Lappi leads the battle of the ERC Awesome Foursome
DAY REPORT: 2014 FIA European Rally Championship, round 10 of 11 - Rallye International du Valais (Switzerland)
Fri 24.10.14, 8:08PM
Esapekka Lappi can make it two wins out of two on Switzerland’s round of the FIA European Rally Championship – providing he makes it through Saturday’s longest leg unscathed in his ŠKODA Motorsport Fabia Super 2000.
Finn Lappi, one of four drivers in ERC title contention, holds a 23-second lead after 11 stages in the spectacular Swiss mountains. But with eight stages over a competitive distance of 135.62 kilometres remaining, the battle for ERC glory on Rallye International du Valais is far from over.
“We are leading and that’s very good but it’s still a long way to go and there are some gravel sections tomorrow,” said Lappi, who started the event in Sion yesterday with a 19-point title advantage. “The car has been working perfectly with no problems and the set-up and feeling are good. We are not driving in full attack so it’s okay.”
Lappi began day two trailing Michelin-shod team-mate Sepp Wiegand by 4.4s but capitalised on the German rookie’s lack of stage knowledge and struggles to find a consistent rhythm during the morning loop to move into top spot. And it would get worse for Wiegand when a front-left puncture on stage 10 dropped him outside of the podium places.
“One positive thing is we were able to drive on top in the European championship and show our speed,” said Wiegand, who is 1m16.2s behind Lappi in fourth overall. “The puncture was bad luck because it has dropped us down when we had the speed to be in the top.”
Kajetan Kajetanowicz is a strong second for the LOTOS Rally Team following an impressive display on his Valais debut. The Pole has only been out of the top three stage positions on two occasions today and was fastest of all on stage nine in his Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta R5. He’s 23.0s adrift of Lappi in second place with Craig Breen a fine third for Peugeot Rally Academy.
The Irishman, who like Lappi, Kajetanowicz and Wiegand can still win the ERC title, began day two in 20th position following a time-consuming puncture on Thursday’s closing test. But a succession of fastest stage times has enabled the 208T16 driver to fight back up to third place, despite a minor handbrake issue in the afternoon. However, it was a day to forget for his team-mate Kevin Abbring who dropped out of third place prior to Friday’s opening test with a mechanical failure (see below).
Swiss champion Sébastien Carron is the top local driver in fifth with compatriot Jonathan Hirschi in sixth. Robert Consani is on course for a useful haul of ERC points in seventh following an encouraging display. Olivier Burri is eighth after dropping time with an overshoot and stall on the first run through the Caserne superspecial. Jaromír Tarabus is ninth with Nicolas Althaus 10th. An exhaust manifold issue and front-right puncture on stage nine slowed Jaroslav Orsák. He’s 13th overnight, four places ahead of fellow Czech Antonín Tlusťák.
Florian Gonon leads the ERC Production Car Cup section after overnight leader Mark Higgins was forced to retire with driveshaft failure on his JRM Subaru WRX STI this morning. Laurent Reuche is the man to beat in ERC 2WD in his Renault Clio R3T, while Andrea Crugnola remains in charge in ERC Junior despite reporting an engine issue on Friday’s closing brace of stages.
Leg one recap: Wiegand on top after dramatic start
Sepp Wiegand took an early lead in the race for ERC glory following Thursday’s dramatic opening leg, which featured three stages. Driving a ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000, Wiegand reached the overnight halt in Sion 4.4s in front of team-mate Esapekka Lappi.
However, there was frustration for Peugeot Rally Academy duo Kevin Abbring and Craig Breen. Abbring was leading until a brake problem on stage three dropped him back to third, while Breen picked up a front-right puncture four kilometres from the start of the stage having won the previous test. While Abbring completed leg one a mere 6.3s off top spot, Breen was 1m17s down in 20th.
Ice and damp sections made for difficult driving conditions and forced the organisers to shorten the length of stage two to four kilometres due to safety concerns. Bruno Magalhães, running first on the road, came unstuck on a straight 300 metres from the start of stage one. And with his crashed Peugeot 208T16 blocking the road, the stage was delayed by more than 30 minutes to enable his car to be recovered.
Following a cautious run through the opening test, Breen was 10.8s off the lead when his hopes of victory suffered a major setback on stage three. “Some day my luck has to change,” said Breen. “It’s a corner I cut last year and in the recce then suddenly there was something there. The last stage was perfect but now I’ve got to pick myself up again.”
Olivier Burri was the top Swiss in fourth in a Ford Fiesta R5 with compatriot Jonathan Hirschi impressing on his second appearance in a 208T16. The ex-circuit racer is fifth, one place ahead of Swiss champion Sébastien Carron. Kajetan Kajetanowicz was second on stage two but his lowly road position of 12th – the result of a electrical problem in Qualifying – affected his chances on stage three when the road surface became increasingly slippery. The multiple Polish champion was seventh with Robert Consani eighth, Jaromír Tarabus ninth and Nicolas Althaus 10th.
