What happened last week… ERC in Latvia

Jari Ketomaa

The second round of the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship – what used to be the Intercontinental Rally Challenge – brought Latvia to the top table of host nations in the sport. The second successive snowbound event of the year saw a less dramatic result than in Austria, but once again showed that there is a cracking season of rallying to be enjoyed here.

The Rally Liepāja-Ventspils was won by rising Finnish talent Jari Ketomaa in a Fiesta RRC, aided by the turbo car’s grunt against the awe-inspiring commitment of his closest pursuer Craig Breen and the enormous experience of François Delecour, who finished second and third respectively in their Peugeot 207 S2000s.

With opening round winners Jan Kopeçky and the Škoda team absent from Latvia, Ketomaa takes a slender lead in the title race. Banking the points ensures that Delecour is in the hunt, while Breen is no doubt looking forward to getting his hands on Peugeot’s new turbocharged 208 R5 as the limitations of the 207 S2000 – one of the most successful cars of the last decade – become increasingly obvious.

After all the snow of the opening rounds, the next event is the asphalt-based Corta Ingles, which takes place in the Canary Islands on 21-23 March. WRF cannot wait!

Craig Breen speaks Franglais!

breenpug

You know those things that they call mash-ups – like when the curiously-attired Brazilian fiftysomething Wagner spent week after week shouting to the tune of ‘Love Shack’ and ‘She Bangs’ at the same time on X-Factor? Well the craze has apparently crossed over to rally PR.

Peugeot has issued some seriously interesting news and mashed it up with one of the most preposterous ‘quotes’ ever to grace a press release. The news is that hugely talented young Irishman, Craig Breen, will be driving very fast in a Peugeot 208 R5 on this year’s FIA European Rally Championship. The WRC’s 2012 champion in S2000 and 2011 FIA Academy winner is a major star in the making, and his eight rounds on the ERC will be spent developing the 208 R5 – no doubt with the accumulation of silverware also following in due course.

This news was twinned an alleged quote from Breen that was clearly written by a French PR person in their very best English. It’s endearingly awful. In fact they’ve become our new favourite PR person in the world. Here’s what they imagined Craig’s response to the Peugeot call-up to be:

“This is incredible and beyond my dreams. I am really excited to work with a manufacturer like Peugeot Sport, I think of it since I was a young boy. To arrive here in front of a nice season is a good position to be in. My objective is to show good speed and challenge for some victories on a regular basis. For the testing program, I will give the best I can to support the development of the 208 Type R5.

As the ERC continues to make inroads into people’s affections this year, the addition of the likeable Breen and a bonkers PR team is another major plus. Meanwhile, here’s Wagner in what we at WRF sincerely hope is a preview of how the rest of Peugeot’s press releases will be put together this year…

Monte Part 1: Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back

loeb13

You might remember that, a couple of months back, Sébastien Loeb made an emotional farewell to the WRC at the end of his ninth straight title-winning campaign. If you hadn’t been paying much attention, therefore, one could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about when the new season starts and there’s a very familiar name at the top of the leaderboard.

Yes, you guessed it: Loeb leads the Monte Carlo Rally in the first of his four ‘farewell’ outings with Citroën this year.

The old master hasn’t had it all his own way, though. His former team-mate Sébastien Ogier set the pace to start with, showing that the new Volkswagen squad really did get its sums right and has started its debut WRC campaign as it means to go on. But then Loeb went fully 10 seconds faster through the next stage and now holds an advantage of almost seven seconds at the first halt.

With Ogier in second place, third spot is held by the second Citroën of Dani Sordo. The asphalt expert is more than half a minute in arrears of Ogier, however, and he in turn has the Ford Fiesta of M-Sport’s Juho Hänninen breathing down his neck. This is seriously good news for Hänninen, the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge winner, who only has a deal to contest two events with M-Sport at present. Nevertheless it is the Finn who leads the four-car M-Sport entry from his team-mate, Thierry Neuville, holding fourth.

Meanwhile M-Sport’s leading drivers for this year have yet to find their feet in the Alpes Maritimes. Team leader Mads Østberg is seventh, just 0.4 seconds ahead of Evgeny Novikov in the sister car. Between them and the faster Fiestas of Hänninen and Neuville are Citroën’s season-long team leader Mikko Hirvonen, who is running in close company with the works-supported Citroën of 2011 Monte winner, Bryan Bouffier as they hold sixth and seventh respectively.

Jari-Matti Latvala has meanwhile been struggling in the second Volkswagen Polo. The Finn incurred a time penalty for being late arriving at SS2 and has not yet found great pace. He holds ninth ahead of the Czech National Team Fiesta WRC of Martin Prokop.

Elsewhere, the WRC2 is led by Olivier Burri’s Peugeot 207 S2000 from the Škoda Fabia S2000 of Sepp Wiegand. Most of the retirements so far have hit in this class, including that of Italy’s Luca Betti in his Peugeot.

