dropping to second in the drivers’ championship is that we won’t be opening the road on the dusty gravel. It offers only a small advantage but everything counts now. We won from that position twelve months ago and we’ll be targeting the same result next weekend. That will be the best way to take the title.”
“Australia has always been a good rally for us. We won there in 2016 and were leading after the opening day in 2017 with Hyundai. Unfortunately, we had to retire on the second day but we are usually very fast. I hope for another competitive run this time around. We have not had the season that we’d hoped so I want to end the year with a strong result. All eyes will be on the title fight and we will do everything in our power to support the team and Thierry.”
“I am looking forward to being back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for Rally Australia, one of the events to which we most look forward. As always, we will have fantastic support from the travelling Kiwi fans, which gives us a real boost. We finished third in the event last year to finish the season with a podium. I hope we can repeat that sort of result this time around. We’ve been building up our performance level as the season as progressed, so hopefully Australia will be the rally where we can pull the pin and really go for it. I want to end the season on a high.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I am going to give it my all in Australia. I still have a mathematical chance in the drivers’ championship, and even though it is not really in my hands, I will keep pushing and not give up. In the manufacturers’ championship we have the advantage and I think we are in a very strong position. In particular, we can be confident in how our car has been performing on gravel over recent events. Rally Australia is always a challenging event but many of the roads are fast and flowing, and this suits us well.”
“I am really looking forward to Australia. It is a rally that I really enjoy a lot. Firstly, the atmosphere is relaxed and the weather is usually great, so it’s a nice place to end the season. Then there are the stages: they have made a lot of changes to the route this year, but we have driven most of the roads before and we know that they are usually quite fast, which is of course what I like! I am going there confident after the speed we have shown recently, and I hope to get a good result to help us to win the championship.”
“I really want to finish on a high in Australia, and to help the team to win the manufacturers’ championship. Last year, this rally for me was all about gaining experience, and hopefully I can use that to have a stronger performance this time. If the weather is dry then we know that the road sweeping will be a big challenge, as there is so much loose gravel on the surface. I got some practice running first on the road there last year, but we also found that it can rain quite heavily. Then, the grip levels can change a lot through the forests.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
“Although I missed this round last season, I’m delighted to be competing here again, especially as I know the stages well, given that they don’t change that much from year to year. It’s a fast event, really enjoyable to drive. I’ve always been quick here, even though a bit of bad luck on occasions has meant that results haven’t always reflected my speed. I haven’t driven my C3 WRC for a little while now but I hope that I’ll adjust to it again as quickly as possible. With our road position, in theory, we have a very good chance to do something here. It’s up to us now to make the most of the opportunity.”
“Although last year was my first appearance here in Australia, I had good speed on the stages, until unfortunately I got caught out by a heavy downpour on Sunday’s leg. This year, some older sections from 2014 to 2016 have been brought back into the itinerary, but I love this rally and I’ll be doing everything possible to compensate for my lack of knowledge of the stages. I have high hopes that I’ll be on the pace, as I was during the opening leg on gravel in Spain! Given that it includes parts of stages used in the rally, the shakedown is really representative, so it should help us get our bearings.”
Now, we are still waiting for some driver announcements, mainly about M-Sport. I don’t think we’ll hear anything about this until after the season has concluded though. The teams fighting for the titles have too much to focus on.
In the middle of a titanic battle for this year’s championship between Thierry, Seb and Ott, nine-time world champions Seb and Daniel took Citroen’s first victory of the year. Here’s the story of how it all happened.
On Thursday evening, the short SS1 was won by Seb Ogier, with his title rivals, Thierry and Ott just a few seconds behind. Seb Loeb meanwhile had a spin and was 15.9 seconds off the lead. As always it seems during these short stages, there were three WRC2 cars inside the top ten, with Eric Camilli giving the Polo GTi R5 a first stage win in that class.
Friday would dawn a nice warm and sunny day. The first day always features gravel only stages, and there would be six stages in total, the longest being 38km’s. The starting order looked like this – Neuville, Ogier, Tänak, Lappi, Latvala, Mikkelsen, Sordo, Breen, Suninen, Evans, Loeb, Al Qassimi, Block.
Ott Tanak put a charge on in SS2, winning the stage from Jari-Matti, with the welsh wizard Elfyn third. Seb Ogier was 4.1 seconds slower than Ott, the gap reduced to just a tenth of a second at the end of the seven-kilometre test. In the WRC2 class, it was another very good time from Eric in the Polo, keeping him in the lead of that class.
Into SS3 then and Jari-Matti set the fastest time, with Ott and Elfyn second and third fastest. Seb Loeb was quick too, with fifth fastest and climbing into the top ten as a result, despite being a bit nervous with the wet parts of the stage. Seb Ogier had fallen to sixth overall after only being tenth fastest in the stage, with the loose gravel not giving him the chance to really challenge. The top three was now Ott, Jari-Matti and Elfyn, with the young Welshman showing when things go well, he’ll be right at the front.
Into the longest stage of the day then, SS4 and Jari-Matti lost time, dropping down the order to tenth. Andreas set the fastest time, with Ott and Seb Loeb just behind, meaning he’d passed Craig and moved into sixth overall.
After the service break, SS5 was won by Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti started his climb up the leaderboard, moving into eighth at the expense of Esapekka Lappi. Meantime, in the Citroen camp, Craig closed on Seb Loeb, in their battle for sixth. Ott remained in the lead, with Elfyn and Dani second and third.
Into SS6 then and Jari-Matti won it, with Craig and Ott sharing the second fastest time, four seconds behind the Finn. Seb Loeb and Craig were moving up too, moving into fourth and fifth at the expense of Andreas and Ogier who were now in sixth and seventh.
After SS7, there were a few position changes. Jari-Matti again won, with Loeb and Tanak sharing second fastest. Dani Sordo moved ahead of Elfyn into second overall, whilst Loeb was now in fourth overall. Jari-Matti moved up from eighth into fifth too!
Here’s the top ten then after Friday’s stages.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:34:27.4
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +26.8
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +29.7
Loeb / Elena (Citroën C3 WRC) +30.2
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +37.6
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +39.1
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +39.4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +44.7
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +59.7
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:07.4
The thought’s then of the drivers- top three first.
“Overall, I would say we have had a very good day, particularly from our position on the road as everybody starting behind us in the order had better conditions. I had a good rhythm this morning, particularly the first two stages which were quite nice and flowing. In the beginning of the afternoon I had a really good feeling with the car. We lost that feeling a bit in the middle stage, but I was still able to keep pushing and now we have a good gap. Nothing is finished yet though: Tomorrow we have a new rally and it looks like it will be wet.”
“I am very happy to be back with the team for my home rally. It is always a pleasure for us to compete in front of the Spanish crowds. I am quite satisfied with my day and to be in a position to fight for the podium. It’s very competitive and there are lots of crews who are fighting for the top-three. If we want to remain in the battle, we have to push hard and show what we are capable of. The feeling inside the car has been good today but we will see what we can do when we move onto tarmac on the final two days.”
“It’s been a pretty strong day for us but I was disappointed to have given so much time away on that last stage – I would have preferred not to have done that! But tomorrow is another day and the gaps are so close that you could almost start a new rally – it’s going to be interesting for sure.
“It looks as though the weather could be fairly challenging and coming from Wales I’m used to a bit of rain, but we don’t have so much Tarmac so let’s wait and see what happens. The gaps are really small throughout the field so nothing can be taken for granted and it’s all to play for.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Sébastien Loeb (4th)
“After suffering a bit of understeer this morning, we made some changes to the set-up of my C3 WRC, and I felt full of confidence this afternoon and could really express myself. That meant we were able to close in on the battle for the podium, and now everything’s to play for. I haven’t driven on tarmac stages in the wet for six years so if we do get rain, that’ll be quite a big challenge!”
Craig Breen (8th)
“It’s been a bit of an up and down day. We set several good times but we also had a fair bit of misfortune. We lost almost twenty seconds with a spin this morning, then we lost part of the spoiler this afternoon. Without those issues, we’d be a lot closer to the fight for the podium. I love tarmac and I’m determined to make the most of one of the rare opportunities that we have in the year to drive on it and try and make up some ground.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (23rd)
“After not being comfortable this morning, we managed to find the solution with the technical team so that I could drive with confidence in the afternoon and really enjoy myself in the car. With very little competitive experience on wet tarmac, I’m expecting tomorrow to be a massive challenge for me!”
Andreas Mikkelsen (6th)
“In the opening stages this morning, I struggled to find any control from our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. Each time braking into a corner I lost the rear and you really need to position the car at the right angle. We made a few changes, including the roll bar position, and the feeling was then suddenly there. I could push and we were fastest in the long stage before lunch, which was a nice feeling. We took a gamble in the afternoon with six tyres, but the conditions were cooler and the tyre wear was a lot less so it didn’t really pay off. It’s very close in the podium fight so we’ll aim to get ourselves further up the order tomorrow.”
Thierry Neuville (9th)
“We have been absolutely on it all day, and could not have given any more. We have gone as fast as we could but it has been hugely disappointing to struggle so much in the loose conditions, especially as first on the road. This morning, we just couldn’t find the rhythm and also made a mistake towards the end of the loop; it’s difficult to do much more from that starting position. A tricky day but we are not too far behind Ogier, so have to remain positive. Tomorrow we will face different conditions on tarmac. We’ll keep pushing.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th)
“I had a very good feeling with the car and with the driving from the very beginning today. The first two stages went well, and the third one was going really nicely too, even on the asphalt where I’ve struggled in the past. Unfortunately, we then got the puncture, which was incredibly frustrating. But we were able to keep the same speed in the afternoon, and this is the most important thing. The driving has been easy and I haven’t had to think about it too much.”