Mark Higgins topped the ERC Production Car Cup category in his JRM Subaru WRX STI with Laurent Reuche holding first place in ERC 2WD on his debut in Renault’s all-new Clio R3T. Andrea Crugnola headed ERC Junior in a strong 16th overall.
Abbring: I had the pace for Swiss ERC victory
Kevin Abbring is in no doubt that he could have claimed his maiden ERC victory had it not been for his exit prior to stage four. Abbring had been a firm favourite for top honours in Switzerland before the start in Sion yesterday and underlined his promise by winning the opening test in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208T16. Although his lead of 2.3s after two stages had turned into a deficit of 6.3s at the overnight halt following a brake issue on stage three, he was confident of fighting back into first place during Friday’s second leg.
“We retired before the first stage on the road section,” Abbring explained. “We had some brake issues on the last stage yesterday. We tested the clutch afterwards and it was strong enough but something is wrong with the clutch. We had some issues to start the car this morning and the focus was on the engine. We don’t know if the brake issue caused the clutch problem.”
Dutchman Abbring has led on several occasions in the ERC this season but has been prevented from converting his potential, and that of his works-supported Peugeot, into solid results due to unfortunate mechanical issues. “I would have hoped for my first ERC victory here after my victory in Alsace,” said Abbring, who has confirmed that he and co-driver Seb Marshall are likely to restart on Saturday’s closing leg. “We would have had a decent lead after three stages if we didn’t have this issue so everything was going okay. It’s not up to us now. I just hope we can fight for the victory [on the next ERC round] in Corsica.”
Saturday’s leg is the longest of the three-day contest with a competitive distance of 135.62 kilometres scheduled. The itinerary includes the monster 32.13-kilometre Les Cols test at 12:10hrs local time. While Switzerland’s ERC counter is designated an asphalt event, there are some gravel sections including 29.90 kilometres on the final day, which begins with the 16.00-kilometre Champx-Lac run at 10:10hrs.
Sebastien Ogier takes advantage of his rivals' poor visibility to take one step closer to back-to-back titles
Fri 24.10.14, 6:06PM
Sébastien Ogier heads the leaderboard of RallyRACC Rally de España, the road sweeping effect at the front of the field proving to be less disadvantageous than hanging dust and poor visibility for his rivals in the opening day of gravel competition. Championship rival Jari-Matti Latvala has managed to climb to second, but crucially for Ogier his team-mate is nearly 40 seconds adrift and unless the Finn can claim more points in Spain than Ogier, the title fight will be over. A close third position is held by Citroën DS3 driver Mads Østberg.
The 50th edition of RallyRACC Rally de España got underway last night with a spectacular 3.20 kilometre street stage in the heart of Barcelona where Andreas Mikkelsen set the pace in front of a crowd of over 20,000. Rally de España is the only dual surface event on the calendar and today crews were faced with 138.54 competitive kilometres over predominantly gravel stages. While Championship leader Ogier would normally have been hampered opening the road, the Frenchman was able to power ahead while his rivals faced clouds of hanging dust in the still weather conditions. As such, he took the lead by the mid-day service after setting fastest time in the fourth stage. This afternoon conditions were much less tricky and the Frenchman ended the day with a handy 36.6 second advantage as the crews head into a weekend of asphalt stages. Latvala has had a difficult day, the Finn clueless as to his lack of pace on gravel. He has managed to climb from seventh to second, but the gap to Ogier is seemingly enough to ensure the Frenchman clinches back-to-back world titles in Spain. Østberg is only sixth-tenths of a second further adrift, the Norwegian having a great day in the DS3 WRC despite a spin in SS4 and then a loss of time in the final stage when he was caught in the dust of Thierry Neuville. But for that, and also getting stuck in Kris Meeke’s dust this morning, he would probably have been second overnight.
Battles throughout the top of the leaderboard and tight competition see Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Hirvonen also fighting for third. Mikkelsen has had an uneventful day and is just one-tenth of a second behind Østberg, while Hirvonen – who wasn’t comfortable with the set-up this morning – is only 4.1 seconds further behind. Robert Kubica holds sixth and local hero Dani Sordo is in a disappointing seventh, nearly 90 seconds off the lead. The Spaniard also had to make changes to the car at the mid-day service and ran better this afternoon but then dropped more time starting the penultimate stage late. Martin Prokop is eighth and Thierry Neuville went from hero to zero in the final stage when he got distracted by dust in the car, hit something and had to stop to change a puncture. He dropped from second to ninth after losing nearly two and a half minutes. Team-mate Hayden Paddon won stage three but had two punctures in the following stage, a spin and then another puncture in the final stage of the day. He is 14th overnight. The two leading retirements of the day were Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans. The Ulsterman won the first stage of the day but then two punctures in the following stage and only one spare meant he was forced into retirement. Evans was ultimately forced out when he went off the road and damaged the radiator.
