To Jan Kopecky: Vsechno nejlepsi k Tvym narozeninam!

I hope that means “happy birthday” in Czech. If it doesn’t, then that’s what I meant to say.  Straight to it then: why do I like Jan Kopecky?  Because…

I like saying his name. (I come from a country with names like Ricky Bobby.*  I’m a sucker for exotic names.)

um, how do I put this? …He’s hot.

he’s also an up-and-coming talent on tarmac. He placed 5th in Catalunya last year in a Skoda! He’s put in impressive performances to finish three more times in the top 8 since then. The full manufacturer’s outfit didn’t manage more than a 6th place** in a Fabia, ever.

Let’s hope he can keep driving until he really matures, maybe into a full works team one day. If he can take the Skoda Fabia, in a privateer team, all the way to the finish in 5th place, then he deserves better than a Skoda Fabia in a privateer team.

In his Fabia, Swedish Rally 2006

*Talledega Nights is hilarious–even more hilarious cuz we get to laugh at NASCAR’s expense.
**Alex Bengue, Tour de Corse 2005 and Jani Paasonen, Rally Finland 2004.

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January 31, 2007. Appreciation. Leave a comment.

A Big Happy Birthday to Becs Williams!

If you listen to World Rally Radio on wrc.com, then you may have noticed that I’m a devoted listener and fan. TV coverage is fun. But I’ve got to have the live splits, the stage-end interviews, and the latest updates. But what makes it is the hilarious, accent-infused banter between Becs, Chris, James and Colin. In my book, these guys are close to sainthood. And who is the glue that holds this barrel of monkeys together? Becs! The “Duchess of Rally.” Without this honey-voiced, flame-haired, Welsh goddess, the boys would run amok, jabber on about timing boards, and play obscure 80s bands all day.

So the next rally, send off an email to radio@wrc.com and tell Becs how much you appreciate her. She makes Rally Radio and World Rally an absolute joy.

January 31, 2007. Appreciation, Rally, Rally Radio, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Xevi Pons!

I know I’m backlogged on birthdays. That’s very bad, because a guy like Xevi Pons deserves a timely birthday wish!

Xevi has grown on me. For me, he started out as the out-classed teammate to Sebastien Loeb in the Kronos Citroen team. Then things went downhill, with the lackluster performances and the low: going beserk in the vineyards of Deutschland when Carlos del Barrio lost his place in the pacenotes. But he took a vacation, and when he came back in Japan, he was a new man! Happier, refreshed, and faster! I started calling him Happy Xevi. The last few rallies of the year saw him really shine, with top 5 finishes in the vacuum left by SuperSeb. He had to have loved it when he outpaced Sir Colin “Youngest, Famousest Rally Champion Ever” McCrae in Rally of Turkey, when the team didn’t even nominate him to score points. Must have felt a little like “BOO-YAH!” (That’s a Teen Titans reference, if you’re curious.)

I’m sure Mr. Pons is enjoying his 27th year of life, now that he has a drive in a Mitsubishi Lancer after the preseason scare of not having a drive at all. He even celebrated his 50th WRC start in Monte Carlo, with his new codriver Xavier Amigo. So let’s wish the two Xaviers a happy 2007 season.

January 31, 2007. Appreciation, Citroen, Mistubishi, Rally, WRC. Leave a comment.

Remembering Richard Burns

His 36th birthday would have been on January 17th, but cancer took one of the WRC’s most beloved drivers. If only I could have been there to see this amazing man become champion in 2001. But nothing thrills or scares me like Burn’s spectacularly sideways style. We miss him, but I think Jeremy Clarkson says it best.

Wales GB 2001 Talented and handsome too! Woohoo! We all do…

January 29, 2007. Appreciation, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, Subaru, WRC. Leave a comment.

Report: Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo 2007

There’s nothing like a season opener. It’s a fresh start for everyone. Everyone’s on zero points. Everyone has new goals in sight. And there are so many questions…

Seb Loeb is my favorite driver, and I was really worried about the new C4. Would it be fast? Would it be reliable? And on top of that, could his healing arm make it through the weekend? Would he be hampered by the fact that he hasn’t competed since Cyprus? Would Petter Solberg’s ridiculous run of bad luck finally end? How will the Subaru drivers take to their new BF Goodrich tyres? Would the Fords be able to continue their dominance? Would any of the “young guns” mature into a true contender? How well could Toni Gardemeister, Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg adapt to their new cars? How would the rally itself do in Valence?

