The 2020 season begins as ever in the ever iconic event that is Rallye Monte Carlo. Ott Tanak begins his title defence having made the switch from Toyota to Hyundai over the winter. He will, I am sure you know, will not however be running with the number one on his car, deciding instead to stick with number eight.
Rallye Monte Carlo has a reputation of being a super tricky event, and this year’s 88th edition is unlikely to be any different. Here are the stages that await the crews:
Thursday, January 23 2020
Quai Albert 1er in Monaco
SS 1 – Malijai / Puimichel
SS 2 – Bayons / Bréziers
Friday, January 24 2020
SS 3 – Curbans / Venterol
SS 4 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières
SS 5 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus
SS 6 – Curbans / Venterol
SS 7 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières
SS 8 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus
Saturday, January 25 2020
SS 9 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve
SS 10 – La Bréole / Selonnet
SS 11 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve
SS 12 – La Bréole / Selonnet
Stop at the Gap-Fontreyne Service Park
Sunday, January 26 2020
SS 13 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava
SS 14 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus
SS 15 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava
SS 16 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus
Shakedown will take place on Wednesday afternoon from 4pm. There will be keen interest in the drivers that have switched teams over the winter to see what kind of times they set on the Route de la Garde 3.35 km stage. We’ll have to wait and see how many runs the crews decide to do, as they attempt to get a feel for their new cars in a competitive environment.
Look back to last year:
Last year Seb and Julien took a win with their return to Citroen, which was their sixth victory in this event. Ott Tanak took third. He was the early leader, but suffered a puncture early on day one, dropping him out of the fight for the lead. Between them, in second, was Thierry Neuville.
There are two drivers who are making their debut in full blooded WRC machinery this weekend. Kalle Rovanperä and Gus Greensmith will step into their respective cars from Toyota and Ford. Yes, I know that Gus drove in three events last year, but he and Edmund haven’t driven one of these cars in Monte before. Last year he drove to a very good win in the WRC Pro class.
Let’s hear from the drivers:
“The start of a new year begins with probably the most demanding event of the season. To make it even more challenging, we have a new team and a new car to learn while tackling the tricky conditions. It will never be an easy job, but it is important to get a good start and to score some points. With the event held at the end of January, the conditions are normally inconsistent, and a lot depends on the altitude. In the lower conditions you can have dry tarmac, then the higher you go it starts to freeze. With the extreme conditions, its normal to find some unpredictability in this rally.”
“Rally Monte-Carlo kicks off the season and we are straight into the dark stages. It’s a very tough event, and tyre choice is crucial. It’s a difficult event in which to compete; there’s a lot of hesitation and you need good pace notes, as well as accurate information from your weather crew. With different altitudes in the stages, high concentration is key. Conditions are constantly changing and the most dangerous thing for us is black ice. We have been competing in Gap for a few years now and we know which sections are in the shade all day and will be slippery, but there will always be some surprises waiting for us in Monte.”
“You never know what to expect at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It could be fully dry, wet or feature a lot of snow, which changes the driving conditions. It can even change between the stages and the road sections, which means tyre choice is even more important. You need to find the right rhythm to be fast without taking major risks. This rally you need to approach with your head; it’s not just flat out, it’s a question of reflection. My previous experience feels like a long time ago, so the rallies feel newer to me than other drivers. We only had one day in the car before Monte-Carlo last year, so hopefully with our current knowledge of the car we will be able to get an even better result than last year.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I’m excited to start my first rally in the Toyota Yaris WRC. Every car has different characteristics and it takes some kilometres to learn about them, but so far it has been good in the tests. We want to fight for a seventh title this year, and I believe we can have a good chance with this car. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event with special emotions for me. I remember at the end of the 1990s, coming to spectate and Tommi was winning a lot – he was the first idol I had in rallying. Myself and Julien obviously have a very strong record too, and every year there is more and more pressure to try and continue that. It’s always a big challenge and one that I definitely enjoy.”
“I’m looking forward to Rallye Monte-Carlo and my first event with Toyota. This is the first time in my WRC career that I’ve changed teams, but everybody’s been very welcoming and I’ve got a good feeling in the car, so I’m excited about the season ahead. My first time driving the Yaris WRC was in our test for the Monte in December, and quite quickly I was able to get a nice feeling and some good confidence. On this event the challenge is always the range of conditions you can possibly face. When you’re setting up the car, you need something that gives you confidence and I think we’ve got some good options with that in mind.”
“Rallye Monte-Carlo will be a special event for me. It’s a big step up from an R5 car, with a lot more power and downforce, but so far, I’ve found the Yaris WRC to be quite easy to drive in the tests. Still, I have a lot to learn and I think it will take a few rallies to really adapt to the car and how everything works. I will need to think differently at the beginning of the season, and I hope that I will have the patience for this. I think Monte-Carlo is not the easiest place to start with a new car and a new team. The weather is changing all the time and you cannot always have the right tyre choice for the conditions. It will be a big challenge for us, but hopefully we can make it through.”
“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started. Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.
“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage! You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.”
“I’m really looking forward to this season and straight away I could see that Esapekka and I would work well together. We had a very similar set-up on the test, and it looks like we want to take the car in the same direction.
“I tested on dry asphalt and had a really good feeling, but for the more tricky sections where there is a lot of ice and snow I will have to rely on my experience. This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!”
“Monte is a special one for me. It’s where I claimed my first victory (winning WRC Pro 2 last year), and there’s no other rally than gives me more satisfaction behind the wheel. Knowing that I will drive these amazing stages with the Ford Fiesta WRC this year is beyond my wildest dreams!
“Everyone wants to win here, and the changing conditions make it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. The smallest mistakes pay a heavy price, but I do think this is a strong event for me. I’ve always relished tricky conditions, but experience is something you need here too. I’ll have to make up for that, and hope to produce a strong performance to kick off this 2020 season.”
Here we go then! Who will win the first round of this new season? Will we see another win going to Seb Ogier, or perhaps we’ll see a new winner this year? Thierry challenged in 2017, and was close last year, or perhaps we’ll see Ott Tanak take a first victory?
Podium challengers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Seb Loeb. Finally, how will Kalle Rovanperä get on? The son of Harri Rovanperä has made his own name on his way up the ladder. There will be mistakes, that is expected. Still, expect to see him win some stages as well.
‘6 notes per line, 3 lines per page, 2 pages per kilometre… 347km. That is about twelve and a half thousand pieces of information delivered, to split second accuracy, over the Tour de Course – at a conservative guess.
It’s a hell of a challenge for a co-driver.
It is also one of the most rewarding challenges. Tour de Corse is my favourite event on the WRC calendar not just because of the epic roads and incredible views, but also because there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained in completing it.
Recce itself is requires huge attention to detail, not just from the driver – noting every bend and hazard – but also the sheer logistics of it; we stayed in three different hotels on each of the three recce days as the stages are so spread out across the island. Food stops, petrol opportunities, and long days all had to be taken into account weeks before the rally started.
Likewise, the ceremonial start was held at the opposite end of the island, and so hotels had to be booked for that, as well as coordination of our team to meet there.
This all adds to the adventure and flavour of undertaking the Tour de Corse, it’s not like any other rally.