Esapekka Lappi (10th)
“It has been a really challenging day to be honest. We had some little issues here and there, but at least we were able to keep going. On the last stage we showed that when everything is right we can do a nice time, but we need to try and improve. Now we switch to asphalt and I am looking forward to that. Rain would obviously make it very challenging, as I haven’t driven in those kinds of conditions on these roads before, but let’s see.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (7th)
“It’s been a tough day for us as there was a lot of cleaning out there. I tried everything I could, but it was so difficult running near the front of the field. The only one who made a difference out there today was Ott – he managed to set some incredible times!
“I gave it everything and only made one very small mistake this morning when I ran a little wide into a field and lost a couple of seconds. I wasn’t in full attack mode first thing this morning which probably cost us another couple of seconds, but other than that we have pushed very hard all day.
“The positive is that we are only 12 seconds behind second place which is definitely what we need to fight for tomorrow when it will be a completely new rally.”
Teemu Suninen (11th)
“It’s been a really tough day for us and we were struggling to get into the right rhythm. I was struggling to stay on the line and carry the speed through the corners. We have a good idea what the problem was, and the afternoon was a bit better, but there wasn’t so much we could do after one service. Tomorrow will be like a new rally so we will focus on setting some better times on the Tarmac.”
It was raining on Saturday morning, giving the crews a lot to think about. The cars had been changed into tarmac mode with major changes to suspension and brakes. The start list looked like this – Al Qassimi, Suninen, Lappi, Neuville, Breen, Ogier, Mikkelsen, Latvala, Loeb, Evans, Sordo, Tänak. Seven stages would make up Saturday’s action. Unfortunately, the first stage of the day, SS8 was cancelled due to safety reasons.
The day would therefore start with SS9. Ott would pick up from Friday and win the first stage of the day from Latvala and Sordo. With such a fast time from the Finn, he moved ahead of Loeb into fourth place, just a couple of seconds from Elfyn. Andreas was the biggest loser though, dropping to tenth overall. He just struggled with confidence in the super slippery stage. Showing how remarkable rallying can be, Craig spun in the stage, losing part of his rear wing, yet he gained one position. Ott Tanak set a great time and his lead an incredible 32.9 seconds
It was all change though at the top come the end of SS10. Jari-Matti won the stage from Lappi and Neuville, but Ott picked up a puncture in the stage, and lost 1 minute 43 seconds! He was now in ninth place. Dani was the new leader, with Latvala in second place, just three tenths off the lead. Elfyn was now back into third, showing great composure.
Following the service break, Latvala took the lead from Dani who could only manage the ninth fastest time in SS11, but it was Thierry who won the stage from Ott who was now eighth overall and a minute from the lead and Esapekka.
Into SS12 and the wet conditions were challenging indeed, with Craig suffering a spin. Loeb though showed great pace, winning the stage and passing Elfyn for third overall. Thierry also drove a great stage, a full seven seconds faster than Ogier and halving the gap as such.
Neuville and Ogier were hard to separate at the end of SS13, just nine tenths of a second between them and they both moved up the overall leaderboard as a consequence, with Ogier moving into second and Thierry into fifth place.
The short SS14 stage completed the day and the top three was Ott, Kalle Rovanperä and Ogier. Yes, the WRC2 Skoda Fabia was just one tenth of a second behind the Yaris!
It was all to fight for then, with just ten seconds covering the top four going into Sunday’s stages.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:35:01.8
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4.7
Loeb / Elena (Citroën C3 WRC) +8.0
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.8
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +12.7
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +16.5
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +46.5
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:00.7
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:37.9
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:07.3
Here’s the thoughts of the drivers after day two – Top three first.
“To be leading after our issue yesterday is a great feeling and shows why you should never give up. The conditions were very demanding all day with the rain and lots of mud coming onto the road. The car was working well though and I think our tyre choices were good. In the last two stages I was a little bit cautious and we lost some time but we are still leading. It is going to be a big fight tomorrow. I have a five-time champion and a nine-time champion right behind me, but I will just focus on my own driving and keeping it relaxed: this will be the key.”
“It’s been a tough day with the conditions and I don’t think we made the right tyre choices, but we did the best with what we had. I tried to minimize the time loss as much as I could, but it was difficult. Some stages this afternoon were very dirty and really tricky. It’s all very close now, and we’re still in a position to fight for the victory tomorrow. It’s going to be a really close battle, but our main target is to stay ahead of Thierry.”
“Obviously, I’m pleased with my day, even though it was stressful and pretty complicated because we had expected the roads to dry out more. But, I’m pleased with my driving, although it took me a bit of time to get back into the swing of things this morning. I gave it my all throughout the leg, without making any mistakes despite the really tricky conditions. We’re still right in the mix and that’s the main thing. We’re going to keep pushing because it’s so tight at the front that anything can happen.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Elfyn Evans (4th)
“It’s been another challenging but rewarding day. The conditions made for some fairly tricky stages, but we delivered a clean and tidy drive and are in a good position going into the final day. It’s so close out there and it really is anyone’s for the taking. We’re still in the hunt and we’ll keep pushing to bring home a strong result.”
Teemu Suninen (11th)
“It’s been another difficult day for us. This was our first time driving on wet Tarmac with this car and there were a lot of new things for me to learn. We also had some issues with the brakes in the middle stage this afternoon [SS12]. But then on the last long one [SS13] I was able to set quite a good time and I was happy with that. Of course, there are still some seconds to find, but we showed some improvement which was good.”
Thierry Neuville (5th)
“It has been a very strong Saturday for us. We have had a great feeling from within the car and we have been able to really push throughout the entire day. The tyre choice this morning was not easy with the wet conditions but we had to find a compromise. It was perhaps not the fastest but we made it through. We took two stage wins this afternoon and have climbed up to fifth place overall, just 12.7 seconds from the lead. It’s really close, and anything is possible. I can say for sure that we will continue to fight hard. There’s all to play for on Sunday.”
Dani Sordo (6th)
“I would summarise the day as one of two halves – a positive morning and a trickier afternoon. We had a promising Friday and we continued in that way on the opening loop today. We could set some good stage times and moved into the lead of the rally by lunchtime service. It’s always nice to lead a rally but even more so in front of our home fans. Sadly, we couldn’t maintain that pace on the muddier stages this afternoon, losing time to the leaders. However, we are still in touch and there are four stages on Sunday to get ourselves back towards the podium.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (10th)
“Not a good day for us. We didn’t really understand why we struggled to get a good feeling. It is the first time we’ve really tackled competitive stages with this car in such conditions. The afternoon loop didn’t go much better so we will have to analyse what we’ve done today to see if there’s anything we can do before the final stages on Sunday morning.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“I am pretty happy with today. We had a good tyre strategy in the morning, and it wasn’t too bad in the afternoon either. On the long stage, SS13 this afternoon we had a small mistake on a really muddy corner and that lost us a lot of time. But otherwise the speed was there. Overall it was definitely more positive than yesterday. Tomorrow we can’t really catch those ahead but we will try to reach the finish and enjoy it.”
Ott Tänak (8th)
“Obviously it has been a tough day. It started fine but then we got the puncture and lost a lot of time.
This afternoon we had the worst position with all the dirt on the road. I made a mistake myself – we had a spin in the long stage, SS13 – but otherwise we did all we could. Let’s see what the weather brings tomorrow, as it looks like it will be another challenging day. In the drivers’ championship there is not much we can do now, but we are also fighting for the manufacturers’ championship and this is still looking good, so I will give my best for this.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Craig Breen (9th)
“We haven’t had the day we were hoping for, even though the pace was there again. Unfortunately, our two spins have proven very costly. But I’m going to give it everything to try and finish on a positive note tomorrow.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (19th)
“It was quite tricky this morning, driving in the wet on soft slicks. I was more comfortable this afternoon with rain tyres, even though the mud in places didn’t make my job any easier. I’m pleased to have avoided making any mistakes and I feel like I have learned more things today.”
We had just four stages to complete the event, totalling 61.70km’s of action. The start list had been changed again – Al Qassimi, Suninen, Mikkelsen, Breen, Tänak, Lappi, Sordo, Neuville, Evans, Loeb, Ogier, Latvala.
The first stage of the day was damp, but drying. Loeb won SS15 from Dani and Thierry and this was good enough for him to take the lead from Latvala! This was after deciding to change to the hard compound Michelin. Thierry also closed the gap to Elfyn in their battle for fourth overall.
Into SS16 and Loeb increased his advantage over Latvala to 7.1 seconds. After going second fastest in the stage, Ott passed Esapekka for seventh overall. Meanwhile, Elfyn had found that he got passed by both Thierry and Dani and dropped to sixth overall.
Just two to go then and Ogier won SS17 from Evans and Sordo. Loeb suffered a spin, but maintained his lead over new second placed man, Ogier. What had happened to Jari-Matti? He’d clipped some Armco in the stage and broken his wheel. He lost 48 seconds as a result and was now in sixth place. Evans was now just two seconds behind Neuville and M-Sport wanted him to get the podium to take more points away from him.
Well, the final stage then and the power stage too. Who would fill the top five places and gain those points? Well, the top five looked like this. Tanak, Ogier, Loeb, Evans, Sordo. No power stage points for Neuville.
Well, Seb Loeb had won his first world rally championship event since Argentina 2013! Meantime, Seb Ogier had finished in second and Elfyn Evans secured third place, beating Thierry Neuville by just half a second! All of this meant that Thierry had lost the championship lead and was now three points behind Ogier.
Here’s final finishing positions.
Loeb / Elena (Citroën C3 WRC) 3:12:08.0
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2.9
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +16.5
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +17.0
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +18.6
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:03.9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:16.6
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:26.4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +2:07.0
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:48.2
The final thoughts then – Top three first.
