Thoughts: MexicoArgentinaJordan

I’m in a rush! Rally d’Italia Sardegna starts in an hour and a half, and dangit, I’m posting something before it starts!

I wasn’t really motivated to post anything after Mexico and Argentina, because there was so little to chew on. What can I analyze when Sebastien Loeb easily wins another rally over three other drivers? There were some interesting bits though. There have been plenty of swappage in the leaderboards this year and in the championship standings. But I chalk it up to the high attrition rates and scant entry lists of the rock-strewn, long-haul rallies.

My quick rundown of the drivers looks like this:
Seb Loeb: Lady Luck is done with the honeymoon phase and is treating him like any other driver. He wins AND loses. But he’s mostly winning.
Mikko Hirvonen: He’s getting out of a funk–the kind of funk you get into when someone steals your thunder. That someone being…
Jari-Matti Latvala: He’s young, he’s exciting, he’s sometimes faster than Loeb. But he’s a good boy and listens to his Ford bosses, cuz he’s in this for a career and not a quick thrill. Can we say “rallying’s Lewis Hamilton?”
Chris Atkinson: His brain is wired to be a champion. He may have scored three podiums in a row, but he’s not exactly happy. He’s only happy if he’s winning. Atko also reminds me of Lewis Hamilton in that sense: genial personality, but kind of a drag when he’s not atop the podium.
Dani Sordo: He’d be more exciting if he weren’t so boring. Match that driving ability with a more fun personality, and he’d break through to the level of Latvala.
Gigi Galli: Sardinia, please give him the lucky break that he deserves. Have mercy on your own kin!
Petter Solberg: Running out of excuses why he’s not faster than Atko. At least he’s complaining less and seeing the silver lining on a very black cloud that looks like his car. But I’d love it if the new Impreza were good and he won a rally this year.
Henning Solberg: Where’s the exuberant Henning that we all fell in love with two years ago? I hope he’s not fading away. Maybe he can regain that infectious energy and speed in time to compete against Petter in his new Impreza. That’d make for great stories in the Norwegian press.
Matthew Wilson: He’s still here. Driving. Finishing well when everyone else retires. Same ol’, same ol’.
Special mention: Sebastien Ogier. The J-WRC is usually a group of young pretenders to the throne, hoping to step up to greater things. Ogier doesn’t hope. He will.

Lastly, it was fascinating to see tactics play out on day two of Rally Jordan (which was a great rally, by the way, newcomer or not). Poor Dani Sordo was left to sweep the road when the Ford boys dropped time on the last kilometer of the last stage. Mikko reached a new level of cheeky when he declared, “my foot slipped off the throttle.” I laughed so hard!

PS: Rally Radio is as great as ever, but where are the live split times? Whoever took them away, you stole the wind in my rally sail. It was so much more fun with split times to digest.

Yes! I made it. Sardinia doesn’t start for another hour. Whew!

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May 15, 2008. Ford, Funny Quotes, Rally, Rally Radio, Rally Reports, Rallying, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, Thoughts, WRC. 3 comments.

Rally Report: Swedish Rally 2008

Now, things are interesting, aren’t they? For anyone (including me) who thought that the year was just going to be Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen winning every rally, I am pleased to say that Jari-Matti Latvala has just stolen the show.

A lot of Jari-Matti fans have been vindicated surprisingly early. We loved him, sure. Admired his speed. Enjoyed his enthusiasm. But we didn’t think we’d cheer him on to a victory in the second rally of 2008! It’s like Christmas in January: who cares if it’s early, I’m taking the presents! Anyway, he’s already been praised the world over for his drive, his maturity and his ability to handle the pressure at the record age of 22.* So instead, I’m just going to end his paragraph with a “wooooooooo!”

Mikko was the man people expected to win. But when, in all three days, he could only muster enough speed to win one stage out of twenty, we’ve all got to wonder why that was. Jari-Matti had an advantage in the first day’s running order, but I don’t think anyone can fully explain why Mikko couldn’t keep up in the same car. But at least he stayed on the road, which is more than you could say for Seb.

Gigi Galli on the podium! Another “wooooooooo!” So well deserved. Gigi’s been through a lot, struggling to dig up sponsors when they should have come begging to him. Happy day.

Petter Solberg’s fourth-place finish is a good sign. Even in a lame-duck car that’s proven to be so crappy, he finished with a solid five points in the championship. Maybe it’s luck, but maybe David Richards was able to whip the Subaru WRT into shape enough to squeeze some decent reliability in the ol’ S12B. Like him or not, DR is a rare character along the lines of Bernie Ecclestone who can produce results from simple tenacity and force.

Marcus Gronholm-tutored Andreas Mikkelsen has proven to be a good investment of time by the former world champ. Perhaps it was a fifth place benefited from many retirements and problems for his competitors, but hey. Andreas set some great times. The important thing is that he has potential and he’s young. Plenty of time to learn.