And when we reach the competition itself, you have to be totally focused on delivering the notes exactly on time – there are so many corners, all coming so quickly, that you cannot think about anything other than the task at hand. I find it quite a nice place to be, in the car on those stages. Obviously, you have to be focused on every stage of every rally… but Corsica is another level.
We had a great rally, we finished 5th in JWRC which puts us 6th overall in the Championship. All the time we are learning and building, and the JWRC is such a great place to be. I’m really enjoying everything about this championship and can’t wait for Sardinia in June.’
History will record that Thierry, Nicolas and Hyundai won this rally. Those that followed it, will know it should have been M-Sport duo Elfyn and Scott on the top step in Bastia.
We were treated to a fantastic fourth round of this year’s championship. Here’s the story of how it all unfolded.
With 86km’s of stages on Friday, including a double run of the long Valinco and just a tyre fitting zone as well in the middle of the day, just getting to the end of day one would be tough. The start list looked like this – Tänak, Ogier, Neuville, Meeke, Evans, Lappi, Loeb, Latvala, Sordo, Suninen.
SS 1 – Bavella 1 (17,60 km) saw Elfyn set a great time, with Thierry and Dani a few seconds behind. Ogier spun in a hairpin and was already 12.5 from the lead. Kris however had a terrible stage, getting a puncture and losing almost a minute.
SS 2 – Valinco 1 (25,94 km), saw Kris go fastest from Ott and Dani. Elfyn could only manage fifth fastest and so Ott was now in the lead, but only by six tenths of a second. Dani’s pace saw him pass Thierry into an early third place. Esapekka also moved past Teemu, for the battle to be the top Finn.
SS 3 – Alta-Rocca 1 (17,37 km) Ott also took the next stage with Kris and Elfyn less than a second behind him. Elfyn may have been passed by the Estonian, but he was keeping him in-sight, with just a little over a second between the top two. Thierry also moved past Dani who could only manage ninth fastest. Also moving up the leaderboard were Teemu and Jari-Matti, who both passed Esapekka Lappi who spun in a hairpin.
After the midday tyre change, we had the rerun of SS 4 – Bavella 2 (17,60 km). Once again, Elfyn struck back and took stage victory number two for the weekend, and deposed Ott once more from the lead after the Estonian was 2.7 seconds slower. Esapekka Lappi lost seventh place to his teammate, Seb. Thierry also increased the gap to Dani.
Elfyn’s great Friday continued in SS 5 – Valinco 2 (25,94 km), where he took another stage victory and increased his lead further over Ott. Jari-Matti had a problem and dropped right the way down from sixth and into tenth having lost three minutes. A big shame for the 2015 winner.
The final stage, SS 6 – Alta-Rocca 2 (17,37 km) and Ott Tanak forced himself back into the lead, with Thierry winning the stage and Ott just 1.3 seconds behind with Elfyn losing time after getting stuck behind Kris Meeke in the stage. Kris did let the young Welshman past, but he’d lost a lot of time and the lead at this point. The organisers did the right thing and gave Elfyn the same time as Ott, meaning he’d retain the lead.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:09:39.6
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.5
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +9.8
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +26.1
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +30.9
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +36.3
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +46.3
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:27.9
Camilli / Buresi (VW Polo R5) +2:46.4
Bonato / Boulloud (Citroën C3 R5) +3:06.4
An interesting first day then! Let’s hear from the drivers.
Elfyn Evans (1st)
“It’s been a positive day and the car has felt really good. This is the type of rally where you have to be smart and efficient, and I felt like we drove well. We were able to carry the speed through the corners, and keep a smoothness in the driving which seems to be doing the trick.
“There’s going to be a big battle tomorrow and our plan is to stay in this position. Ott [Tänak] and Thierry [Neuville] will both be pushing hard, but we know when everything is working that we can be faster. I’m really looking forward to the day. There’s quite a mix of stages with a bit of everything. It’s all about being adaptable.”
Teemu Suninen (5th)
“It’s been a really good day for us and the pace has been good. I could go faster for sure, but I have this monkey on my shoulder holding me back. I have made some mistakes in the last rallies and I need to bring the car home this weekend. But the driving has still been on a good level so we can be happy with that.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (2nd)
“I am quite happy with my day. In the morning I was not actually in the best rhythm, as my notes were not perfect on these new stages. This afternoon it was definitely better in that sense, and we had a good feeling. We haven’t been pushing the limits yet, but the car is performing well and I quite enjoyed it. Our closest rivals have been setting good times, so it’s clear that we will need to push quite hard tomorrow if we want to beat them. The long stage will be the key stage of the rally: It’s very tricky so it won’t be easy, but I believe it will be possible for us to make a big difference there.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (13th)
“The middle stage of the loop was difficult for me today. In the morning my notes were not working well there and we lost a lot of time. We did a lot of work on that over lunch and I was really confident that we could make a good time in the afternoon pass. Two kilometres into the stage there were quite a lot of cuts where gravel had come onto the road, and I think a sharp stone went through the tread. Slowly caused the tyre to started to slowly going down – it was just one of those unfortunate things that can happen., We decided to try and carry on but eventually we had to stop and change it. The car has been feeling good, I’ve really enjoyed the driving. We will keep going and see where we are at the end of the rally.”
Kris Meeke (16th)
“It’s been a difficult day to be honest. On the first stage, in a long fast left-hander, I had ‘keep to the inside’ in my pace-notes, and we hit something that I obviously hadn’t seen in the recce. After that the pace was good and we were trying to make up some places. In the afternoon, there was a fast left with a cut, I caught some gravel and we touched the kerb on the outside and broke a suspension arm, which I had to carry through the last stage. I’m very happy that Elfyn has been given a fair time: In no way did we intend to hold him up. Today just hasn’t been good enough. We had a package capable of winning this rally: The Yaris has been incredible to drive. We will continue to enjoy driving the car and try and keep it clean for the rest of the weekend.”
Thierry Neuville (3rd)
“I think we have had a pretty satisfactory day today, and we’ve done a good job with the car since shakedown. The feeling has not been 100% perfect, and our pace notes were a bit too slow on the first stage, but we’ve made some good progress. To be in contention for the lead of the rally at the end of this opening day is all we could have hoped for. We are perhaps missing some grip to go ever faster, but it’s a solid base from which we can build tomorrow.”
Dani Sordo (4th)
“It has not been a straightforward day, although we have had some positive moments. The first stages were really nice and I was able to set some encouraging and fast times. It was more difficult in the afternoon loop as the speed was not there. We have to look at the areas where we can find improvements for Saturday, which is an incredibly gruelling schedule. We have a big distance to cover tomorrow so it will be a crucial day for the rally result.”
Seb Loeb (8th)
“Things have got increasingly better as the day has progressed, and I ended the afternoon loop feeling quite confident in the car. We lost a lot of time at the beginning of the first stage this morning. I made a small mistake and on the exit of a corner and broke something on the suspension, which we had to fix. With no lunchtime service, we had to do what we could to keep going. We changed the settings during the day and found some good improvements, which we hope to carry over into Saturday.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (6th)
“It was a difficult day, where we struggled with understeer. We made a few minor adjustments mid-leg and that helped us to limit the time lost in the afternoon, but it wasn’t enough. We have a few ideas about how to change the set-up in order to resolve the issues, so I have high hopes that we can move in the right direction tomorrow. We’ll certainly be doing everything we can to move back up the standings.”