Fantastic start to FIA ERC

Kopecky in Janner action

Kopecky in Janner action

This weekend saw top-flight rallying get back under way in 2013 with the opening round of the new Eurosport-officiated FIA European Rally Championship. The snow/ice/slush/asphalt of Austria played host to the Jänner Rallye and drew a reasonable entry headed by the works Škoda Fabia S2000 of Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopeçky – who triumphed by just half a second.

A trouble-free run on the opening day, which saw the surface conditions changing from one stage to the next, saw Kopeçky at the front of the field by more than 20 seconds after opting to run on studded wet weather tyres, ahead of the Peugeot 207 S2000 of Bryan Bouffier and the Red Bull-backed Škoda of Raimund Baumschlager, who struggled initially on full snow tyres.

A puncture on the second afternoon, however, saw Kopeçky fall back and he entered the last stage 10.6 seconds behind Bouffier. In a drive that is sure to become a Youtube classic, the Czech star threw caution to the wind and beat Bouffier through by 11.1 seconds, making the margin for victory one of the closest on record.

Baumschlager claimed third, Czech regular Vaclav Pech was fourth in his MINI S2000 and Beppo Harrach finished fifth and first Production Cup runner in his Mitsubishi. The event also saw a return to action for two of the most enduring names in the sport, with François Delecour finishing seventh in his Peugeot 207 S2000 and Stig Blomqvist with a spring in his step aged 66, finishing 12th overall and fourth in Production Cup at the wheel of a Mitsubishi.

Happy New Year, WRC fans

Plenty to happen in the next fortnight - then Monte is 'go!'

Plenty to happen in the next fortnight – then Monte is ‘go!’

We’ve got a fortnight until the WRC bursts back to life. In that time, big things will happen:

  • Red Bull, Sportsman and the FIA must get on the same page regarding the WRC’s promotion and TV coverage.
  • Nasser Al-Attiyah will be in the thick of the action on the Dakar.
  • The all-new FIA European Rally championship will kick off in the snow of Austria.

In the meantime the entry list for Monte Carlo is rather promising, with Citroën fielding Sébastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo with support for Bryan Bouffier in a fourth DS3 WRC. Volkswagen has its new Polos ready for Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. M-Sport has two teams and four Fiestas for Mads Østberg, Evgeny Novikov (running DMACK tyres), Juho Hänninen and Thierry Neuville.

The remaining WRC entries are for Martin Prokop’s Czech Fiesta, another Fiesta for Julien Maurin and a lone MINI WRC entered by Lotos for Poland’s former JWRC contender Michal Kościuszko.

In the first ever WRC2 class, there’s a works Škoda Fabia for Esapekka Lappi with a sister car entered by Škoda Deutschland for Sepp Wiegand. Leading the competition against the Czech cars will be Italy’s Luca Betti in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Four more S2000s (three Peugeots and another Fabia) will also take the start, as will a phalanx of Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and Subaru Impreza WRXs, including a new-build R4 car for Ireland’s Eamonn Boland.

In the WRC3 classes a total of eight Citroën DS3 R3Ts will meet the challenge of a single Peugeot 208 R3T, six Renault Clio R3s will take on a lone Honda Civic R3, R2 is populated with Citroën C2s, Peugeot 208s and Ford Fiestas, there are five Suzuki Swifts, a pair of Citroën DS3 R1s, a Renault Twingo R1 and a smattering of Monte Carlo ‘randoms’ – including Czech driver Martin Rada in an Alfa Romeo 147!

Plenty to look forward to there…

Delecour ready for 2013

Silver fox: Delecour on 2012 IRC duty

Silver fox: Delecour on 2012 IRC duty

Former WRC hero and revered asphalt ace François Delecour is getting ready to contest 17 events in 2013 at the wheel of a Kronos-run Peugeot 207 S2000.

Delecour has not strung a full season’s campaign together for a few years, but was rejuvenated by appearing in Romania during this year’s IRC. He will return with Romanian backing to compete on the whole FIA European Rally Championship schedule (formerly the IRC), together with selected rounds of Romania’s national championship.

WRF is looking forward to some choice Romanian action in 2013.

Yes, this is what success looks like…

Well it’s not often that a burnt-out car can be viewed as a symbol of success, unless you happen to be a rioter, but this husk of an ex-Loeb Citroën C4 WRC marks the rise of Robert Kubica’s international motor sport career like a phoenix from the flames (did you see what I did there?)

The absurdly talented Pole, still plagued with the legacy of injuries he suffered at the start 2011, took a whopping 80+ second lead from Freddy Loix’s Peugeot 307 WRC on the opening day of the Rallye du Var and built to a colossal 5 minute advantage of the the field before it all went a bit wrong. The result of Kubica’s prang was a written-off car with no damage to driver or co-driver – but a huge success in terms of how his skills and his comeback are being viewed at the top level of the sport.

Bravo, Robert – you deserve all the praise indeed.