“It was an almighty scrap, right to the bitter end. When I saw that I had won on the display at the end of the final stage, it was a truly incredible feeling! It’s really nice to have managed to be on the pace again after all these years, because the guys haven’t stood still whilst I’ve been away and they really pushed hard every inch of the way. I couldn’t afford to drag my heels in getting my bearings back on the gravel on Friday, or on the wet tarmac yesterday either. We were quick this morning after making the right call on tyres and then we held on, despite a minor error on the penultimate stage. Right now, given how the rally panned out, I’d be tempted to say it’s perhaps my greatest win and I’m delighted to secure what is a richly- deserved result for the team.”
“It’s been an eventful weekend but we’re feeling good at the end of it. We knew that it would be difficult starting second on the road and the wet conditions made it really challenging as well. But we never gave up and gave it everything we had. You’re always a little frustrated when you miss the victory by such a small margin, but we tried everything we could and it’s still been a positive weekend as we regained the lead of the championship. Starting first on the road in Australia will be difficult, but I prefer to have the points in hand. It will be a tough rally and we will have to give it everything we have if we want to regain the title.”
“We came here to secure a good result and that’s what we got. The speed has been up there for the past few rallies now, but for various reasons we’ve come away empty handed. It’s good to finally see that speed rewarded and to show that we had the pace on both surfaces here in Spain.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“This has been a crazy and intense rally, which summarises the highly competitive nature of this entire championship. I am obviously disappointed not to have had the chance to finish on the podium today and to score valuable extra points in the Power Stage. We were unlucky; there was a stone in the road that I couldn’t avoid and it damaged the right rear wheel rim. Yesterday, we caught back up with the front- runners by taking some risks. Today we had hoped to compete with the Fords but we just weren’t able to manage it. The title fight is wide-open heading to Australia – both drivers and manufacturers – which is a great advert for WRC! We won the rally from second on the road last season so everything is possible.”
Dani Sordo (5th)
“I am not entirely happy with the weekend or the result but at the same time I’m not too disappointed. We have lost some time over the rally due to difficult tyre choices but it’s not been an easy event to read from a strategy point of view. I have done my best and also set some competitive stage times too, so it’s not all bad. We were in the fight right until the end and it was definitely an exciting rally for all of the fans. As always, it’s a pleasure to compete in my home rally and I hope we have given the spectators the entertainment they have become used to watching.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (10th)
“Once again, we have not come away with the result we were expecting or know we are able to achieve, but we’ve tried our hardest. I can’t quite explain why the feeling or the pace is not there. Today’s final stages allowed me to get some drier running and to try out a set-up that worked well in testing. It still wasn’t perfect so we just have to keep working to unlock whatever is missing. It’s been a tough rally with changing weather conditions, as well as gravel and tarmac stages, so not at all straightforward. We have to keep our heads up and put our full effort into the final round of the season in Australia, and to support the team and Thierry as best we can.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (6th)
“Today the driving was very enjoyable. After the tricky conditions yesterday, these were really the typical Catalunya asphalt roads which we had been looking forward to. In the Power Stage I had more or less nothing to lose. OK, we still needed to finish but I pushed very hard as it was my only chance to stay mathematically in the championship fight. I did all I could and we will not give up. We also still have a strong position in the manufacturers’ championship.”
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“It has been a tough weekend, but it is nice to finish this rally for the first time, which is important, and I think I learned a lot during the weekend. Today I didn’t have much to fight for in the overall standings: I just needed to bring the car to the finish and secure the points for the manufacturers’ championship, and in this sense, everything went well.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (8th)
“We were too soft with the tyres and with the setup this morning, but the second stage was a lot better and the fight for the win was still on. The car felt really good and everything was going well. Unfortunately, in one corner I turned too quickly and I touched a pillar that was supporting the barrier. It damaged the tyre immediately so we had to drive half the stage with a punctured tyre. I am really sorry for my mistake, but this can happen when you are fighting for every tenth of a second. The result was not what we wanted but I am very happy with the performance this weekend, and I am really looking forward to Australia.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Craig Breen (9th)
“It was a difficult weekend for us, even though we had great speed at times, especially on the gravel. But we lost a lot of time with our spins. We had nothing to play for today, but we enjoyed ourselves behind the wheel and that was the aim, so we can head for Australia in the best possible frame of mind.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (21st)
“With the unpredictable weather, it wasn’t an easy race for me. We improved gradually on gravel, on tarmac, I wasn’t comfortable on the wet roads yesterday, but I had more confidence today.”
What an amazing rally! Five different leaders, and a 79th win for Seb Loeb and Daniel Elena. The other standout performance was Elfyn Evans. He and Dan Barritt put together a really great drive, shading some drivers who have factory seats.
Well, there it is! What a championship finish we are going to have in Australia! The favourites have to be the top two, but I think it’s safe to say, we cannot discount Ott Tanak. Seb will have to open the road on Friday, and to keep the gaps small, will need to push hard. Thierry will want to win the rally and take the championship as well! We only have 16 days to go!
It’s time for the only dual surface event of the year. Friday sees gravel stages mainly and then Saturday and Sunday, some very fast asphalt roads! Three drivers and two rallies! Toyota now have the fastest car I believe, and Ott Tanak can win this event. After his retirement on day two in Wales, and only scoring a few powerstage points, he is now 21 points from championship leader Thierry Neuville and 14 points behind Sebastian Ogier. The Frenchman’s win last time out, has really helped him back into the fight to retain his title.
Meantime, Thierry is in the box seat to take his first title, but being first on the road is going to hurt his pace on Friday. He will hope for a podium finish, keeping the points loss to a minimum. The only way he could win the title is if both Seb and Ott don’t score any points at all.
Now, who else could feature on the podium? Well, there could be any number of drivers- Dani Sordo returns for Hyundai and could challenge for the top places. Craig Breen is another and finally, Elfyn could as well.
Returning to the championship for the final time this year are erstwhile Citroen crew Seb Loeb and Daniel Elena, who have won this rally an incredible eight times, including three times after it switched to being a dual surface event in 2010. The French aces will almost certainly challenge for stage victories.
Now, here are the stages that the crews face. Eighteen stages totalling 331.58km. Now after Friday’s stages, the teams have the usual seventy-five minutes to convert the cars from gravel spec, to tarmac spec.
RALLY DE ESPAÑA SCHEDULE (GMT+2)
THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER
8.00am: Shakedown – Salou (2.00km)
1.15pm: Start (Salou)
6.08pm: SS1 – Barcelona (3.20km)
8.08pm: Parc ferme (PortAventura)
FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER
8.00am: Service A (PortAventura – 15 mins)
9.33am: SS2 – Gandesa 1 (7.00km)
10.06am: SS3 – Pesells 1 (26.59km)
11.20am: SS4 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 1 (38.85km)
1.35pm: Service B (PortAventura – 30 mins)
3.23pm: SS5 – Gandesa 2 (7.00km)
3.56pm: SS6 – Pesells 2 (26.59km)
5.10pm: SS7 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 2 (38.85km)
7.20pm: Flexi Service C (PortAventura – 1 hr 15 mins)
SATURDAY 27 OCTOBER
6.45am: Service D (PortAventura – 15 mins)
8.23am: SS8 – Savallà 1 (14.12km)
9.08am: SS9 – Querol 1 (21.26km)
10.08am: SS10 – El Montmell 1 (24.40km)
11.43am: Service E (PortAventura – 30 mins)
1.28pm: SS11 – Savallà 2 (14.12km)
2.10pm: SS12 – Querol 2 (21.26km)
3.08pm: SS13 – El Montmell 2 (24.40km)
5.00pm: SS14 – Salou (2.24km)
5.30pm: Flexi Service F (PortAventura – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 28 OCTOBER
6.45am: Service G (PortAventura – 15 mins)
7.35am: SS15 – Riudecanyes 1 (16.35km)
8.38am: SS16 – Santa Marina 1 (14.50km)
9.45am: Service H (PortAventura – 30 mins)
10.50am: SS17 – Riudecanyes 2 (16.35km)
12.18pm: SS18 – Santa Marina 2 Power Stage (14.50km)
1.41pm: Service I (PortAventura – 10 mins)
2.01pm: Podium (Salou)
The longest day is Saturday, with the most stages and has the earliest start as well. Let’s hear from the drivers and their hopes.
“These two final rallies of the season are massively important for us in the championship fight. We have lost some ground in the past couple of events, but we are still on top and we won’t give up without a fight. The opening day on gravel will be particularly vital in setting the tone for the rest of the weekend, so we have to start strongly. We know we have had some deficiencies on tarmac this season but we have worked hard on that and hope we can see the fruits of that hard work.”
“We have made important steps in the past few rallies, which have not really been reflected in our overall results. The feeling and rhythm I have had with the i20 Coupe WRC has allowed me to pick up stage wins and to fight at the top end of the field. This is greatly encouraging. Rally Spain could be good for us. I feel that we have made some improvements on tarmac in preparation for this event. We have to see if all our homework pays off. It will be a crucial rally for the championship, so we have to be on top of our game.”
“Rally de España is one of the most special events of the whole year for me. Nothing can replace the feeling we get when competing on home soil and in front of such passionate supporters. It makes for a tremendous atmosphere from the opening super special right through to the Power Stage.
“The gravel-to-tarmac schedule is like no other rally we tackle, and requires a very different approach. It’s been a long time since Portugal, my last event on gravel, so it will be a tough start even with a beneficial road position. We know the car is strong on loose surface, while we also have some evolutions for tarmac so I hope we can perform stronger than in Germany.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“We go to Spain on a high after securing victory in Wales, and reducing the gap at the head of the championship standings to seven points. With just two events left to contest, the title race is really hotting up, and we’ll need to deliver another strong result if we want to defend our crown.
“The competition is really exciting and I’m looking forward to this event which I enjoy a lot. The dual surface element of this rally makes it a unique fixture on the calendar and you need to adapt quickly to each change in terrain.”