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“I pushed hard on the wide, fast sections of today’s stages but I had the same issues on the corners as Seb. And we also had a spin, which didn’t help matters. I have faith in the team to put things right and obviously on my side, I’m going to give it everything.”
It was a bright morning at the start of the longest day of this event. The start list looked like this – Meeke, Latvala, Loeb, Lappi, Ogier, Suninen, Sordo, Neuville, Tänak, Evans.
First stage, SS 7 – Cap Corse 1 (25,62 km) went to Ott, closing the gap a little to Elfyn who was second fastest and Loeb getting into the groove at last. The changes that the Citroen team made to their C3 weren’t really making much of a difference other than making the car feel more comfortable to drive, just still no speed.
SS 8 – Désert des Agriates 1 (14,45 km) next up and Ott flew through, taking 3.7 seconds from Elfyn’s 3.9 second lead and further back, Kris passed Jari-Matti into ninth place. The fight was on between Ott and Elfyn.
SS 9 – Castagniccia 1 (47,18 km) saw a Hyundai driver finally win a stage, with Dani setting the fastest time from Ott and Ogier who found some pace as well and climbed into fifth. Elfyn was fourth fastest, but 3.3 seconds slower, which meant that he’d dropped behind Ott in their battle for the lead.
After the lunchtime service, SS 10 – Cap Corse 2 (25,62 km) was won by Kris Meeke, with Elfyn and Thierry second and third. It was Ott’s turn to be fourth, and now the gap between the top two was just 1.6 seconds. Ogier was now closing on Dani Sordo for fourth place.
SS 11 – Désert des Agriates 2 (14,45 km) saw Elfyn retake the lead, after Ott had a puncture which he stopped to change losing two minutes and dropping to seventh overall. Thierry won the stage and was now in second overall, 11.5 seconds behind Elfyn.
Another fastest time for Thierry in SS 12 – Castagniccia 2 (47,18 km) and the last stage of the day saw the Belgian go 16 seconds faster than Elfyn and would assume the lead over the Welshman. Ogier had a shock, nearly going off the road after his anti-lag system which had stopped working, suddenly started working again further into the stage! Despite all this, the Frenchman moved another place up the overall leaderboard and was now ahead of Dani in third place. Further back, Ott was moving up as well, now ahead of Esapekka into sixth place.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:56:50.0
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 4.5
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +44.8
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +49.9
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:32.1
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:54.5
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:59.3
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:21.4
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3:55.9
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6:35.4
Well, what a great day Saturday was. Changes in the lead, drama with tyre failures and engine problems, and Thierry in the lead! Let’s hear from the drivers.
Thierry Neuville (1st)
“We have had a really good day and I am delighted we can finish Saturday in the lead of the rally. Anything can happen when people are driving on the edge. This is a long and demanding rally so it’s important to stay focused. This morning, during the long stage particularly, we couldn’t really find the feeling we wanted, but things came good in the afternoon. When you have the right rhythm in the car, it’s possible to set fast times without taking risks. That’s exactly what we could do and we now need to defend our lead on Sunday. It won’t be easy but we’ll certainly give it our best shot!”
Dani Sordo (4th)
“We had a very strong opening loop this morning. My pace notes were very clear and we showed our potential with the fastest time in the long Castagniccia stage. I had a great feeling and the car was very nice to drive. We didn’t manage the same advantage in the repeat loop, as others seemed to make up more time, but we are pleased to enter the final morning in a close fight for the podium. Ogier made up a lot of time on us in the final stage today but we know we can also find some gains, so it promises to be a big battle tomorrow. We’ll try our best.”
Seb Loeb (8th)
“We are not in the same rally as everyone else after our issues on Friday, so we have used today to improve our feeling with the car. Things started well but on the long stage in the morning loop we had a tricky moment. I understeered in a left-hander, which tightened, and I couldn’t turn which then sent us into a ditch. We lost a lot of time getting going again. The afternoon followed the same strategy to make adjustments to the car. Things were not perfect all the time but for the majority of stages we had a good car and a nice feeling. We will continue in this way tomorrow and aim to finish on a positive note.”
Elfyn Evans (2nd)
“It had been a good day for us and the pace was really strong, so it was a real shame about that last stage. Honestly it was a bit of a shock to lose that much. We didn’t feel that we had a bad stage – maybe not a perfect stage – but to lose that much time was disappointing.
“But we have to forget about it now. Four and a half seconds isn’t too much and we can fight for that tomorrow. We know that we have the pace to win this rally, and that’s what we’ll be focused on. We came here to challenge for the win, and that’s what we plan to do.”
Teemu Suninen (5th)
“I think we can be quite happy with the day. We didn’t make any mistakes, and the driving started to be on a good level through the clean stages. There is still some work to do in places where there is a lot of gravel on the road, but this is only my first time here with this car and I need the experience.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (3rd)
“It’s a shame that we lost a lot of engine power about ten kilometres from the end of the last test, because otherwise I think we would have claimed our first stage win this weekend. Fortunately, it only lasted for two or three kilometres and then normal power came back. I’m pleased to be back in the top three. I hope that the slightly better feeling we had this afternoon will be confirmed tomorrow and we can keep improving. Because it looks like we’re going to have to fight right to the end if we want to hold onto third place. We have been losing most time on the wider, circuit-like roads but tomorrow’s stages are less like that, so I hope that they are more suited to us.”
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“Although we’re still not where we had hoped to be, the main thing is that we improved today. Our rhythm was better. Seb also set some good times, so that would suggest that we are moving in the right direction. We’re going to give it our all to finish the rally on a high tomorrow.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (6th)
“We were having a good day: The car was feeling good and we had a nice clean rhythm with no mistakes. It’s still difficult to understand what happened on SS11. It’s really disappointing. The team has done a great job, the car has been incredible this weekend and I did everything I could myself. I knew this is one of the hardest events for us, so I prepared really hard. After the work we’ve done it’s difficult to accept this. We still have some points to score tomorrow, and whatever happens, we can still take some positives away because we’ve been performing very well.”
Kris Meeke (9th)
“I enjoyed it today, particularly this afternoon. Being first on the road this morning was maybe not ideal – the surface felt quite slippery with no rubber having been laid down. We made a few adjustments in mid-day service and the car was working very well. To do a fastest time when the leaders are fighting hard shows the rhythm was pretty good. I’m still annoyed that I wasn’t able to translate the car we had this weekend into fighting at the front, but now we will focus on the Power Stage tomorrow and see what we can do there.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (10th)
“It has been a difficult day my driving has not been good enough. This morning I was missing some performance, while this afternoon I tried to push more, but we had to stop and change a flat tyre. That was down to my mistake: On a right-hand corner there was a hole on the edge of the road and I hit it. I will try to have a good drive tomorrow: That would give us a boost at the end of the rally.”
Just two stages remained totalling a little over 50km’s. The start list looked like this – Latvala, Meeke, Loeb, Lappi, Tänak, Suninen, Sordo, Ogier, Evans, Neuville. With the gap so small between Thierry and Elfyn, we’d be treated to a really amazing battle.
That’s exactly what we got! Elfyn flew through SS 13 – Eaux de Zilia (31,85 km), a full 16 seconds faster than Thierry, and incredibly the same time difference that Thierry had been faster than Elfyn in the final stage on Saturday. He now had an 11.5 second lead over the Belgian with one stage left. It marked the fourth stage that the Welshman had won this weekend. Impressive stuff.