Dani Sordo finished in a fine sixth place, despite the five-minute time penalty incurred as a result of an engine change after Monte. And, as it’s been pointed out, he would have been on the podium if you subtracted those five minutes from his time. But what I find most impressive is the vast improvement from the torrid time he’s had on snow rallies before. I’d almost given up hope for him on snow, but I have no problem being proven wrong here.

Toni Gardemeister, or should I say the Suzuki SX4, ended up in seventh. Kinda good. Kinda not, considering he’s the last WRC car in the standings before you count the PWRC and the WRC drivers with severe problems. Ten minutes behind the leader isn’t where one would normally like to be (just ask Toni), but this is where the seasoned 32 year-old needs to show his patience and wisdom and plod through the developmental phase of the SX4.

Others who didn’t finish so well:
Henning Solberg was doing so well, until he crashed and banged up poor Cato Menkerud’s shoulder. Next time…
Seb Loeb still isn’t able to stop the unsettling trend of making mistakes. Or maybe it’s not so much a trend as it is normalcy. I came into rallying in the Mr. Perfect season of 2005, so I’ve never even witnessed Seb rolling his car.
Atko really needs to step up his game. With two of his fellow “young guns” already notching up victories, he’s got to do something spectacular to avoid being labeled as a “could’ve been.”

Also deserving of an honor: Malcolm Wilson. He’s the smartest team principal in the service park. He has gathered all of the most entertaining drivers of the WRC under the Ford wing–Mikko, Henning, Jari-Matti, and now Gigi. Lucky for him, they all happen to be great drivers capable of as much speed as they are character. His management is definitely praiseworthy. But really, maybe he just has a brain. Any WRC fan would’ve signed these drivers ages ago!

On a final note, I’ve been doing more to save energy and recycle. Because when global warming raises sea levels, kills polar bears, AND melts the Swedish Rally, then we’ve really got a problem.

*On Rally Radio, which again did a marvelous job covering every stage, unleashing James upon an unsuspecting Sweden. Much love!

February 18, 2008. Ford, Motorsport, Rally Reports, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Thoughts: 2007 Rally Ireland

Ah, Thanksgiving…I’m tired and pumped full of tryptophan, but I finally have a moment to wax philosophical about Rally Ireland.

There has been so much anticipation coming into Rally Ireland. The top two teams sent their drivers out to Irish Tarmac Championship events to prep for the big show, while awestruck local fans were out to rally support for their sport (see the pun there?). We’ve had new events that were buzz-worthy, but the level of enthusiasm from the hearts of Irish rally fans made this event extra special for me. But I knew, I knew that it would be mayhem. The roads were narrow, bumpy, wet, and muddy–and there was no way that even the top drivers would come out unscathed.

First, Marcus Gronholm. His long-time lead in the points would have become a championship title if he had finished here in second, and had won Wales GB (which he could have easily done). But a bad crash ended his advantage, and become even more disconcerting when Marcus fainted and began to lose his memory of it. It fills me with genuine worry when one of our superheroes is in any way hurt. Best of wishes to Marcus.

Victory, then, went to Sebastien Loeb. It was never too assured, though. Sardinia and Japan have shown us that the number one car is not as infallible as before. Broken rear suspension on Friday’s first loop opened the door for others, with Dani Sordo taking the lead for a short time. But having two Irish events under him already, Seb managed to stay steady on the road and ahead of everyone else. And if he has a reasonable finish in GB, then the title is again his.

Dani Sordo, the second-place finisher, did well to prove his star hasn’t faded after the string of disappointing finishes this year. The “wonderboy” status may have worn off, but he cannot be discounted yet. The kid’s now got 11 podiums to his credit.

Jari-Matti Latvala! This kid gets me excited thinking of his future. At the tender age of 22, he’s already had five years of world rallying behind him and he’s poised to truly become a podium contender. While Matthew Wilson is still on a “five year plan” to develop his skills, Jari-Matti is about to graduate. His first-ever podium is well-deserved, even amidst the attrition in this rally.

Mikko Hirvonen is an ambitious man. When he’s not on the podium, he sounds rather glum. But his efforts have secured Ford’s second consecutive manufacturer’s championship, though I’d give more credit to Malcolm Wilson’s managerial superpowers. Ford really hasn’t erred this year, even when the normally perfectly-polished Citroen team has seen a string of mechanical failures.

Speaking of beleaguered manufacturers, Petter brought in his Subaru Impreza in to fifth place. It’s got to be depressing for them, when even a catastrophe-free weekend only netted a fifth-best in a field already pared down by crashes. The changes being made by David Richard’s iron fist has got to address this. For Petter’s sake.

Side note: Henning Solberg’s unexpected meeting with a tree at the end of day one meant he finished well out of the points. But the poor guy was without his trusty codriver Cato Menkerud, who was at home with his family and newborn baby. However, he emailed Rally Radio to say hi and to request a song to show his affection for Henning: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John. Oh, my.