“The support we get in Salou every year also provides extra motivation and everyone can count on Julien and I giving everything to bring home another strong result for the championship.”
“We go to the Spain determined to secure a good result. Luck hasn’t been on our side this year, but the speed is there and we’ll be looking to close the season with some strong results.”
“As the only mixed-surface encounter on the calendar, there’s no other event quite like this one. We start the rally in gravel specification before everything is lowered and stiffened for Catalunya’s circuit-like asphalt.”
“It’s quite a strategic rally and our plan will be to give it a big push through the gravel on Friday, before seeing where we are for the weekend’s asphalt – which really is like driving on a racetrack in places!”
“I have contested Rally Spain every year since my debut season in 2015 and it’s an event I like a lot. I’m looking forward to heading back there this year and attacking the stages for the first time in a world rally car.”
“We had a test on the Spanish asphalt last week and the car felt good immediately. The set-up for this sort of asphalt is pretty unique and you can really attack the stages like you would on a circuit. The gravel stages are quite narrow and similar to those in Portugal.”
“This is a rally that demands commitment if you want to challenge for a good result, and we plan to deliver that and challenge for a positive result next week.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I am looking forward to driving again in Spain. We still have a chance in the drivers’ championship and we are not going to give up. In a way it is more straightforward for us: we just have to win the last two rallies and see what happens.”
“I can be confident about our performance on both gravel and asphalt, as we have been strong on both surfaces recently. Still, we are always trying to improve and we had a good pre-event test where we were able to work on some things to make everything as good as possible before the rally.”
“I am really excited about Spain and the chance to score a great result to help our bid for the manufacturers’ championship. It is a rally I have always enjoyed: the asphalt stages there are particularly nice to drive.
“In my pre-event test last week, I was fortunate to experience both damp and dry conditions, and I have a good feeling with the car. Personally, I am on a nice run at the moment and the goal is to keep this going until the end of the season.”
“I am fully committed to helping the team fight for the manufacturers’ title over the final two events of the season. As a team we have had some really nice results recently and I hope to continue that in Spain.”
“I like the challenge of the two surfaces: as a driver you do need to adapt to the chance but I think we all get used to it pretty quickly. The asphalt stages in Spain are very special and I really enjoy driving them. Unfortunately, I made a mistake last year but hopefully I can use that experience this time to have a strong finish.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing
“After setting some good times on both surfaces in Mexico and in Corsica, I’d love to get through an entire rally without making any mistakes. My two days of testing went well. It’s now up to me to put it all together, from start to finish. The standard is so high that it would be pretentious to say that I’ll be able to challenge the three title contenders, but I hope to be more or less on the pace. If it’s dry on day one, then we’ll need to make the most of the potential advantage of our road position, because lots of things always happen on this leg, with hidden, embedded rocks pretty much everywhere.”
“I’m excited to be racing on tarmac again, my favourite surface, especially as there are always a lot of Irish fans who come over for this rally. I’m also pleased that there have been some changes to the first leg on gravel, given that I haven’t competed here for two years. For the tarmac leg, I’ll be looking to my past in karting to get my bearings quickly on these sweeping, circuit-style roads. I’ll need to keep it as clean and tidy as possible. I’ll certainly be looking to pick up where I left off in Wales and fight for a podium finish.”
Khalid Al Qassimi
“I’m delighted to be back at this rally. I’ve always loved racing here, especially the leg on gravel, even if it is always tricky. Switching from one surface to another during the weekend calls for a good ability to adapt and that’s what makes this round such a difficult, but really interesting challenge.”
Now, there are also a number of WRC2 R5 cars running this weekend, but the most anticipated has to be the debut of Volkswagen Motorsport’s Polo GTi R5. Driving the two cars are 2003 world champion Petter Solberg and Eric Camilli. Also, Citroen are running C3 R5 and Hyundai have a i20 R5 too!
Here’s their thoughts!
“Spain was the venue of my last WRC rally in 2012,” says an emotional Solberg. “It feels great to be heading back there now. Particularly with this car and this team. The combination of gravel and tarmac will be a big challenge for me. After all, it is six years since I drove in a WRC rally. However, one way or another, it will be a fantastic weekend – with old rally friends and passionate fans out on the route.”
“It is a great honour for me to be involved in Spain. I have completed a lot of test kilometres and am really looking forward to finally getting to drive the Polo GTI R5 at a rally,” says Camilli. “The first outing with a completely new car is always very special, and you have to be ready for anything. However, I know that we have prepared as well as possible and do not believe that we need to fear our more established opponents.”
“I really like this rally and the fact that it is a mixed surface event. You have to be good at both parts, which are very different. First of all, on very technical gravel roads, and then on the sweeping, circuit-style tarmac roads where you really need to be very accurate in your lines. We have a couple of test days before the start, one on each surface, so we’ll be starting the rally determined to finish our WRC2 campaign in style.”
Hyundai Driver Development
“Wales was arguably the most encouraging WRC2 weekend we’ve had this year. Of course, we were confident and fast in Finland but at the last event we really put into practice a full twelve months of development and hard work. The improvements have been good but we also know we have more to learn. Spain will be a new event for us, so we will have a bigger challenge against the main WRC2 contenders, who will no doubt set a high benchmark. Our aim is to get as close to them as we can and pick up experience of a mixed gravel/tarmac rally.”
Well, we are set for a dramatic end to the season and anything could happen. You can follow the weekend with WRC+ Live and live timing on the EWRC site too.
The championship arrives in Wales finely balanced. With Ott Tanak’s third win in a row last time out in the dramatic Rally Turkey, taking the Estonian into second place in the standings, we have essentially a three round title fight between Thierry, Ott and Seb.
This round is being held a lot earlier this year, and this may lead to a very fast event, plus running further down the order will help those drivers should those stages remain dry. Home favourite, and last year’s winner Elfyn Evans comes here, after not having a great season in terms of results, but having certainly shown good pace throughout the year. He’ll be hoping to secure a good drive to at least a podium, and I’m certain he would love to repeat last year’s victory.
Looking at the other drivers that have done well in this event in the past, there’s Jari-Matti who has scored well here too, and he’d love to follow up his podium from last time out with another here. Then there’s Craig Breen, who has suffered badly with problems on the first day of each event this year, leaving him in a bad road position for the rest of the event. Last time out he led for a short while, before his curse returned, so let see how he gets on this time. He’ll have a whole new car of course, after the fire that destroyed his C3 in Turkey. Don’t forget, he went really well in Sweden this year, scoring a podium! Then there’s Hayden Paddon, who scored a his first podium of the season last time out and is fired up to do well this year.
Right, now here are the details of the stages that make up this year’s event. You’ll notice some changes, with the introduction of some new stages, Penmachno (16.95km) and Slate Mountain (1.63km) on Friday, plus some new sections to Brenig and Sweet Lamb and Hafren connected together with a road section.
Saturday sees the longest stages being run and in fact, the longest day of action with nine stages, two held as the sun goes down. Also, worth a mention is ElfynsCorner, in Myherin, where the fans of Elfyn will gather with their huge banner to cheer on the Welsh wizard.
Finally, Sunday will see a stage run around Llandudno and the Great Orme as the final, but interestingly, the Power Stage isn’t around there, it’s a stage with some changes called Gwydir and held as the second stage of Sunday. A very different ending to normal.
WALES RALLY GB SCHEDULE (GMT+1)
THURSDAY 4 OCTOBER
8.00am: Shakedown Clocaenog (3,37 km)
3.15pm: Start (Deeside)
7.00pm: SS 1 – Tir Prince (1,70 km)
8.05pm: Parc fermé (Deeside)
FRIDAY 5 OCTOBER
6.45am: Service A (Deeside – 15 min)
7.56am: SS 2 – Clocaenog 1 (7,67 km)
8.32am: SS 3 – Brenig 1 (29,13 km)
9.47am: SS 4 – Penmachno 1 (16,95 km)
10.40am: SS 5 – Slate Mountain 1 (1,63 km)
10.47am: SS 6 – Slate Mountain 2 (1,63 km)
1.11pm: Service B (Deeside – 30 min)
2.37pm: SS 7 – Clocaenog 2 (7,67 km)
3.13pm: SS 8 – Brenig 2 (29,13 km)
4.28pm: SS 9 – Penmachno 2 (16,95 km)
7.02pm: Flexi service C (Deeside – 45 min)
SATURDAY 6 OCTOBER
5.30am: Service D (Deeside – 15 min)
8.35am: SS 10 – Myherin 1 (20,28 km)
9.15am: SS 11 – Sweet Lamb Hafren 1 (19,95 km)
10.28am: SS 12 – Dyfi 1 (19,48 km)
11.02am: SS 13 – Gartheiniog 1 (11,26 km)
12.08pm: SS 14 – Dyfnant (8,30 km)
1.51pm: Tyre and headlamp pod-fitting zone (Newton – 15 min)
2.52pm: SS 15 – Myherin 2 (20,28 km)
3.32pm: SS 16 – Sweet Lamb Hafren 2 (19,95 km)
4.45pm: SS 17 – Dyfi 2 (19,48 km)
5.19pm: SS 18 – Gartheiniog 2 (11,26 km)
7.37pm: Flexi service E (Deeside – 45 min)
SUNDAY 7 OCTOBER
5.25am: Service F (Deeside – 15 min)
7.22am: SS 19 – Elsi (10,06 km)
8.08am: SS 20 – Gwydir 1 Power Stage (14,76 km)
9.16am: SS 21 – Great Orme Llandudno 1 (8,03 km)
9.57am: Tyre fitting zone (Dolgarrog – 15 min)
10.29am: SS 22 – Gwydir 2 (14,76 km)
12.18pm: SS 23 – Great Orme Llandudno 2 (8,03 km)
12.29pm: Finish (Llandudno)
Now, let’s hear from the drivers!