Just one stage left then, the SS 14 – Calvi Power Stage (19,34 km). Second into the stage, Kris Meeke set the fastest time as a gauntlet to the others… As rally leader now, Elfyn would be the last driver through. Loeb, Lappi and the others tried, but couldn’t get close to Meeke’s time. Finally, Elfyn came through and the first split looked okay, but then he lost time in the second split to Thierry, and quite a bit. What had happened? Well, he’d hit a loose rock with his right-front wheel, and it just fell apart! He lost so much time, that he fell to third place, over a minute from the winner, Thierry. Elfyn, Scott and M-Sport were gutted. The top five in the stage were, Meeke, Tanak, Suninen, Neuville and Ogier.
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 3:22:59.0
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +40.3
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:06.6
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:18.4
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:24.6
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:40.0
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +2:09.1
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:39.2
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5:06.3
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6:44.6
What a drive then from Elfyn and Scott! They’d really shown the doubters out there, with a fantastic drive. Once more, Toyota confirmed what we all knew, that their car is great on all surfaces and the Hyundai team, when their car worked, it worked well, but that clearly it needs some improvements. Finally, Citroen didn’t show the kind of pace you’d expect here, with neither of their drivers winning a single stage. Here then are the thoughts of the drivers.
Thierry Neuville (1st)
“What an incredible rally and a fantastic result! I would like to extend my thoughts to Elfyn and Scott; I am really disappointed for them. It had been a great battle and they were undoubtedly the quicker crew this weekend. We didn’t really know what had happened until we saw our mechanics at the end. I pushed hard in the Power Stage and the points we’ve scored this weekend are hugely important for the championship. It is testament to the hard work of everyone at Hyundai Motorsport. We may not have been the fastest in outright pace, but there has been a significant improvement in our tarmac performance and this victory is perfect thanks for all their efforts. We made a big difference on Saturday afternoon’s stages to put ourselves in contention, and that enabled this result to be possible. It’s never over until it’s over!”
Dani Sordo (4th)
“We came to Corsica with a target of taking a good amount of championship points for the team, and we have achieved that. We have shown some positive pace this weekend, most notably on Saturday’s long stage, but we’ve also struggled at times. We didn’t have the consistency we needed to fight for the podium but finishing fourth is not so bad. Congratulations to Thierry, Nicolas and the team for taking the victory. I am pleased to see us back on top of the manufacturers’ standings. I look forward to the next rally in Argentina.”
Seb Loeb (8th)
“A great result for the team today. Unfortunately, our own rally was effectively over after our issues in the opening stage on Friday. We lost so much time; we were on the back foot from then onwards. The motivation is not quite the same when there’s nothing really to fight for. We tried instead to work on the car set-up, making adjustments that will benefit us for the future. Despite our challenges, it has still been an enjoyable rally, the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC has been nice to drive and I’ve had fun on the stages. Hopefully I can do better next time.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (2nd)
“In terms of points, it’s a good result, scoring nineteen points at a difficult round. On the other hand, we really suffered in terms of pure performance. We need to understand why, so that we don’t have the same problem again on this surface, on which the C3 WRC had performed well previously. In any case, I’m pleased to have managed to get the most out of the car I had and also that I don’t have to open the road on gravel in Argentina.”
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“We all had high hopes coming into this round, so obviously we can’t be satisfied with this result. We were short on performance and suffered quite a lot of understeer throughout the weekend. We’re going to work hard to put things right for the next rounds on tarmac, in Germany and then in Spain. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting back on gravel in Argentina.”
Elfyn Evans (3rd)
“It’s disappointing right now, but overall it’s been a really positive weekend and we know that we had the speed to win. The first stage this morning felt really good, and we had a good rhythm going into the Power Stage. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it felt like we were in the middle of the road and just unfortunate to hit a stone or something in the line. Straight away I knew it didn’t sound good, and sure enough a couple of hundred metres later we got the puncture alarm. We had 11 kilometres to go and I knew that if we stopped to change it we would lose a lot of positions. We decided to continue, and thankfully made it to the end to salvage a podium. “Perhaps it’s not the result we wanted, but the pace is there and I think we can all take confidence from that moving forward. We’ve had a pretty strong start to the season so far and I’ve been really happy with the Fiesta on all four of the opening rounds. The guys back at M-Sport are working exceptionally hard and making improvements all the time so I see no reason why we can’t continue this form into the coming events.”
Teemu Suninen (5th)
“This weekend was really good for us and I can be happy with the job we have done. Before the rally I thought that this would be the hardest on the calendar. It’s the only event I’ve not done in a world rally car and there were also a lot of slow corners where I have been struggling a bit. But on the clean sections like today I have been able to be really fast and set some top times. We still have some work to do in the dirty sections. But we finished the rally in a good position and with three points from the Power Stage. That was good.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tanak (6th)
“Generally, it has been a good event for us: We had a strong performance and I actually quite enjoyed this year’s Tour de Corse. Of course, the final result is disappointing, but this was a rally I didn’t enjoy at all a couple of years ago, and we are now right on the pace and driving with a good rhythm, so there is something for us to smile about. Today was just about collecting some points from the Power Stage, and we had a clean run with no risks. The fight continues.”
Kris Meeke (9th)
“We went for it in the Power Stage today and came away with the full five points. Of course, I don’t really like to have to do it like this, as I would rather be fighting for the rally win. But we had a luxury of a time gap, which allowed us to protect our tyres in the first stage this morning. That gave us good tyres for the Power Stage so we went for it, keeping in mind to bring the car home. The Yaris WRC has been incredible all weekend, I’ve really enjoyed driving it right from shakedown. I just have to keep the confidence and I’m sure a big result will come.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (10th)
“We were closing to scoring one or two points on the Power Stage, which I would have been happy with because I didn’t have the confidence in myself to take any risks. I have been missing some speed all weekend, so it was important to just bring the car to the finish. I know that I have some things to think about to improve on asphalt, but that is for the future. For now, I will put this event behind us, and try to go to the next events in South America with some new energy.”
Here’s the points standings. Thierry takes over at the head of the championship, with pre event leader Ott falling to third. Elfyn’s podium lifts him into fourth overall, which ironically, he would have been in even if he’d won, but missing the extra ten points which would have put him closer to the top three.
Next event, round five Rally Argentina runs from 25th to 28th of April. Pop back then for my preview.
In my second season review for 2018, it’s time to look at M-Sport. It was a successful year, with victories that allowed the French duo to win the Drivers crown for the sixth time, whilst Elfyn Evans/Dan Barritt and Teemu Suninen played their part for the team. They scored some good results as well.
The championship started well, with victory for Seb and Julien in Monte Carlo. Elfyn suffered a puncture on day one, but fought back with some very quick times including two stage victories on Saturday to finish in sixth overall. Former winner Bryan Bouffier made his Fiesta WRC debut as well, and drove to an excellent eighth place for the team.
Sweden followed, and it was a much tougher event for the team. There had been massive snowfall in the weeks before. Seb and Julien would be leading the cars on day one, and they would be doing their best to stay on the road, but keep the time loss down as well. Teemu was the top placed driver in sixth place at the end of day one, after Elfyn got a puncture and completed day down the field, but it was Seb who struggled the most, sweeping the stages clear like a snow plough. After Saturday, Teemu had dropped a couple of places to more experienced drivers, and was in eighth place and Seb had moved into tenth place. The positions were pretty much the same at the end, with Elfyn climbing into fourteenth position at the end.