Now, for some answers. Seb’s arm may not be 100%, but it was enough to win. The Citroen C4 is fast, but not too fast. Petter’s bad luck streak is still streaking. The BF Goodriches are working just fine, through they take some getting used to. The Fords still seem competitve, though the drivers don’t do too well on tarmac. Young gun Dani Sordo (scarily enough) already looks like he can win a tarmac rally this season. Mikko needs some waking up from the vacation. Toni, Manfred and Henning are still learning their cars and it shows. And finally, the roads in Valence are fine, but they need snow on them.

There are still lingering questions that the Monte couldn’t answer. Neither Marcus or Mikko ever do well here. Marcus hateshateshates Monte Carlo, so his season doesn’t start until Sweden (which is another specialized rally that doesn’t tell us how the cars will do on gravel). I think the C4 isn’t “so, so fast,” as Marcus said. It seems on par with the Focus’ pace, which is exciting. It means there will be tight battles between Marcus and Seb all year. It’s no fun when one car is light-years ahead of the others anyway.

Speaking of tight battles, how fun was Mikko and Atko’s fight for fourth position? (“Very fun” is the correct answer, in case you didn’t know.) They swapped position on every stage on the last leg, a 0.8s lead here, a 2.1s lead there. It all came down to the super special in none other than the F1 Grand Prix circuit in Monte Carlo. I’ll admit it–I jumped up and cheered when Atko took it by freakin’ 0.2 seconds. He somehow pulled out one second from his “disastrous”* ’06 Impreza S12 from Mikko’s championship-title-holding Ford. And the cherry on top was how generous Mikko was with his congratulations. He knows how to lose, and that’s what makes a true winner. I have a feeling it’s gonna be Mikko vs. Atko in the years to come. Very cool.

*Sez Mr. Nicky Grist himself. Harsh, but true.

January 26, 2007. Auto Racing, Citroen, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, WRC. Leave a comment.

Gigi Galli Update

Phew! My wish came true!

Gigi does have a drive this year! Not a full season, but we’ll see how things progress and if the Xsara suits him. Looks like he’ll be the only one running on Pirellis this year.

Here’s a link to the story on wrc.com.

January 18, 2007. Citroen, Rally, Rallying, WRC. 1 comment.

Buon Compleanno a Gigi Galli!

First Henning, then Gigi! It’s only the third week of January, and we’ve already celebrated the birthdays of two of the most energetic, crowd-pleasing rally drivers of all time.

So what makes Gigi so wonderful, you ask?

He’s so passionate about rallying, in a hot-blooded Italian way. If he drives a good stage, he’s exuberant. If he drives a bad stage, he gets worked up and angry at himself. It’s ‘cuz he cares!

He even lets it all hang out in his driving style. Always sideways, always flat out, always wild. Sideways with a capital S.

Even his car makes me laugh. The ’05 Mitsubishi made these squeaky noises that might be the turbo wastegate (anyone know exactly?), but actually are laughing chipmunks.

And his 2006 car was banana yellow! But he man can pull it off. He owns that yellow.

His boyish charm. Wearing his heart on his sleeve gives him a child-like openness about him–he still makes funny faces at the camera.

The incident in 2005’s Rally Catalunya, when he set the fastest stage time (beating Seb Loeb!) and then drove his Lancer past the timing boards and off the cliff. The irony was that he was fourth overall because he technically completed the stage, but his car was stuck between a ledge and destruction.

It’s rather endearing that his English isn’t too good. He struggles to find the right word, but ends up choosing something odd or something half-English, half-Italian.

Funny fact: he used to ski competitively as a child. But (more irony here) he quit because he had no car for transportation to the competitions.
And how he can break his codriver’s nose in an “only in rally” moment in Sardinia, and still be lovable. He was really sorry! Plus, Giovanni Bernacchini seemed to take it all in stride.

Speaking of taking things in stride, he doesn’t stop trying, despite all these Solberg-like, freaky moments of bad luck. Even when Mitsubishi abruptly pulled out of the WRC, in a move that Gigi described as “a knife in the heart.”

We can thank him for one of the most exciting battles all season. 2006 Swedish Rally against teammate Daniel Carlsson. It was crazy.

It was so refreshing that, after getting his first podium in the 2006 Rally Argentina, it looked like he had no idea what to do. (Do I go this way? When do I step up to the podium…oh, now?) And then he dumps champagne down Seb’s back like a pro.

I really, really, really want to see more of Gigi in the WRC. Autosport has reported that he’ll contest the IRC (International Rally Challenge–a new, cheaper FIA-sanctioned tier that’s meant to be a direct training ground for WRC hopefuls). But Gigi is clearly worthy of World Rally, not the kid stuff. Can someone get the man some sponsors here?

