Sunday 31 July 2016

Rally - Flying in Finland

The Abu Dhabi Total WRT enjoyed a dream weekend in Finland, just as they did in Portugal, when Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle took victory at what was the fastest ever WRC rally, covered at a whopping average speed of 126.6kph! Having constantly improved since joining the team at the start of the year, Craig Breen and Scott Martin racked up their first WRC stage win on their way to third overall!

Having amassed a healthy 41s lead over Jari-Matti Latvala, Kris Meeke could afford to control his pace today, but the rally leader was also taking great interest in the progress of Craig Breen.

Third overall this morning, Craig was being chased by a bunch of heavyweight challengers with Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Mads Østberg all within about twenty seconds of the Irishman!

After his stage win on SS21, Tänak had closed to within 4.8s of the young Abu Dhabi Total WRT driver. The Estonian’s charge was brought to a halt when he went off the road on the next stage. Slightly unnerved to see his rival stopped by the roadside, Craig eased off, losing a few seconds and allowing Neuville to close to within 6.6s!

Buoyed by advice from the team, which encouraged him to defend his position, the Irishman set off on SS23 determined to go for it. At the end of Lempää 2, he claimed his first ever World Rally Championship stage win, a tenth of a second ahead of Paddon!

The final result marked the first time a British driver has won in Finland, and was underlined by another record, that of the fastest rally ever. In covering the 333.6km of timed stages in 2:38:05.8, Kris and Paul set a new record average speed of 126.6kph, that's 78.6mph in British money!

Sixth in the Power Stage, Craig Breen and Scott Martin retained enough of a lead to complete their dream weekend and claim their first ever WRC podium in only their fifth appearance in a World Rally Car!

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

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

Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team will make its next appearance in the WRC at Rally China (9-11 September) with one car entered for Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle.

Leaderboard after 24 (of 24) stages:
1. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (DS 3 WRC) 2:38:05.8
2. Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo R WRC) +29.1
3. Breen / Martin (DS 3 WRC) +1:41.3
4. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:45.9
5. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:48.2
6. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:04.6
7. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (VW Polo R WRC) +2:22.4
8. Lappi / Ferm (Skoda Fabia R5) +4:53.8
9. Abbring / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +5:22.4
10. Suninen / Markkula (Skoda Fabia R5) +5:35.5

Rally - Meeke in Finland

Earlier last week, Volkswagen boss Jost Capito was predicting that Kris Meeke would win Rally Finland easily. In fact it was his event to lose. That was down to the new style running order for the top seeds in this year's World Rally Championship.

Because Citroen is only contesting part of this year's world series, Meeke goes into Finland ninth in the standings. That means he will start eighth on the road (Dani Sordo is not out) which led Capito to believe that this will put Meeke in an unbeatable position on the WRC's fastest rally.

Although Sebastien Ogier still leads the championship, he has not won on gravel all season and Capito sees no sign of that changing given the current running order rules. As points leader Ogier will run first on the road in Finland, Capito observed: "If Kris does no major mistake, he wins Finland. It's not just difficult for Ogier to fight for the win, it's impossible now for Ogier to fight for the win."

Whether this was designed to unsettle the opposition or not or stoke up some controversy, Kris Meeke rose above it. After two days in Finland, Northern Ireland's finest extended his lead with one more day to run. Not only that, Craig Breen ended the day in third place.

The Abu Dhabi Total WRT team leader set the pace on the first stage of the day yesterday, the 33km which most drivers liken to riding a rollercoaster! This year, the stage was quite different as it was being run in the opposite direction to usual. The drivers therefore had to alter their markers and references during recce.

At the end of the test, Meeke and Paul Nagle had beaten Jari-Matti Latvala by a remarkable 13.4 seconds while Been and Scott Martin who started in fifth place prior to the stage start, emerged in fourth place!

The day ended with Meeke holding a 41s lead over second-placed Latvala and despite coming under pressure from M-Sport's Ott Tänak, Breen held onto third place overall.

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

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

Things weren't quite so good in the Volkswagen camp despite Latvala's second place. Sébastien Ogier was struggling with brake problems yesterday morning. Unfortunately, essential repairs took rather longer to rectify than the team would have liked and Ogier's Polo R WRC was late arriving for the start of the second stage of the day, which incurred a time penalty. This had a knock-on effect on Andreas Mikkelsen which meant he had to take on the dreaded role of 'road sweeper' from Ogier – a hindrance that banished any hopes of a top-three result.

Leaderboard after 20 (of 24) stages:
1. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (DS 3 WRC) 2:22:00.8
2. Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo R WRC) +41.0
3. Breen / Martin (DS 3 WRC) +1:45.4
4. Tänak / Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:54.5
5. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:00.9
6. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:03.6
7. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:06.0
8. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (VW Polo R WRC) +2:24.0
9. Lappi / Ferm (Skoda Fabia R5) +4:23.6
10. Suninen / Markkula (Skoda Fabia R5) +5:10.5

(Thanks to Citroen for the pics)

Friday 29 July 2016

Rally - More support

'Motorsport News' has joined the Jim Clark Rally petition with an appeal this week for readers to sign-up and support the cause. Numbers stand at just over 1,500 at present on the on-line petition, with the paper versions managed by club  members continuing to attract support too at the various events and shows they are attending. More are need to keep the pressure on. Tell your friends and relatives, workmates and school pals, to get on-line and just DO IT. Please.