Mexico was next up. Seb would use his better road position to complete day one in fifth overall, which by the end of day two, he had taken the lead by over 30 seconds. His lead at the end was a full minute. Meanwhile, Elfyn went well, just 15 seconds from the lead at the end of stage three, before a high-speed roll that didn’t damage the car as much as you’d think in stage four put him and Dan out of the event. The reason- concussion. Teemu would also go well, before damaging his suspension, leading to loss of control of the car and retirement for the day. He would come through, gaining more experience, finishing in twelfth. Seb had retaken the lead of the championship from Thierry as well, with a four-point lead over the Belgian.
The iconic Tour de Corse followed, and with Dan Barritt still ruled out over safety, with his concussion, Phil Mills, stepped into the number two Fiesta alongside Elfyn, whilst Bryan Bouffier was driving a third Fiesta. Seb and Julien showed their class, leading the whole event and winning, whilst Elfyn and Phil drove brilliantly having had just the six runs in shakedown, to perfect their partnership for this event, clinching fifth overall. Bryan had an engine issue, causing him to retire from the event on the Saturday.
Argentina followed, and Dan was back alongside Elfyn, whilst Teemu returned to the third Fiesta, making his first start in this event. After day one, Seb was in fifth place, whilst Elfyn and Teemu rounded out the top ten. After Saturday’s stages, all had moved up a few places. Elfyn in particular went particularly well, finishing in sixth overall, whilst Teemu gained one place. That’s how they finished as well at the end of the rally, and despite doing well, Elfyn was not that happy. The gap between Seb and Thierry ten points and Ott was just twenty-eight points.
Portugal was next up, and with Seb making a mistake on day one, the team looked to their younger drivers. They drove brilliantly, Elfyn finishing day one in second place and Teemu in fourth. Elfyn continued to drive well on Saturday, winning two stages and consolidating his second position. In the other Fiesta, Teemu continued a strong drive and was just a few seconds behind third place. On the final day, both Elfyn and Teemu drove well, clinching a double podium. With Seb retiring from the event on the Sunday, after the team decided to retire the car, given that they were not likely to score any points, he fell behind Thierry in their battle for the world championship.
Next up, was the very tricky Rally Italia Sardegna and the team comprised of Seb, Elfyn and Teemu. Seb would be looking to use the advantage of not opening the road on Friday as the title fight continued between him and Thierry. Elfyn and Teemu would also be hoping for a good result after their podium. After day one, Seb incredibly held the lead, but sadly there was disappointments elsewhere in the team. Teemu finished the day way down after a spin, whilst Elfyn broke a part in his steering, and after fixing it in the stage, was fifteen minutes from the lead. Day two saw the battle between Thierry and Seb intensify, with the Hyundai driver closing the gap. Meanwhile, Teemu and Elfyn continued their climb up the leaderboard. The final day saw Seb and Thierry complete their fight over the win, with the Frenchman just missing out on the victory by just seven tenths of a second. Teemu scored a point for tenth, whilst Elfyn was fourteenth.
Super-fast Finland followed the summer break, and with just six rallies left, would be an important event. The team had brought some aero updates to their car, but only enough for one, which were fitted to Seb’s car. Despite this, the best placed car was piloted by Teemu ending day one in fifth place and making the most of his road position, whilst Seb was sixth and Elfyn seventh. On day two, team orders came into play, with Elfyn giving up his position to Seb, whilst Teemu continued to be the top placed car in sixth with his teammates seventh and eighth. When the event finished on Sunday, there had been further team orders, which meant that Seb was the top placed of the three drivers in fifth after Teemu took a 20 second penalty. Teemu ultimately finished in sixth, with Elfyn in seventh.
Onto Germany next, an event of three different types of tarmac. Teemu would be making his top-level debut as well. After day one, the team were well placed with Seb in second overall, Elfyn driving really well in fourth, just 10 seconds from third and Teemu in tenth. It was all change on Saturday, when Elfyn ran wide and hit a concrete block hidden in undergrowth, damaging his suspension and putting him out for the day. Meantime, Seb also suffered a blow in his fight for the win, getting a puncture, which they changed mid stage. Teemu came through unscathed, finishing the day in eighth, with Seb now just one place ahead in seventh. The final day saw the true pace of Seb and Julien, who climbed back up into fourth place pretty quickly, limiting the number of points that they conceded to their rivals, Ott and Thierry who finished were first and second respectively. Teemu finished his first tarmac rally in a top spec car, fifth overall, whilst Elfyn came home in twenty-fifth after re-joining under Rally2 regs.
The next event was Rally Turkey, a completely new event. On day one, Seb come through after some tough stages, to be second overall, with Teemu in ninth. Elfyn continued to suffer some terrible luck, with intercom problems, followed by problems with his differential, which was replaced in service and then a puncture. However, that wasn’t the worst of it, when he suffered broken suspension, putting him out in the days penultimate stage. After day two, when Seb set some great times, but also suffered massive disappointment, he won two stages, but also damaged his suspension which needed changing in service. He then slid off the road in the first afternoon stage. Meantime, Teemu was going really well, finishing the day in fourth overall, whilst Elfyn showed what could have been possible, climbing up the leaderboard, into seventh, after a string of quick times, including three second fastest times in the afternoon stages. The final day, saw Teemu come through in fourth, whilst Elfyn clocked in five minutes early in the penultimate stage, thus getting a five-minute penalty and dropping to twelfth, giving Seb tenth place and the final point.
Wales Rally was next, as we came down to the final three events of the year. Sadly, last years winner would suffer some unreliability from the normally bullet-proof engine, getting a misfire on the road section, whilst just a few seconds from the lead. Teemu also retired from the days action after going off the road. Seb meantime was sitting in fifth place, with both his championship rivals ahead. By the end of Saturday, Seb had taken the lead after a string of quick times. Meanwhile, Elfyn, having re-joined under Rally2 regs, climbed up the field and completed the day in twenty fourth place. Teemu didn’t restart, as his car was too damaged to fix. Seb completed Sunday and took victory, his first since Tour de Corse. There was no fairy-tale result for Elfyn, one year on from his victory, and he finished in twentieth place.
Rally Spain saw the team field three cars again. After day one, Elfyn was the top runner in third after a string of top times, whilst Seb was doing what he could, and guided his Fiesta to seventh. Further back, Teemu was learning, and held eleventh. A string of quick times through Saturday, saw Seb climb up to second overall, with Elfyn also doing well, completing the day in fourth. Teemu remained in eleventh, as he continued to learn the stages, particularly given the rain that fell so heavily! On Sunday, everything came together, and after some great driving the team scored a brilliant double podium, with Seb taking second place and Elfyn third, his first podium since Portugal. Teemu finished in eleventh, as he continued to learn. Seb was now back in the lead of the championship.
A few weeks later, it was time for the title decider, down under. Three drivers went to Australia, determined to take the championship. After day one, which had seen Seb’s main rival, Thierry run wide and lose time, there was a bit of shuffling around with Elfyn and Teemu dropping behind Seb as they completed the day in seventh, eighth and ninth. After a number of very fast times throughout Saturday, Seb and Elfyn both moved up to sixth and seventh, whilst Teemu was learning still, he set some good times in the afternoon. On the final day, both of Seb’s rivals crashed out of the rally, leaving him to bring his car home in fifth place, one place ahead of Elfyn who had played the long game.