RallyRACC Rally de España – Unofficial Results after Section 4
Thrilling finale of 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series in Baku
Blancpain Sprint Series - Round 7 - Baku World Challenge
Fri 24.10.14, 12:12PM
The prestigious Baku World Challenge forms the final round of the inaugural season of the Blancpain Sprint Series. By winning for the third time in Zolder Maximilian Götz has put one hand on the 2014 Drivers title, but Grasser Lamborghini drivers Hari Proczyk and Jeroen Bleekemolen are still in with a shot. They will have to close a 27-point gap on the Azeri street circuit, a task made more difficult by the added presence of several high-level GT-teams, which will fill all 30 places on the starting grid in Baku.
Three wins, one second place and every Qualifying or Main Race a points finish: Maximilian Götz has had an excellent run in the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series. With 34 points up for grabs on the streets of Baku (1 for pole position, 8 in the Qualifying Race and 25 in the Main Race) the 28-year-old German – who shared the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes with Maximilian Buhk at every round but one – is now very close to the title. However, one stroke of bad luck on the 3,864 km Baku street circuit could see his 27-point lead melt like snow in the sun. On the other hand, if Götz manages to finish in front of the Lamborghini of Proczyk and Bleekemolen in the Qualifying Race, he could clinch the title before the start of the Baku Main Race.
In the overall Teams Classification, it is already certain that the title fight will only be decided in the Main Race. HTP Motorsport has a 10-point lead over the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT – the various cars from the Belgian squad scored points in every race – but the Grasser Racing Team is still in the running as well. With a 21-point deficit, the Austrian team will need at least one podium finish to claim the teams’ title.
In the Silver Cup, victory in Zolder has given Belgian Audi Club Team WRT-drivers Vincent Abril and Mateusz Lisowski a comfortable lead on the eve of the final round of the 2014 season. Only ROAL Motorsport-pairing Fumanelli-Colombo could deny them the title (in both Drivers and Teams Classifications), but if Abril and Lisowski finish in front of the BMW-duo in the Qualifying Race, the die is cast.
With the Pro-Am title being decided at the Belgian round, Alessandro Latif and Marc Basseng can now fully focus on claiming a fifth Main Race win of the season.
Extra teams make for a full grid
Focussing on the win is something that plenty of teams participating in the Baku World Challenge will be doing. The attractive prize money (100.000 euro for the overall winning team, 50.000 for the second placed team, and 25.000 for the team third) has drawn the attention of plenty of top-notch GT-teams and drivers. Beechdean AMR and GT Russian Team were already present in Zolder to prepare for the Azeri season finale, but they will be joined by no fewer than seven teams that are new to the Blancpain Sprint Series. Two of them were present in some or all of the Blancpain Endurance Series races this year. Boutsen Ginion Racing will bring two McLaren MP4-12C to Baku, while Triple 888 Racing will enter a BMW Z4 in the Silver cup, for talented youngsters Ryan Ratcliffe and Joe Osborne.
Trackspeed from Great Britain enters a quick Porsche 997 GT3-R, just like German squad Schütz Motorsport. More German teams will be present, with Prosperia ABT racing (Audi R8 LMS ultra), Zakspeed (Mercedes SLS AMG GT3) and Callaway-RWT, who will bring two Corvette Z06 cars. That brings the total of prestigious car brands represented at the Baku World Challenge to eight.
Some Series’ regulars have also slightly altered their line-up – BMW Sports Trophy Teams Brazil and Schubert, together with Fortec Motorsports – bringing the total of Platinum drivers at the start of the Baku World Challenge to an astonishing 17. Add to that the 18 drivers with Gold status, and it is clear that the quality of racing at the Baku World Challenge will be of an unprecedented high level.
Buhk vs. Vanthoor for GT Series title
The Baku World Challenge also forms the final chapter of the inaugural Blancpain GT Series, the series that combines both Endurance and Sprint. Two drivers are still in the running for the title: Maximilian Buhk and the Blancpain Endurance Series Pro champion Laurens Vanthoor. The Belgian has scored 23 fewer points than the German, so if Buhk can extend that lead by two more points by the end of the Qualifying Race, the title will be his even before the start of the Main Race. In the team classification the situation is reversed, with the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT leading HTP Motorsport by 17 points. Unless the Audi squad takes pole and wins the Qualifying Race – with the Mercedes team scoring nul points in that first race of the weekend – this duel for the cheque of 100.000 euro will go to the wire.
Pitstop Challenge won by Phoenix Racing
One competition that has already been decided is the Pitstop Challenge. With the crew of each car earning points by the speed by which they execute their pitstop, the crew of the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi now has an unassailable lead over the crew of the #0 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brazil BMW, which is in second the standings. For their performance the Phoenix Racing crew will be handed the Pitstop Challenge Cup at the Prize Giving Ceremony on November 28th in London.