“Wales Rally GB is really enjoyable and has different characteristics to the other gravel rallies on the calendar. The past few editions of the event have been run in wet, rainy conditions but we are there a bit earlier this year so let’s see if the weather is kinder.”
“Whatever happens, it will be a tricky rally, particularly on the second pass. The schedule is also tough with very early starts and late finishes; it’s an extra physical challenge. I have had two podiums in a row in Wales, so it would be nice to continue that streak. After the disappointment of Turkey, the championship fight is definitely on!”
“Although Turkey was ultimately a frustrating result, having led the rally by 40 seconds, it is important to take away the positives. Everything was a bit more relaxed and we had a good feeling inside the car. That’s what we take with us onto Wales Rally GB, an event I enjoy greatly.”
“It is where I started my career, so it is always good to go back. It was my second event with Hyundai Motorsport last season and we came away with a solid fourth place, fighting near the front. I hope we can do that again this year and recreate the level of competitiveness we showed for most of Rally Turkey.”
“After our podium in Turkey, we are looking forward to Wales Rally GB, which is Seb’s home event. There is often rain, mud and fog to contend with in this event, which adds character to a very enjoyable, but taxing rally.”
“The characteristics of the roads match our style, and I think they will also be suited to our i20 Coupe WRC. Although I have had a couple of top-five finishes in the past few seasons, we’ve never really achieved our full potential in Wales. I’m going to set out to correct that this time around.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“Normally, Rally GB is an event that I like. In an ideal world, I would like to have dry conditions and fast roads, but everybody knows that you cannot expect anything when it comes to the weather in Wales. During our test last week, it was raining quite a lot so we had a nice amount of mud, which was perfect for testing really.”
“We were able to do quite a lot of work to try and further develop the car and get more performance. I believe we did a good job and I’m looking forward to seeing how we compare against our rivals. Everything is possible now in the championship and I have a good feeling about what we can do in Britain.”
“Rally GB is one of those events I have always enjoyed, partly because it was my first ever WRC round back in 2002: This year will be my 17th start in Wales. We had a very good test last week. I was delighted that we had a lot of rain and muddy conditions, because this is normally what you get in Wales, yet in the previous two years it was dry during testing and I ended up with the wrong setup for the rally.”
“In the test the car was working really well in the muddy conditions, and we managed to improve the traction, which was our weakness last year. All in all, I got a good feeling with the driving and with the car, so I’m looking forward to the event.”
“Our result on this event last year wasn’t great, and the car wasn’t really performing how we expected, but hopefully we have found something on our pre-event test that is going to help us to be much more competitive this year.”
“Unlike for my team-mates, it was actually fully dry for my test day, so I would prefer it if the rally is dry. With the earlier date I hope that could be possible, but the weather is always unpredictable, so let’s see. I really like the rally itself so I’m really looking forward to it: It would be great to have a good result, both for myself and to help the team in the championship.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“Wales Rally GB is one of the classics and an event that everyone wants to win. The stages are steeped in motorsport history and the early starts and late finishes make it a true test of focus and endurance. Win in Wales, and you know that you have mastered the challenge.”
“It’s one of the most challenging rallies on the calendar and there is a real art to judging the grip through the forests. The demanding weather conditions can take a bit of getting used to, but we could see a dry rally this year which would be interesting for sure!
“This time 12 months ago, the Welsh forests played host to an incredible story as we claimed all three championships with Malcolm and his team. The title fight could not be closer this year, but the team can rest assured that we will give our very best in pursuit of the strongest possible result to keep our championship hopes alive!”
“Competing at home always brings special motivation. We have some of the best stages in the world in Wales, and when you see all the Welsh flags and fans cheering you on you can’t help but feel a real sense of pride.
“The win last year is something that we will never forget. There’s always something special about that first victory, but doing it on home soil with all of our family and friends there was really special and something we definitely want to replicate again this year.
“The aim is to be in the fight for another win, but we know it won’t be easy. This is an event that everyone wants to win and the three guys up front will all be pushing extremely hard. The stages are fast, and mistakes aren’t easily forgiven, but we will give it our best. Experience counts for a lot, and we’ll be looking to put all of our local knowledge to good use.”
“This will be my first time in Wales with a World Rally Car, but I am looking forward to the challenge and will give it my very best for the team. The car feels good, and hopefully we’ll be able to challenge for a good result.
“We had a one-day test last week where we were able to experience a lot of different conditions. We drove a full day with muddy conditions in the morning before it become dry in the afternoon. Then in the closing hours we also had some heavy rain which meant we were able to experience all kinds of conditions.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
“This is as near as it gets to a home rally for me, so it’s obviously a special event, especially as I have some very good memories here. I know the roads well and I had a very good feeling during our pre-event test. So, I’m very keen to get a good result here.”
“The real difficulty here is trying to assess the level of grip as quickly as possible. You have to trust your feeling, look at the colour of the dirt and gravel, and also rely on your experience from previous years. If the stages are dry, then the ground tends to be pretty rough and you need to look after your tyres.”
“It’s an event that I really like. I’ve had quite a few good experiences here. The C3 WRC was comfortable on these roads last year and our pre-event test here last week was very productive. So, I’m feeling confident before the start.”
“At a rally like this, where you are pushing really hard, you need to be at one with your car and completely spot on with your pace notes. You then you have to try and not get caught out by one of the very slippery sections where there is a sudden change in grip.”
Now, there’s a lot of teams running R5 cars in this event as well. Citroen, Hyundai and M-Sport all have a number of these cars running in the WRC2 category.
Gus Greensmith (WRC 2)
“It’s always nice competing on home soil, but I have to admit that I’ve never really felt fully comfortable on the Welsh stages. But I will certainly do my best to change that this year.
“The biggest challenge is the fog that can appear at any point. You have to commit to your notes and pray you got them right – it’s a real buzz.
“The plan is just to drive as fast as I can and hope for a good result to finish my season. Then we can look at our options for 2019 and start preparing.”
Éric Camilli (WRC 2)
“Wales Rally GB is one of my favourite events and I’m always looking forward to competing there. My last gravel rally was a year ago now, but I’m really motivated to come back strongly and I have a lot of good memories from this event – it’s a special place for me.
“It’s a truly unique event with specific conditions for rally magic! Mud, fog, fast roads, early mornings, long days – Wales Rally GB is an adventure through some of the most beautiful landscapes! The colours in the Welsh forests at this time of year really are fantastic and this event has all the elements needed for a challenging, beautiful and passionate rally.
“We’ve come close to victory a few times in Wales. We want to be in the fight at the front again, and if we could reach the top step of the podium it would be amazing.”
Matt Edwards (BRC)
“I am really looking forward to this year’s Wales Rally GB. I’m a lot more prepared than I was last year, and looking forward to competing on home soil again.
“I’m trying not to think too much about the [British Rally] Championship, but it is difficult. We’re just trying to focus on preparing as well as we have all year and not change the approach that has served us so well this season. But if I can achieve this amazing achievement on home soil, it really would be amazing.
“The nature of Friday and Sunday’s stages will be the biggest challenge. They’re a lot narrower than the traditional Wales Rally GB stages, but that provides great variation and another challenge despite what could potentially be better weather and road conditions this year.
“My one and only goal is to secure the British Rally Championship and I will do whatever is required to make that possible. But we also need to enjoy the opportunity as that’s what we have set out to do on each event this year and the times have followed.”
Alex Laffey (BRC)
“I am really excited as this is my first FIA World Rally Championship event. I can’t wait to tackle this challenge and everything it represents – and to be fighting right at the sharp end of the British Rally Championship makes it even more exciting.
“There is no other event likes Wales Rally GB. To drive some of the best stages in the world that have hosted some of the most amazing WRC title battles over the years makes it such a special place.”
“The whole event is a challenge and it’s a very tough event on the cars and crews alike. The conditions are very changeable, and the whole scale of the event will be so different from what we’re used to.”
“I will give it everything. The battle for the final podium places is so close and I really want to end the season in the top-three. I am looking forward to challenging myself and can’t wait to get started.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (WRC2)
“Since Germany, I’ve had the opportunity to get my feeling back on gravel in the C3 R5 during a development test session around Mazamet. I’ll also be doing some more specific testing in Wales just before the start, to refamiliarise myself with the countless changes in grip.”
“The difficulty of the roads here is being able to judge the level of grip and distinguish, for example, between mud that’s slippery and mud that offers grip. But I am determined to turn our undeniable potential into a strong result.”
Jari Huttunen (WRC2)
“I am pleased to be back in WRC 2 action with our i20 R5, following our ERC podium in Poland. We have had some ups and downs this season, some good results and some bad luck. Our goal for Wales Rally GB is to put all our learning into practice, and to register stage times on par with the front-runners. We didn’t have much fortune in Wales last year, retiring after just four stages. We have a lot more experience now, and I am feeling confident.”
Well, what a tantalising event we are set for. There are so many factors that could decide who wins this year’s Wales Rally GB, but I believe that whoever wins it, may be the driver who takes the title. A non-finish for any of the title contenders would probably spell the end of their challenge. There are still many twists and turns left this year!
Well, what an amazing and epic event we were treated to! Here’s my full stage by stage report. After Thursday’s evening stage, Andreas held a small lead over the field, with Ott, Thierry and Seb in third, fourth and twelfth respectively. Seb was down there because of a small spin.
With six stages to run, including the double run of Çetibeli at 38km, which was the first stage of the day, there would be drama from the off. The start list looked like this – Neuville, Ogier, Tänak, Lappi, Mikkelsen, Latvala, Evans, Ostberg, Breen, Suninen, Paddon, Al Qassimi. Could Craig, who’d suffered badly on Friday’s in recent events have a better first day?