Seb and Julien had won their sixth world championship in a row and the second ever for M-Sport, in their final drive for the team. Teemu had learnt loads this year and Elfyn had secured some great results and also done his part, with helping Seb win the championship. The team had taken third place in the Manufacturers championship as well.
For next year, we don’t know who will be driving, or even if the team will compete at the top level, which would be a massive shame. Possible drivers could be;
Elfyn Evans who would make a good team leader now I believe, Teemu Suninen, who is one of the young hot shots and perhaps we’ll see someone else coming up from WRC2, like Gus Greensmith who tested a Fiesta WRC in Poland recently.
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?
Shakedown took place on Thursday morning, with Ott showing great pace, and the two top championship protagonists in third and fourth.
Tänak / Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:52.9
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:53.1
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:53.5
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:53.6
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:53.8
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:54.3
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:54.3
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:54.7
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:55.4
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:55.9
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:57.3
Later in the same day, we had the first stage of the day and with Ott taking and early lead from Kalle Rovanpera who is driving a Skoda Fabia WRC2 in this event! Real giant killing driving! In fact, there were a number of WRC2 drivers inside the top ten.
Onto Friday’s action and with six stages, who would emerge in front? The start list looked like this – Neuville, Ogier, Tänak, Lappi, Sordo, Mikkelsen, Latvala, Evans, Ostberg, Breen, Suninen.
Seb won SS2 from Thierry and Ott third and with it took the lead by just eight tenths of a second from the Estonian. The road was becoming quite gravel strewn by the time Craig came to it, with him finding he needed to be cautious, and getting his braking points right, so made it through with no moments.
Onto SS3 and there was a change in the lead, with Ott five seconds faster than Seb in the stage. Everyone who finished the stage before Craig had a clean run, but three or four km’s into the stage the heavens had opened and it was really wet! His Citroen teammate, Mads had a spin in a hairpin as well, so not a great stage for their team.
It was a Toyota 1-2 in SS4 with Ott faster than Esapekka, and Thierry taking third, closing the gap to Ogier a little. Further back, Latvala passed Elfyn, moving into sixth.
It was time for service, and the opportunity to change some aspects in the car set up.
Into the afternoon stages, and Ott won SS5 by just three tenths of a second from Seb. There was a big change though, with Elfyn jumping from seventh to fourth overall with a great stage time. Mads sadly had a car problem, losing engine power. Craig was also on the move in his Citroen, passing Andreas in their battle for eighth overall.
Well, SS6 had dried out since the run in the morning and Ott won again, increasing his lead a little bit over Seb. Mads lost some more time with his engine problem dropping out of the top ten. There was another change in the top ten, with Dani getting past Esapekka Lappi into sixth.
The final stage of the day and SS7 was won by Ott again, whilst Lappi and Sordo were ahead of Seb. Ott’s lead over Seb was now 12.3, with Thierry in third overall. Craig was optimistic that Saturday would be better too.
Here’s the top ten then after Friday’s stages.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 59:22.6
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 12.3
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +27.4
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 37.8
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 38.8
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 42.7
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 42.8
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 58.0
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 59.0
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:21.4
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:28.1
Here’s the thoughts of the drivers then – Top three first
“I think we have had close to a perfect day today. The driving was clean and the car was working really well. Everything was new for me, driving this car on these very specific stages, but I could adapt quickly, the rhythm was there from the first stage and I was able to push hard all day. This afternoon it was more difficult because it rained during lunchtime and every corner had a different level of grip, but we had a clean run with no mistakes. Tomorrow is a different day with more demanding stages on Baumholder, but the mindset is still the same. There is a long way to go and we just need to keep focused and keep concentrated.”
“I’m pretty happy with my day. I was pushing hard all the time and the car feels good. The chassis is working really well this weekend and I had a lot of fun driving.
“Hats off to Ott [Tänak] for a really strong day – but of course it is frustrating to see him just that little bit faster than us on almost every stage; making the gap 12 seconds at the end of the day.
“We need to keep trying tomorrow and with Baumholder having a different characteristic you never know what’s going to happen.
“The main target is to stay ahead of Thierry [Neuville], but the second target is to win the rally – so I’m only halfway there! Tomorrow will be a long day and we have to keep trying.”
“I think we have done all we could today with no real mistakes. We had one minor problem this morning, which we were able to resolve and we can reflect on a safe start to this rally. In the morning loop we took the safer option with two spare tyres, and lost some time because of the extra weight. It was also quite dusty. It’s been difficult to match the times of Ott and Seb, but we are in the podium fight, which is good. I am not in the mood to take big risks being in the lead of the championship.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Elfyn Evans (4th)
“It’s been an okay day and I think we can be pretty happy with the way things have gone. It was a bit of a shame to lose so much time this morning, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes and we have to keep trying. It’s extremely close in the mid-pack, but we’ll give it a good push for the podium positions tomorrow.”
Teemu Suninen (10th)
“The feeling has been getting better and better and I have been really happy with the car. This is my first time with this car on Tarmac, but already the level is quite good. There is still a lot to learn and the main thing is the braking and turning with these cars, but I’m enjoying and looking forward to another challenge tomorrow.”
Toyota Gazoo WRT
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th)
“This morning I lacked a little bit of confidence in the conditions: with my road position there was more dirt coming on the road than I was used to here before. In service we made some changes with the front differential and the afternoon was definitely better for me. I was very happy with what we did on the second run over Mittelmosel in particular. It’s going to be a good fight tomorrow. For me, tomorrow’s stages are the best ones on this rally. It’s wider and you can use racing lines more, and that’s what I like. Also, the roads will be cleaner than today and that should suit me better.”
Esapekka Lappi (7th)
“I was quite pleased with the morning loop. The conditions were quite nice and the car worked really well. The afternoon was then quite tough. The vineyard roads got really dirty in some corners and I struggled a lot in these places. The car feels fine, it’s just a lack of confidence on my side because I don’t want to make a mistake and I am backing off too much. Still, tomorrow is a long day and we have a good road position, and we are only five seconds away from fourth place.”
Dani Sordo (6th)
“It has been a difficult start to the rally for us. I wasn’t particularly happy on the morning loop and struggled to find grip. We have continued to push as hard as possible but the times at the front are very quick and we haven’t been able to match them. We have suffered with understeer and just haven’t been able to get into the required rhythm. The stages tomorrow will give us a different tarmac challenge, so we will continue to do what we can. The fight for fourth place is very close!”
Andreas Mikkelsen (9th)
“We have spent the day working hard on adapting my driving style as well as making some adjustments to the car. It was clear during the morning loop that I had to be more aggressive on the steering. We looked closely at the situation at service, and my engineer did a great job to help us make improvements. The afternoon was definitely a step in the right direction. Changing my style of driving after ten years is not the work of a moment but I hope we can continue in this way for the remainder of the weekend.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Craig Breen (8th)
“It really does seem that I can’t get a break on a Friday. Things didn’t go the way I had hoped, but there’s still a long way to go. The weather is forecast to be dry and sunny tomorrow and I’ll have a decent road position, so hopefully I can show what we’re capable of.”