Win the stage, wreck the car. Oops. Giving Seb a champagne shower

On top of a table AND kicking a ball. Odd. Courteous much? Turn signal on stage.

January 17, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Mistubishi, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Caroline Escudero!

Here’s a little birthday shoutout to one of the two female codrivers in the WRC. Caroline, of course, sits beside former French Rally champion Alex Bengue. Though they only appeared twice in 2006, they placed 4th in Catalunya and 5th in Corsica. Along with her professionalism and skill, we could also credit her entire family, who were at the end of the stages at both rallies cheering her on. Hooray for the whole Escudero clan!

January 15, 2007. Appreciation, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Extra Big Happy Birthday to Henning Solberg!

How can you even begin to describe the glory that is Henning Solberg? First off, you’ve got to love

…his name. Sometimes, I randomly say, “Henning” because it makes me happy inside.

…his driving style that one could describe as “destructive.” Fans describe it as “spectacular” and “crowd-pleasing.” No one can roll a car like our beloved Henning.

…his orange car. Orange!

…his friendly-sounding Norwegian accent. He’s a friendly guy, period. Look how nice he is to the koala.

…he’s silly, yet fiercely competitive. See how he tries in vain to ride Manfred Stohl’s unicycle? Or how he and Petter turn Christmas into PS2/remote control car deathmatches?

…he’s just a fun character. A normal person is shell-shocked and frustrated when they roll their $500,000 rally car. Henning laughs.

…he also has strong character. He doesn’t give up. He turns these rolls and mistakes into reasons why his fans love him so much.
Finally, let’s reminisce of Henning’s most “interesting” moments of 2006.

1. First and foremost, his huuuge roll in Sweden. Fate decides to play another joke on a Solberg, and dumps a carload of snow into the car. Then, after fans finally push his car right-side-up, he can’t see through his pulverized windscreen. Henning tries sticking his head out the window, dog style, until codriver Cato Menkarud kicks it out entirely (shoving his rear end into the onboard cameras). And don’t ask me how they managed to drive the rest of the stage with snow flying into their eyeballs. Especially when the really huge chunks were flying in off of the bonnet at first. And Henning’s reaction at stage end? “I rolled the car! Hehehe…sorry for that!”

2. Hot water spraying onto his face and feet in Cyprus.

3. Hot water spraying onto his feet in New Zealand.

4. Rolling the car (again) in New Zealand. Losing the windscreen (again). And driving through a couple stages in the driving rain. Rain? Snow? The only thing he’s missing now is hail.

5. The big crash in Australia. The crash mowed down ten trees and left him 30 meters off the road. But he bounced back for New Zealand.

6. The first stage win in Argentina, that he shared with brother Petter. “My first stage win, that’s good….I’ve got to share everything with my brother…but not my wife!

7. The first podium in Turkey. Big, big smiles–and it wasn’t because he rolled the car!

8. Setting some of the fastest stage times…without brakes! How…?

9. His duet with Colin Clark of Aha’s “Take on Me.” Maybe not so great, but memorable.

10. His very sideways showboat drive through Cyprus’ spectator stage. Topped off with a donut. He’d risk a three-rally ban, just to entertain us fans.

Oh, the grand adventures of Henning Solberg. Many more outrageous moments to come, I’m sure. He’s Henning, after all. All our love, mate. And maybe he loves us too.

Henning likes koalas! A very wet watersplash First podium in Turkey 2006

January 15, 2007. Appreciation, Ford, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Solberg, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. 1 comment.

Happy Birthday, Miki Biasion!

Since I was just a kid when Mr. Biasion was winning championships, I don’t know much about his career. But the stats just floor me. In 1988, he won all but 2 rallies he entered. Then, in 1989, he won every rally he entered but one! I’m obviously missing out.

But good luck to him–he’s spending his birthday rollicking around the rugged dirt roads of the Dakar Rally.

So do some reminiscing and leave your memories of Miki in a comment.

January 8, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Dakar Rally, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Dakar Rally

Heads up: the Dakar Rally started today. If you’re in the US, you can find a 30 minute highlights show every day on Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network). Among the entries are Bruno Saby, Freddy Loix, Nasser Al-Attiyah, and rally legends Markku Alen, Carlos Sainz, Ari Vatanen, and Miki Biasion. Yowza, what an entry list!