Well, what we saw was Craig take the stage victory from Hayden and Andreas in third. The best placed championship challenger was Thierry who was in sixth, with Seb and Ott eighth and ninth. Craig said, it was all he could do, just to keep the car in the middle of the road and just survive to the end. Elfyn Evans had some intercom problems, which held him back from pushing.
Now, into SS3 and this was the first surprise, as Thierry won the stage, despite being first on the road. Quite amazing, and this was enough to move the Belgian into fourth overall, with Hayden falling behind, down to sixth. Seb also moved up one place after setting the third fastest time impressively, only 2.6 seconds slower than Thierry in the stage. Craig remained in the overall lead though, from Andreas who was finding some good form.
This form continued into SS4 for the Norwegian, and he won the stage. Craig was cautious in this one, after he had a big impact near the start of the stage, meaning he thought there was a puncture, and this meant that we had a new leader, with Andreas moving to the top of the leaderboard. In fact, it was a good one for the Hyundai team, as Hayden also moved up to fifth, now ahead of Jari-Matti. Through all of this, Mads had held a very positive third overall throughout the morning.
The afternoon stages would really shake things up though. Craig’s Friday curse would return in SS5, getting a puncture 13km into the 38km stage. It got worse for the Citroen team, with Mads suffering a tyre delamination and Al Qassimi getting a mechanical failure as well! Through all of this came Seb, who won the stage from teammate Teemu and Latvala third. Andreas now held the lead from the Frenchman, who’d taken ten seconds out of Andreas’ lead.
Into SS6 then, and a few drivers would end up with broken cars. First up was Elfyn, who broke his differential after hitting a rock he couldn’t avoid. Then, Mads broke his suspension as well. Craig passed them both in the stage. Meantime Thierry won the stage, and with Seb almost nine seconds slower, the championship leader was now up to second overall, less than two seconds off the lead.
The final stage of the day, SS7 was won by Ott, from Esapekka and Seb, but the big news was that Andreas who’d held the lead throughout the afternoon lost eleven seconds and fell to third. Our overnight leader was Thierry who was just three tenths of a second ahead of Seb.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 1:52:28.2
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 0.3
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 2.6
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 16.3
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 31.9
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +35.1
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 36.8
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 50.1
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:02.9
Here’s the thoughts of the drivers – Top three first.
“We are involved in a fantastic fight for the leading positions, which is a great way to start this new event. The conditions we have faced today have been really tough. We had a good clean run this morning, and didn’t expect to be so involved. The dusty conditions lessened our disadvantage from being first on the road so we could keep in touch. These roads have been a completely different challenge to any other we’ve faced this season, which keeps things fresh. We had to take things a bit more carefully this afternoon. We lost a lot of time in SS5 and had to take some risks in the subsequent stage as a result. We then lost several seconds in the final stage, needing to reverse after making a mistake. It was a reminder that this rally could be won or lost on the smallest of things. It is exciting, just how we like it!”
“Today has been a bit of a surprise as the conditions were often better for us in the front which is pretty rare on gravel. I gave it everything I had and I’m pretty happy with my drive. We lost a lot of time in the dust this morning, which is the only frustrating part of the day, but there was not much more we could have done.
“I stayed in my rhythm for the long stage this afternoon and wasn’t pushing very hard – just trying to stay clean and not be too aggressive on the rocks. I had a lot of tyre wear after that and I finished the day without a lot of tread left!
“It’s still going to be a long rally, but we will try everything we can. Our best chance is to keep the consistency, so let’s see what we can do.”
“I am pleased to end the opening day inside the top-three, and to be involved in a close fight for the lead with Thierry and Séb. We’ve had a strong start, though not perfect, in very demanding conditions. After starting the weekend with a stage win on Thursday night, we made a clever tyre choice for the Friday morning loop, which really paid dividends. We had a clean drive, avoiding the big rocks, pushing where we could but playing it safe at the same time. I knew the afternoon would be harder. We ended the day with a lot of caution, first because of a right-rear puncture and then tackling the final stage on very used tyres. Overall, two stage wins so far, we led the rally for three stages today, and we have more to come on Saturday. Plenty of cause for optimism!”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Jari-Matti Latvala (4th)
“This morning started with a good time in the first stage even though there was a lot of dust in the air from the cars in front. I lost some time in the next stages but this afternoon was much better: The stages were very rough but I tried to be clever and focus on being consistent and not making mistakes. We end the day in fourth and only 16 seconds from the lead. Tomorrow the stages are in a slightly better condition than today and I feel good about our chances.”
Ott Tänak (5th)
“The conditions in the morning were maybe not as bad as expected. It was just quite a lot of loose gravel and very low grip, and that’s one area we still need to work on. The afternoon was very tough but we could improve our position by avoiding any incidents. Then the last stage was quite smooth and there we had a good run. We are working really hard with the engineers to improve for tomorrow. We are still very eager to fight for the top positions and we are not far away.”
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“This morning was quite a struggle but we got through it without any issues. We knew that the stages would be rougher on the second pass, so we made the car stiffer in service to protect it more against the rocks. However, this meant that we had less grip and we lost a lot of time on the long stage as a result. Then I made a lot of changes on the road section and we got the grip back. I’m looking forward to tomorrow: Hopefully we can continue like we ended today. Everything can still happen, there are many kilometres to go.”
Hayden Paddon (6th)
“It has been a hard day’s work for pretty much everyone out there today. Some of the roughest conditions I have ever seen! We had a plan from the start, aiming to be sensible, look after the car and keep the driving nice and clean. We didn’t really get an advantage from our road position so we just stuck to our pace notes. The afternoon was even harder, and it is testament to the strength of the cars that they withstood the stages as much as they did. We had a broken damper on the final stage, which didn’t help matters but we’re P6 in an incredibly close fight. Considering the conditions, that’s not a bad start.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Craig Breen (8th)
“It’s very frustrating to have picked up two punctures when I was really taking care to drive in the middle of the road. But the race isn’t over yet. Neuville and Ogier showed today that it’s possible to be quick even if you’re one of the first on the road, so tomorrow I’m going to try and produce the same kind of pace we had today.”
Mads Østberg (Rally2)
“It’s a shame to finish the day like this, a day that had started so well. We were right in the mix for the podium, whilst attempting to look after the car. Unfortunately, these really rough roads got the better of a suspension arm on our C3 WRC.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (Rally2)
“I was getting my bearings with these stages and with the car, hoping to gradually up my pace, when our day was brought to a premature end with a technical issue. With times posted and the pace shown by the other guys this morning, the team certainly deserved a better outcome.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Teemu Suninen (9th)
“It’s been really rough out there today but I think I’ve learnt a lot. I have never experienced conditions like this and I still don’t know where the limit is. But when I drive flat-out and don’t think too much about managing the car and the tyres – like on the first stage this afternoon – the times are really good. There’s still a lot to learn to be more consistent, but the car has been really nice to drive and really strong so I hope we can continue to improve tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans (Rally 2)
“It was a tough day. We had intercom issues on the first stage [SS2] and then transmission issues on the two after that [SS3 and SS4]. The afternoon loop was going pretty well and we had really good speed before picking up a slow puncture towards the end of SS5. Then in the next one there was a massive rock on the inside of the line. We missed it with the wheel, but it hit the wishbone and unfortunately that was it – just one of those things.”
With six stages to run on Saturday, the running order looked like this – Suninen, Breen, Lappi, Paddon, Tänak, Latvala, Mikkelsen, Ogier, Neuville, Ostberg, Evans, Al Qassimi.
The first stage of the day was SS8 and it was a long one again at 34km. Thierry would hit trouble, after an impact meant his suspension on the left front of the car smashed through his bonnet. He’d lose three and a half minutes, falling to ninth overall. Seb now took the lead after setting the fastest time through the stage. Sadly, Mads retired from the rally, after suffering a technical failure with his car. His teammate, Craig spun in the stage, leading to a stall and then also having to turn the car around as well, losing a few seconds. Overall top three now was Seb, Andreas and Jari-Matti.
Andreas won SS9, and closed the gap to Seb after the M-Sport driver suffered a broken wishbone on the front right of his car. The Frenchman did well to minimise the time loss to just eighteen seconds, his lead now seven and a half over Andreas.
It would change again in SS10, with Seb winning the stage. Unfortunately, he’d arrived at the stage six minutes late, and this meant he’d been given a one-minute penalty. He fell to fourth overall, 46 seconds from first place. Andreas was now the new leader, with Ott and Jari-Matti now up to second and third. Esapekka Lappi slid off the road as well, and was hanging off the road, nose first, like the coach in the original Italian Job! The car would later fall down, completely off the road.
It would all change again in SS11 after the service break. First up, Craig was driving through with smoke coming from the car. He and Scott stopped a couple of times to try and see where it was coming from. They would continue to the end of the stage, albeit at a slower pace. Then came news that Seb had stopped, nineteen km’s into the stage! The M-Sport crew had slid wide on a left-hander and become stuck! There was drama also for leader, Andreas. He had a puncture on the right-rear, but he was still pushing on! He’d finish the stage, but after a couple of spins and stalling his engine, he’d lose one minute 40 seconds! Ott Tanak would win the stage from Elfyn Evans, this putting the Estonian into the lead! Very significant given the championship situation with Thierry and Seb now looking like their best chances for points now lay with the power stage on Sunday. Sadly, Craig was also out, after his car caught fire, completely burning out. He was gutted. Andreas was another to be working on his car after the stage. Turns out the front diff had failed and left his car with just rear wheel drive. No wonder he’d spun so many times!