Mads Østberg (11th)
“I’m still learning about the car, and getting used to racing on tarmac again as well. Given the conditions, the morning went fairly well for us in terms of our pace. The afternoon was harder with the engine issue, but I really hope that tomorrow’s leg will work out better for us.”
Day Two – Saturday
Into Saturday then and with eight stages run, a much longer day to deal with. The start list reflected the top ten – Serderidis, Ostberg, Suninen, Mikkelsen, Breen, Lappi, Sordo, Latvala, Evans, Neuville, Ogier, Tänak. Certainly, Craig was looking to a better day, with his best road position since Sweden.
The first one, SS8 saw Latvala go fastest with Dani and Craig just a tiny gap behind. Jari-Matti’s pace took him past Elfyn. Craig’s pace took him closer to Lappi, with the Citroen driver so much faster than the Finn.
The next one, SS9 saw a fastest time from Dani Sordo and with that, he jumped into fourth passing Elfyn who now fell to sixth. Ott Tanak’s lead was now 13 seconds over Seb. Mads, who was looking to get back into changed part of the setup, but it introduced understeer when on the power, making the car hard to drive. Craig was fourth as well, getting a little closer to Lappi.
It was Lappi though who hit back in SS10, winning the stage from Jari-Matti with Ogier third. This moved him ahead of Elfyn. Mads and Teemu continued their battle for the final points position, with just a little over a second between them, but in Teemu’s favour.
Disaster would befall Elfyn in SS11, after he went off. Craig Breen won the stage, from Lappi with Mads and Ott sharing the third fastest time. Dani could only manage the eighth fastest time whilst Thierry was ninth, meaning they’d both been passed by Jari-Matti who was now in third place overall.
A service break followed, with Thierry looking to make some changes to his car, so that he would feel a lot more confident with it. Ott said that he wasn’t that happy with his car
Into SS12 then, and Dani won the stage, moving ahead of his teammate, Thierry, who was now in fifth place. The gap closed a little between Ott and Seb, but not really anything to get too excited about with the gap still at over 13 seconds between them.
Massive change happened in SS13. Another stage victory for Dani – he was really in the groove – moved him ahead of Jari-Matti, and with Ogier getting a puncture 8.4km into the stage, he only managed 21st fastest, losing 1 minute 43 seconds and dropping to ninth overall. Mads didn’t understand why he was slow, after reporting that his car felt great in the stage. Dani was now in second overall.
Just two stages remained and the first, SS14 was won by Seb, fighting back after his problem in stage 13. Lappi and Latvala were second and third after setting the same time. Top three overall was Ott, Dani and Jari-Matti. Ogier’s pace was good enough to put him up one place into seventh, Teemu dropping behind. Andreas will be Seb’s next target, with just 3.5 seconds between them.
Okay, the final stage of the day, SS15. Drama for Craig, who went off the road, damaging the rear left tyre. He lost so much time and dropped to tenth place, behind Mads. Winner of the stage was Jari-Matti, four tenths faster than Esapekka whilst Ogier set the third fastest time and this meant the gap to Andreas had come down to just half a second. But what a day that Ott had?! His lead over second placed Dani stood at 43.7 seconds and now Jari-Matti was just eight tenths of a second behind the Spaniard.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:23:2711
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 43.7
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 44.5
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +52.5
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 58.8
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 1:50.7
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:51.2
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:57.0
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +2:20.4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 2:34.4
Thought’s then of the drivers – Top three first
“Obviously it has been another good day. This morning it wasn’t easy, because I had to get used to driving on different types of road in this car for the first time, and I needed to push hard because it was a really close fight. In the afternoon my feeling was much better and I was enjoying it a lot. The changes we made during lunchtime service were a good step in the right direction and the car is really comfortable to drive. Now we have a big gap behind us and there are some nice stages tomorrow, so the most important thing will be just to enjoy it.”
“All in all, it has been a competitive day for us and it’s encouraging to be involved in such an exciting fight for the podium in the team’s home rally. We have taken three stage wins and have pushed really hard throughout the day, I felt really comfortable and competitive in the Panzerplatte stages, getting absolutely everything out of the car. We struggled a bit in some other stages, especially in the morning, but we couldn’t do more. Jari-Matti closed the gap a lot on the final stage, after I lost quite a lot of time, so we will be focused on defending our position from him on Sunday morning.”
“It has been a really enjoyable day. It started well this morning and then I was delighted with how the afternoon went. I couldn’t match Dani Sordo’s pace in the military area, but then on the Saarland stages on the farm roads I tried to push harder. He was better in one area and I was better in the other and now we are really closer to each other. To be fighting like this is a really nice feeling and I am looking forward to continuing the battle tomorrow.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“We have to accept that we haven’t really been on the pace today. We have struggled with the handling of the car, and have had to be careful not to push too much because we know how easy it is to make a critical mistake. There’s a lot to think about so we have to remain calm and just do what we can. I didn’t do some of these stages last year, so we have been using Dani as a reference and have to be satisfied, even if we’re not completely happy.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (6th)
“It has been another challenging day, that’s for sure, but we have fought hard and continued to find out little things which we can use to improve. All the stages have their own characteristics so we have had to continue trying and evaluating different driving styles. We have been working closely with the team and I’ve tried to be more aggressive with the handbrake. We want to be fighting for better results than we are currently. The time sheets don’t make for good reading but we are taking steps and that is the most important thing right now.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“Overall, today has been quite average for me. In the Baumholder area I struggled a bit. This morning I had too soft a setup for those stages, and although I think I managed to improve that for this afternoon, I still lost a lot of time there for some reason and that is frustrating. On the other hand, on the other stages among the fields everything felt nice and the times were good, even when there was dirt on the road on the second pass. The gap to fourth place is still quite small so let’s see how it goes tomorrow.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (7th)
“We had some bad luck today. We know that this stage has a lot of stones everywhere and that it’s always a bit of a lottery whether you will pick up a puncture. Unfortunately, this time, we didn’t win that lottery.
“It was a slow puncture after seven kilometres and we had to stop and change it. After that I took some crazy risks as I had nothing to lose. I was pushing super hard to finish the day, but there isn’t so much we can do now – only some points in the Power Stage.
“We made a good effort this weekend and were doing a good job. It’s frustrating not to get the reward for that, but we will come back stronger.”
Teemu Suninen (8th)
“It’s been a good day and the driving is starting to be on a good level now. I was able to be much closer to the fastest guys which was really good, and I know where we can be faster. That is a big positive as I already know how to make the fastest times.”
Elfyn Evans (Rally 2)
“It didn’t go fantastically well for us today. We spun at the start of the third stage in the loop [SS10], and then on the fourth one [SS11] we hit some gravel and understeered off into a field. Unfortunately for us, there was a big concrete block on the line we took and that broke the suspension which meant we could go no further.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Mads Østberg (9th)
“There were highs and lows today, with some difficulties in finding the right rhythm in the military base. The main thing for me was that I managed to set a few good times, particularly the third-place finish this morning. I can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow to keep learning about this car on this surface, especially as the Power Stage, for example, is being contested on similar roads to the sections where I have been the most comfortable so far.”