If you don’t know what the Dakar is, it’s basically a weeks-long rally (race) in the African desert. It’s insane, it’s extreme, and it’s got rally gods coming out of retirement to drive. Kinda nice.

Here are links to the story and the official site.

January 7, 2007. Auto Racing, Dakar Rally, Motorsport, News, Rally, Rallying, Sports. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Jarmo Lehtinen!

Time to show some lovin’ to the codriver to Mikko Hirvonen. Or rather, Mikko Hirvonen is the driver for Jarmo Lehtinen. He turned 38 on January 3rd, so our gift to him is some gushy appreciation.

Why do we love Jarmo? Because

…he always puts in a flawless performance as one of the world’s best codrivers.

…he reads those pacenotes with such energy!

…he always has a genuine smile on his face. He seems like a great guy.

…it’s wonderful to see the true friendship he has with Mikko. They really entertain whenever they appear on AXN’s Shakedown. Like when he made a green plastecine snowman that symbolized how much he believes in Mikko’s potential. (“That’s Mikko, on the podium, on Sunday!”)

…along with Mikko, he’s really risen to the occasion after landing the works drive at Ford in 2006. If I were to put money on something in the WRC, it’d be that Jarmo and Mikko will be world champions one day.

“That’s Mikko, on the podium, on Sunday!”   Putting cheeky Mikko in his place

January 6, 2007. Appreciation, Ford, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Creative Zen Vision:M

I just got the Creative Zen Vision:M video/mp3 player and it’s pretty sweet. It’s the only player out there that’s DivX and XVid compatible (that I could find) and that means that my rally videos get to come with me, wherever I go. Score! It’s rather thick, but the video playback is beautiful–it seems almost HD quality, even with not-so-perfect video captured from TV. And man, does Climb Dance look good in the palm of my hand!

I think that’ll be my only product plug, ever. Other than the official Subaru keychain of Petter Solberg’s 2005 Impreza–that’s a great product too. Go get one and be (superficially) happy.

January 6, 2007. Reviews. Leave a comment.

Rally Animals: Cows

We all know it’s the human beings that make rallying happen, but sometimes other species want in on the action. This is part one of a series of…not really shout outs, but featurettes that will examine the impact (pun not intended) that wildlife has had on the rallying. Because what is the WRC if there’s not something crazy going on?

First up: COWS!

As previously posted, the most recent bovine incident occurred in New Zealand when Takuma Kamada and Denis Giraudet found a cow in the road. Or, as the normally very gentlemanly Mr. Giraudet put it, the “big milky thing.” But these two got away without a scratch.

The cow that met Sebastien Loeb’s Xsara in 2005’s Rally Argentina wasn’t so lucky. But it’s in cow heaven now.

Goodbye, cow.

Another Spanish-speaking cow tried to take Seb out in 2006 in Mexico on leg two. But the real problem was the whole herd of cows that got in Chris Atkinson’s and (famously) Manfred Stohl’s way. I’ll let Manfred tell the story. Then, the part we didn’t hear: apparently, STI’s George Donaldson thought the whole thing was a hoot. He found out the next driver had indeed hit that leetle cow and killed it, and took it upon himself to tell Manfred. Manfred told George, “No, you don’t understand. My wife is going to have a baby, and I was thinking of the mommy cow.” Aw, that is tragic! Here’s the doomed cow family:

Poor leetle cow and his mommy cow!

On a lighter note, I thought I’d mention the random rally cows from Eurosport’s 2005 Tour de Corse coverage, just because. They were just hanging out behind a fence, chewing their cud and sniffing the camera. Unfortunately, I can’t find them, but if I do, I’m sharing a picture of them with the world!

That’s all the cows I can think of right now. I know I’m missing tons of cowy moments, so if you know of any, gimme a holla.

January 5, 2007. Animals, Auto Racing, Citroen, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, Sports, WRC. 2 comments.

Why I Love Rally, Reason #11

I love that the competition, when you boil it down, is only against the clock. If you can set the fastest time, you win. The drivers aren’t held up by other drivers like they are in circuit racing. It’s about pure speed, technique, bravery, maturity and commitment (and luck).

And it’s also about doing their best with the trials that get thrown at them. The best drivers adapt, push through them and just carry on. When the rally’s done, excluding mechanical failure, the driver can only look to himself for the answers.

I guess I like the statement it makes about life. We don’t need to elbow everyone out of our path in order to feel that we’ve succeeded. We do our best, and we can be happy with that. On that note, have a wonderful new year.

Podium - Rally Finland 2006

January 2, 2007. Rally, Rallying, Why I Love Rally, WRC. Leave a comment.