Into SS12 then and Jari-Matti set a great time, winning the stage from Elfyn Evans! Ott’s lead was just eight seconds over his Toyota teammate. Meantime, we had confirmation that Andreas i20 definitely only had rear wheel drive! For the Norwegian this was frustrating, but just a case of getting to the end of the day now. Now, with all these problems for the top drivers and cars, Henning Solberg was now in sixth overall in a Skoda Fabia R5, with Chris Ingram and Kopecky also just behind him in identical cars, seventh and eighth overall.
The final test of the day, SS13, saw Ott fastest again from Elfyn, with Jari-Matti third quickest. Top three overall was now Ott, Jari-Matti and Hayden. Andreas lost more time with his car still without it’s four-wheel drive working. Further back, Elfyn’s pace had lifted him up to seventh overall now.
Summing up the second day, it’s worth noting that the top four had not had any problems with punctures or suspension damage. On an event with such rough roads, it had been those driving at a good pace, but not as fast as the others, had paid dividends. Now there just remained a few stages on Sunday to get through.
End of Saturday Standings
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h34m22.5s
2 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +13.1s
3 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m10.5s
4 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m22.2s
5 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +6m25.4s
6 Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor (Skoda Fabia R5) +11m55.5s
7 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +16m49.0s
8 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +17m05.9s
9 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Citroen C3 R5) +17m50.4s
10 Chris Ingram/Ross Whittock (Skoda Fabia R5) +18m38.2s
Let’s hear then from the drivers after this remarkable day! Top three first.
“Overall it has definitely been a positive day for us. I said from the beginning that winning this rally would not be about speed but about reliability and avoiding any issues. So far, I think we have done a good job: both myself and Jari-Matti have come through without any real problems and it is nice to be in this position. There are still four stages to go and we have seen today that it is very tricky and a lot can happen. We just need to keep focused and hopefully we can bring it home.”
“It has been a good day for us, particularly in the afternoon when I had a much better feeling and the car was generally working really well. Here you have to try to find a sensible limit with the driving. The grip is pretty high in some areas and that gives you the opportunity to push, but you have so many bad rocks and bumps, so it’s very easy to damage the car. Tomorrow it will be important to be consistent and stay cool.”
“It has been complete mayhem out there today. We have stuck to our plan, and it seems to have paid off. It didn’t quite work out yesterday but this has, at times, felt like a different rally compared to Friday. It’s been much more loose and particularly tough on the tyres. In the afternoon loop, we had to take it a bit steady towards the end because our tyres were practically bald. I have learned my lessons from previous rallies, where we’ve gone out too fast too early and ended up by the side of the road. It can be frustrating when you look at the stage times, but it seems to be a good tactic. I’m happy to be in P3, although sad for my team-mates who were forced to relinquish their respective leads of this rally.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (5th)
“It goes without saying that we are incredibly disappointed. We had built up a comfortable lead heading into lunchtime service and really felt in full control. At the start of SS11, we knew almost immediately that we had a driveshaft issue on the front-right. Going into rear-wheel drive, we knew that it would be impossible to fight for the lead anymore. We got to the end of the stage and did all we could to fix the issue. It was important to just keep going, which we managed. Making it to service means we retain fifth place overall and can fight tomorrow for important points for the team. That said, I really think we could have won this one.”
Thierry Neuville (Rally2)
“I am devastated that we had to retire from the rally today. We started the day in the lead and in positive spirits, but just 8 kilometres before the end of the opening stage I felt like I had a puncture. The car became slow to turn. Suddenly the bonnet started to move and the damper popped out, which is when we knew we were in big trouble. We finished the stage and tried to fix the car but there was no chance to continue. I am really disappointed but it’s part of the game, and part of rallying, especially in rough conditions like we’ve faced this weekend. All we can do is fight back on Sunday with the target of maximum points in the Power Stage.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Teemu Suninen (4th)
“It’s been another really rough and difficult day but I think we managed everything quite well. I tried to stay on quite a safe pace with the driving and that was the way to stay out of trouble. Of course, I would have liked to have had a bit more pace, but we were opening the road and still have a lot to learn.”
Elfyn Evans (7th)
“It’s been a pretty good day for us. We were taking it quite carefully and not taking any unnecessary risks, but the times were pretty encouraging and we’ve managed to climb back into a reasonably good position.”
Sébastien Ogier (12th)
“Today has been a really tough day for us and I probably made one of the silliest mistakes of my career. It happened at the exit of a tight right-hand corner with another very tight left-hander straight after – so I was going very slowly.
“But I wasn’t listening to Julien very well and braked too late. We slid wide and came to a halt at a tree. The car had no damage and I could get it to move again. I reversed, but when I wanted to move forwards the ground was so soft that the car just sunk and got stuck.
“We fought very hard this morning to get back on the road. It was a hard time but we made it back to service and were still in the fight for some really good points. If this didn’t happen we would probably be in the lead, but we’re not.
“It seems like things don’t really want to go our way at the moment, but that’s motorsport. There are some bad days, but I’m sure some good ones will follow again soon.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Khalid Al Qassimi (14th)
“After a tough first loop, we adjusted the set-up with the team and I was a lot more comfortable in the afternoon. I was able to up my pace, despite a few issues with the intercom.”
The final day then. What dramas would it hold? Just four stages and a total of 34km in length. The start list looked like this – Mikkelsen, Suninen, Paddon, Latvala, Tänak, Evans, Ogier, Al Qassimi, Neuville, Ostberg, H. Solberg, Kopecky.
The first stage of the day, SS14, would double up later as the power stage, which meant Seb and Thierry would be looking to get through well, and making sure that their stage notes were on point, ready for later. Thierry would go fastest from Mads, with Seb third quickest. Overall, Ott increased his lead to 15 seconds over Jari-Matti with Hayden looking good to take his first podium of the year.
Seb won SS15 and moved a little closer to Elfyn. This would become significant later. Mads was just four tenths slower, whilst the rally leader was third in the stage, taking his lead over Latvala to 17 seconds. We had four WRC2 cars in the top ten as well, with Solberg sixth ahead of Elfyn and Kopecky, Tempestini and Ingram eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.
Into SS16 then, the penultimate stage and once more the top three fastest were Seb, followed by Mads and Ott. Elfyn clocked into the stage early, meaning that he’d picked up some time penalties. Seb was the driver to benefit from this having now moved into tenth position. The Welshman confirmed his team had asked him to do it.
The final stage then. Who would take the stage victory and the points? Thierry blasted through the stage, setting a benchmark 4 mins 59.58 seconds. What could Seb and for that matter Ott do? Well, the Frenchman went through 1.6 second slower, giving him second fastest at that point. Finally, Ott completed the rally, and had taken his third victory in a row, plus was third fastest in the stage, 3.8 seconds behind Thierry.
What a result for the young Estonian! He’d scored 28 points, with his win and third place in the power stage, and with that moved ahead of Seb in the championship! Just amazing! What a crazy rally. Proper endurance stuff, just getting around and knowing where to push and when to be sensible.
FINAL CLASSIFICATION, RALLY TURKEY
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h59m24.5s
2 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +22.3s
3 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m46.3s
4 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4m10.9s
5 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7m11.7s
6 Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor (Skoda Fabia R5) +13m40.6s
7 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +18m25.2s
8 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Citroen C3 R5) +19m37.1s
9 Chris Ingram/Ross Whittock (Skoda Fabia R5) +20m21.3s
10 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +20m51.2s
Here’s the thought’s then of the drivers!
“This rally was so difficult. From the beginning, we knew that it will not be the fastest driver that will win this rally but that it would be the smartest. We were the most consistent and we managed to do the whole rally without any issues or having to stop on any of the stages. Obviously, it has been a great team effort and they have been able to build a very strong car. The championship is now wide open so let’s keep pushing.”
“This is a great result for the team. The main thing today was to get the one-two finish and we did it. Everything went according to plan. I tried to be clever and not do anything stupid and I had a consistent run. We are trying hard to win the manufacturers’ championship so these points were very valuable, and the remainder of the season now looks very exciting. For me, it is very nice to be on the podium again. Things have started to look better since Finland. Now let’s keep it going this way.”
“I am really happy to take our first podium of the season. It has been a very tough rally. We have adopted a particular strategy this weekend that has required us to hold back and be patient. Thankfully that approach has paid off and we have been rewarded with third place – it’s been a while since we’ve been on the podium! It hasn’t been the rally that the team wanted or deserved. I am fully behind them coming back in the final rounds of the season and I am personally looking forward to Wales Rally GB.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Teemu Suninen (4th)
“This was definitely the roughest rally I have ever done so to finish fourth is a great result for me. It’s the second-best result of my career, and I can be happy with that. It was also nice to reward the team with some good points because they all really deserved that this weekend.
“On Friday we set a really good time on the long stage [SS5] and it was positive to see that we were only two seconds away from the fastest time. Saturday was really difficult with all the loose gravel and honestly I couldn’t do much more with all the wheelspin – but I hope that will be good practice for the future!”
Sébastien Ogier (10th)
“It’s been a frustrating weekend, but that’s part of the game and we have to accept it. I gave it everything I had this weekend and did everything I possibly could without reward. At least we secured some points at the end of the rally and hopefully we will get some rewards soon! It’s definitely a three-way fight for the title now, and it’s still all to play for.”
Elfyn Evans (12th)
“It was a frustrating Friday with a lot of different issues which eventually resulted in retirement when striking a rock on the line which couldn’t be avoided. We had a pretty solid day on Saturday and were able to show good pace whilst keeping out of trouble. But today we had to drop time and assist Sébastien with his championship defence.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (5th)
“It was very important for us to finish the rally with a safe, clever drive today. We took it easy on all four remaining stages, including the Power Stage, because we needed to secure the points for the manufacturers’ championship. Finishing fifth is not what we wanted, nor what we were capable of. Despite our speed, which we showed by leading the rally on three separate occasions, unfortunately the issues we encountered yesterday prevented us from capitalising on our potential. We have lost a lot to Toyota this weekend, so we now look forward to a strong return at the next event in Wales GB.”