Craig Breen (10th)
“It had been a positive day for us, setting quite a few good times, until this final stage. Unfortunately, on a fast, difficult right-hander, there was a bump on the inside of the corner that sent me slightly off the line and I ran wide into a field. Obviously, I’m very disappointed for the team, but I’m going to try and find some confidence again tomorrow and the same sort of pace we had today.”
The final day then and three stages remained. Interestingly, the power stage would only be run once. The start list looked like this – Serderidis, Breen, Ostberg, Suninen, Ogier, Mikkelsen, Lappi, Neuville, Latvala, Sordo, Tänak, Evans. We had just a little under 45km’s to run.
There would be drama from the get go in SS16! First up, Jari-Matti had the bonnet up on his car before the start of the stage…. What was happening? Meantime, Dani had lost time, and there were reports of a damaged right-front corner and a smashed windscreen. Trouble for both of those in second and third… Jari-Matti appeared to have a problem with changing gear, as he was using his manual gear change. It all came to naught, just a kilometre from stage end, Jari-Matti pulled over and it looked like transmission failure for the Finn. With Dani, he reported that he’d lost the car in a right-hand corner and hit the vineyards. Mads also went off in the stage, so it was all over for him. All of this had the result of bringing Thierry, who won the stage, and Esapekka into second and third!
Before the re-run of the same stage, both crews were attempting to start the next stage. Sadly, despite their best efforts, they didn’t manage to do it. Still, SS17 saw Seb win from Thierry and Craig who was now up to seventh overall.
The final stage then – SS18. Top five was Seb, Ott, Esapekka, Craig and Thierry! Ott was so close to taking the stage, just one tenth slower than Seb! The Estonian was bringing himself back into the title fight though. What a drive, and it meant that he now matched Markko Martin for WRC victories, both of them on five apiece. A very impressive drive from Esapekka Lappi, plus a mechanical failure for his teammate Jari-Matti, brought him to a good podium, but he still has more to learn, as Dani, Craig and Elfyn could all have finished ahead of him.
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3:03:36.9
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 39.2
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 1:00.9
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:34.5
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 2:02.9
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 2:13.8
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 2:39.1
Drivers points after Rallye Deutschland
Thierry Neuville – 172 points
Sébastien Ogier – 149 points
Ott Tänak – 136 points
Esapekka Lappi – 88 points
Andreas Mikkelsen – 65 points
Dani Sordo – 60 points
Jari-Matti Latvala – 55 points
Elfyn Evans – 52 points
Mads Ostberg – 48 points
Craig Breen – 47 points
Hyundai WRT – 254 points
Toyota Gazoo Racing – 241 points
M-Sport Ford WRT – 224 points
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT – 159 points
Here then are the thoughts of the drivers – Top three first
“This was definitely the hardest victory I have ever had. For the majority of the weekend it was a really close fight and I had to push so hard. On Friday in the vineyards I felt very comfortable with the car. On Saturday morning I did not feel so confident, but the team really improved the car in service. Today I just needed to keep it clean. I am really happy for the whole team: we were really strong this weekend. We are moving in the right direction in the championship but I am still taking it event-by-event: Now my focus is on Turkey and trying to be as well prepared as possible.”
“It has been a challenging weekend so to come away with second is a job well done. I have been able to increase my lead in the drivers’ championship slightly, which was the objective. I was hoping to take a few more points in the Power Stage but unfortunately, I made a mistake and had to reverse, so I took it steady after that. We have struggled with confidence and pace, even if we have been consistent over the weekend. Not an easy weekend but we’ve done what we needed. The championship battle is going to be closely fought right to the end of the season!”
“It has been a difficult weekend but it was also a clean one with no issues and that has brought us this podium. There was a lot of drama for the others yesterday and this morning as well. That is rallying and we have been in that position before. I think we made some good progress during the weekend. I think I still need some more mileage to understand what the limits are when these roads are dirty. There is not much room for mistakes and I really didn’t want to make one this time.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (4th)
“We deserved more this weekend so I can’t say that I am happy with the result, but that’s rallying and we just need to accept it. We saved the day by winning the Power Stage and now we just need to focus on the next one.”
Teemu Suninen (5th)
“It was a really great weekend of us and I was improving the driving a lot and finding a good set-up with the car. From the beginning of the rally until the end we made a lot of progress and I was able to set some really good times. Of course, I couldn’t drive all of the stages like this, but I know what it takes – I just need the experience.”
Elfyn Evans (25th)
“We had a positive first day and, considering our road position, I think we did a pretty good job. But unfortunately, Saturday just didn’t go our way at all. We lost a bit of time on the opening stage [SS8], had a spin in the third one [SS10] and then a trip into the field in the fourth [SS11] which ended in retirement. It certainly wasn’t the result we came here for, so now we just have to look forward to the next one.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (6th)
“This weekend has been one of experimentation with the car, trying to adapt the settings and my driving style to match the demands of these tarmac stages. We have found some things that have given us a positive feeling but there have also been things that worked less well. To get a top-six finish is not too bad considering. We didn’t take any risks at all in the Power Stage because these points are too important for the manufacturers’ championship. When you don’t feel completely comfortable, it’s easy to make a mistake when you push. We have a lot of homework to take away from this weekend, to prepare for the tarmac stages in Spain. For now, I am looking forward to getting back on gravel where I feel more confident with the car.”
Dani Sordo (DNF)
“I am incredibly disappointed for the team and for myself. We had put ourselves into a strong position after Saturday’s stages and the car this morning – in the first kilometres – felt amazing with lots of grip. I had a lot of confidence. I was a bit late braking into a corner with some gravel in the road that sent us wide into the vineyards. The windscreen was completely smashed and there was some damage to the radiator. We tried to repair it but the temperatures were too high to continue. In any case, our rally was already over with the time lost in the stage. We take comfort from knowing we were able to fight for the podium. The speed was there, but the result this time was not. I can now only look forward to my home event in Catalunya in October.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT
Craig Breen (7th)
“Obviously, it’s a shame about the rain on Friday and my mistake yesterday afternoon, because I really wanted to fight with the very best drivers throughout the race. But we managed to make it through yesterday and I also had a good feeling again in the car today. I’m going to give it my very best shot to secure a good result in Turkey. Everyone will be starting from scratch there, so we should be in with a serious chance.”
Mads Østberg (DNF)
“On a fast left-hander, I oversteered and ran wide into the bushes. The impact caused damage to the car’s cooling system and we were unable to continue. It’s a shame, but there were still some positives this weekend. We gradually upped our pace and managed to set some decent times despite a lack of knowledge of the car on this surface.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Jari-Matti Latvala (DNF)
“On the road section to the first stage I stopped and when I selected first gear it didn’t take the gear. The hydraulic pump stopped, and although I could switch to the manual gear lever, there was a lot of stress for the gearbox and eventually we lost drive completely. We have had a lot of bad luck this year, but I had a great feeling this weekend. The car’s performance was very good, I was really enjoying the fight and that’s the most important thing.”
Well, just an incredible event. Two wins in a row for Ott Tanak has done amazing things for the championship. At the end of Sardinia, the points standings between the top three looked like this
The gap between Ott and Thierry stood at 72 points. After Finland it had reduced to 46 points, and now just 36 separate them. Now, it’s a tall order with four events remaining for Ott to catch and pass Thierry and win the title, but he’s certainly capable of winning the remaining events. Turkey next time out will be an all new event, so anything could happen there. It will be a fascinating championship run in.