Thierry Neuville (16th)
“I was absolutely flat-out in the Power Stage, and could not have done any more. We really needed those five points. We are fighting for the championship against some very hard guys to beat, so we had to give it everything. In all honesty, I feel we should have taken the win this weekend. We were clearly the fastest, especially on Friday when we were first on the road and leading at the end of the day. Were it not for a small issue on our car, we could have achieved so much more here. I am disappointed, but as a team we win and lose together. We will dust ourselves down and come back strong in the final three rallies.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing
Mads Østberg (23rd)
“Today we had the same kind of pace we had on Friday, with several very good times. It’s a good way to finish what has been a very tough weekend for the team. I think we certainly deserved a better outcome.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (15th)
“Today, I adopted a thoughtful approach to my driving, carefully avoiding the stones, to make it to the end. This has been one of the hardest rallies I have ever done. The team finished on a positive note and that’s the main thing.”
Well, what an incredible rally! We are in for an amazing final few rallies this year. First up is an autumnal Wales in two weeks, followed by the only tarmac/gravel rally that is Rally Spain at the last weekend of October, and finally down-under to the Gold Coast in Australia for the season finale in the middle of November! Who will win? I’ve got no idea, but it’s going to be fun to watch!
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 10
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 9
Well, let’s get this out of the way at the start. What delights has Turkey got for us……? Sorry. Anyway, it’s the first WRC event in Turkey since 2010 and let’s take a look at the results from that event.
The top ten was dominated by Citroen and Ford, but you’ll recognise a few names. Kimi’s co-driver is part of the Toyota team now, whilst Craig Breen’s co-driver was guiding Matt Wilson back then.
Now, here’s the full stage info.
RALLY TURKEY SCHEDULE (GMT+3)
THURSDAY 13 SEPTEMBER
9.30am: Shakedown (4,70 km)
6.30pm: Ceremonial start (Marmaris)
8.08pm: SS 1 – Super Special Turkey Full Speed (2,00 km)
8.33pm: Parc fermé (Asparan)
FRIDAY 14 SEPTEMBER
7.00am: Service A (Asparan – 15 min)
7.58am: SS 2 – Çetibeli 1 (38,10 km)
9.21am: SS 3 – Ula 1 (21,75 km)
10.24am: SS 4 – Çiçekli 1 (12,57 km)
12.24pm: Service B (Asparan – 30 min)
1.37pm: SS 5 – Çetibeli 2 (38,10 km)
3.00pm: SS 6 – Ula 2 (21,75 km)
4.03pm: SS 7 – Çiçekli 2 (12,57 km)
5.48pm: Flexi service C (Asparan – 45 min)
SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER
7.42am: Service D (Asparan – 15 min)
8.35am: SS 8 – Yesilbelde 1 (34,24 km)
10.08am: SS 9 – Datça 1 (10,70 km)
11.11am: SS 10 – Içmeler 1 (20,37 km)
12.16pm: Service E (Asparan – 30 min)
1.24pm: SS 11 – Yesilbelde 2 (34,24 km)
3.08pm: SS 12 – Datça 2 (10,70 km)
4.11pm: SS 13 – Içmeler 2 (20,37 km)
5.01pm: Flexi service F (Asparan – 45 min)
SUNDAY 16 SEPTEMBER
9.25am: Service G (Asparan – 15 min)
10.08am: SS 14 – Marmaris 1 (7,14 km)
10.46am: SS 15 – Ovacik (8,05 km)
11.24am: SS 16 – Gökçe (12,65 km)
1.18pm: SS 17 – Marmaris 2 Power Stage (7,14 km)
This year’s event promises to be one of the open yet, with all new stages. Stage notes creation, therefore will be key and we may even see the crews making changes between the morning and afternoon running of each stage. There are 312.44km of competitive stages over the event, with the longest stages on Friday and Saturday, Çetibeli which is first thing on Friday and Yesilbelde on Saturday morning, 38.10km and 34.24km respectively.
Let’s hear then from the drivers –
“Rally Turkey will be a step into the unknown for everyone. We don’t know much about the stages, but we have had the chance to see some video footage. It seems like the roads will be very rough. From our position as first on the road, I am expecting a tricky weekend. I like new rallies and new challenges; it keeps the championship fresh and offers teams and crews something entirely new to tackle. My main target is to enjoy the rally and, of course, to do all we can to preserve our position at the head of the championship.”
“I took part in Rally Turkey back in 2008, which was held in a completely different part of the country to where we will be rallying next week. It’s going to be a totally new experience for all competitors and one that will undoubtedly spring some surprises. From what we have seen, it appears we will be competing on rough roads and in very hot conditions, which will be tough on the crews, cars, tyres and brakes. All in all, it will be a nice new challenge and one I am looking forward to.”
“I can’t wait to get back into WRC action; it feels like a long time since Finland! Turkey promises to be an unpredictable rally for everyone. I competed there back in 2010 but in a different part of the country so that experience is not comparable to what we’ll encounter next week. It looks like the stages will be twisty, rough and very hot, resembling an old Cyprus rally. As with any new event there are lots of unknowns, but we’re as prepared as we can be. We’ll definitely give it a good crack.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“Rally Turkey will be an interesting event for sure as no one really knows what to expect. This is the first completely new event for a long time and, even though I contested the rally in 2010, next week’s event will be completely different.
“There will be a lot of work to do on the recce, and Julien [Ingrassia, co-driver] will have to write brand-new notes for every single kilometre! It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and to discovering what these new stages will be like.
“Our goal is to deliver the best possible result, but the loose gravel will make it a challenge. We’ll be the second car on the road and there will be a lot of fast drivers benefiting from a cleaner and faster road behind. We’ll need to try and stay as close as we can on Friday morning and then see where we are after that.
“The most important thing is to score a strong haul of points for our championship defence, and that is what we will focus on.”
“We’ll be taking a step into the unknown with a brand-new rally next week. I’m sure it will be an interesting weekend and I’m looking forward to discovering what the Turkish stages have to offer.
“For sure it will be hot, and we’ll need to be prepared for that. It also looks as though it could be quite loose which would give us a good road position for the first day; but it also has the potential to be fairly rough and everyone will need to have their wits about them.
“We completed our pre-event test on some pretty rough roads in Greece and the Fiesta proved as strong as ever. We’ve had to do a lot of preparation to get ready for this one, and the hard work will only continue next week.
“We’re as prepared as we can be and I think we’re all looking forward to experiencing something completely new – where the aim is to be in the fight for the top positions.”
“Whereas most of the rallies this year have been new only for me, this one will be new for everyone. That will make things really interesting and could bring me an opportunity as we will all be equal on experience before the first stage.
“No one is allowed is test in Turkey so we’ll all experience the roads for the first time during the recce and then the shakedown. Set-up wise, I’ll discuss with my team mates first to see what they have experienced and discovered. Otherwise, I will need to make my own conclusions and choices.
“As for what to expect, I have never been to Turkey before and will travel out a little earlier than usual to get a feel for everything. I’m expecting it to be a very hot rally and very demanding, but I hope to deliver a good result.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“This is the first time for many years that I am preparing for a completely new WRC event. There are many unknowns: you have to do new pace-notes, you don’t know the characteristics of the roads and you don’t know how they will change for the second pass. I remember from when we went to Turkey in 2008, near Antalya, that it was very hot. The long stages were very demanding and very hard on the tyres. From what I have seen so far, I think there will be some similarities to that rally and also to the Acropolis Rally. The pre-event test was really good for me. I was very happy with the car and we made some good steps with the suspension.”
“Obviously we have had some very good results recently, but I am still taking it rally-by-rally. It is difficult to have any expectations for Turkey as we don’t have a lot of know-how about the rally. Everybody is talking about it being a rough event: we will have to wait and see how it is on the recce. We certainly know that it will be hot. I think that our pre-event test in the south of Portugal was good preparation for that and we are doing everything we can to be ready and be competitive. Now there is not too much more we can do until we get there and see the stages for ourselves.”
“We should expect the unexpected in Turkey. The information we have is that it will be rough with a lot of loose gravel, and that tyre management will be key. For that reason, the long afternoon loops will be crucial, I think. We saw on our test that the tyre wear is quite high when you have rough roads and it’s 35 degrees outside. In general, the test went very well and I think we managed to find some nice settings with the car. I am looking forward to the challenge: it’s a chance to learn something new. So far, being early on the road on loose gravel has not been a strong point for me, so I will try to improve that.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
“The aim is really to get through the opening leg without any hiccups. If we manage to do that, we should be right up there, in the mix and well placed for the rest of the rally. It’s difficult to take any real information from the on-board footage recorded by the organiser in a production car. One thing is sure, however: the course looks very interesting, with a good variety of roads, some narrow, technical and rough, others much quicker.”
“We’re expecting it to be hot this weekend. It’s going to be a technically-difficult, demanding rally for the cars and that’s what we prepared for during our pre-event test in the Aude. I’m feeling pretty confident because I always produce decent performances on this kind of surface. And the C3 WRC is even more efficient and easier to drive than it was in Sardinia, which is the last event contested on similar types of road. We’re also going to be able to use some of the things we learned in Finland on this surface.”
Khalid Al Qassimi
“I’m delighted to be back behind the wheel of my C3 WRC, especially at a new event. It’s always exciting to contest brand new stages for the first time, especially as we’re expecting fairly difficult conditions. I’ve always felt comfortable at events like this. I have some good memories of the Acropolis Rally, for example. It’s always a question of finding the right balance between pushing and looking after the car.”
I think we can expect the key players to be at the front once Friday is done, but those extra drivers to watch will be Hayden and Elfyn I believe. Can Ott Tanak continue his fine form and close the gap further to Thierry and Seb in the fight for the championship?