Wales GB is but a week away, so we will see a new champion in a few days. It is by no means already decided. Seb has never won GB, and wasn’t competing there in 2006, so it could all go awry for him. So one more rally to go before the season’s over and we can all take a bit of a break. Good! If I had to do both all-night rallies and Christmas, I would collapse.

Jari-Matti covered in mud Dani Sordo - Ireland 2007
Seb Loeb - Ireland 2007 Malcolm Wilson doused in champagne

November 23, 2007. Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, WRC. Leave a comment.

Thoughts: Rallye Deutschland Days 2 & 3

What a great weekend of rallying! I don’t want to ramble on too long, so here are the final results and some thoughts:

1 – Sebastien Loeb
2 – Francois Duval   +20.3
3 – Mikko Hirvonen   +1:19.1
4 – Marcus Gronholm   +1:36.5
5 – Jan Kopecky  +3:07.1
6 – Petter Solberg   +3:14.7
7 – Toni Gardemeister  +3:37.5
8 – Jari-Matti Latvala   +5:29.3

Francois Duval really surprised me this weekend. In his recent appearances, he’s retired quite quickly, usually due to his own error. Not only has he finished the rally, he’s won all of the stages on leg 3 and finished within 20 seconds of the undisputed master of German tarmac, Seb Loeb.

I was watching highlights of some classic rallies from the 90’s, when team orders decided the results of a few controversial rallies. So, when Marcus went off on the very last stage of the rally after being distracted by a cow, team orders were my first thought. Would Ford boss Malcolm Wilson order Mikko to incur a time penalty so that Marcus could gain an extra point in the drivers’ standings? All credit due to Malcolm, there were no such orders. Marcus’ error was entirely his own fault (you can’t blame the freedom-loving cow).  On principle, it would have been entirely unfair to Mikko to cede his own hard-fought position. In the press, it would have stirred controversy and left a blemish on the whole rally. I think that was a very gentlemanly thing for Malcolm to do (or not do). Anyway, Mikko gets very cheeky and headstrong, and I’m not sure he would have obeyed had he received them.

Classifieds: Young Czech needs drive for 2008 season. Would prefer competitive car. Can deliver results. Tarmac specialist. Learning quickly on gravel. Please contact Jan Kopecky.

I’d like to close with an *airhorn blast* in honor of Seb’s victory. Woo!

You could see Duval’s overalls from space!  Seb on an awkward hairpin

August 20, 2007. Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Thoughts, WRC. Leave a comment.

Thoughts: 2007 Acropolis Rally and Procrastination

It’s Thursday now, for most of the world, and I am now posting my thoughts on a rally that ended Sunday. I could ramble on about procrastination and my excuses, but this is a blog about rally, not a blog about feelings. But we do have a two month (*involuntary shudder*) break, so there’s plenty of time to stew over the Acropolis Rally and the first half of the season.

First off, day one was crazy awesome! The competition all weekend was amazing. Petter taking a position from Seb? Atko took Gronholm’s lead?! That says it all.

That’s the first podium with all three of the Big Three since Argentina 2005. I hope Marcus is happy. Happy enough to stay around for 2008. I think a points deficit during the summer break would have tipped the scales toward retirement. Now, he’s got a nine point lead. That’s even more than he’d been planning for. He needs a big buffer zone to hold off Loeb in the four upcoming tarmac events.

Seb wasn’t fastest. I have to take a moment to let that compute. He wasn’t a match for Marcus all weekend. He’s got a lot to do if he wants to catch up and win his fourth consecutive world title. I hope all the ad campaigns and photo shoots aren’t affecting his concentration.

This will sound odd, but my gut is pretty much 100% correct in predicting Petter Solberg’s rally. In last year’s Rally Australia, I literally knew from day one that Petter would have a great result. From Monte to Sardinia, I could feel that Petter would have bad luck or make mistakes. On Friday, I made a prediction to myself: Petter would have problems, but they’d be non-terminal and he’d have a decent finish near the top. I’m psychic! But only in Petter-related matters.

That’s also only the 2nd rally this year that Mikko hasn’t finished in the top three (counting Rear Windowgate). Mikko recovered well from Saturday’s scary off. He looked a bit rattled after it, but has driven the rest of the rally without any problems or wariness. I think they call that maturity. 🙂

I think Jari-Matti is the Wonderboy of the season, like Dani was last year. He’s new, fresh-faced, quick and exciting. His poor results nearly matches Matthew Wilson’s, but he’s got talent that nearly matches the top drivers. At least when he crashes out, he does it while going very fast.

Subaru finishes with two cars in the top six. That’s a big step for them. Henning kind of wasted his momentum; he’d done well in Sardinia and does score a 5th place here, but his drive has been rather uninspiring and forgettable. Dani, if he’d had a working gearbox, would’ve done great. He’s been setting good, if not excellent, times. Jan Kopecky in his little Skoda finishes in a fine 7th place. That’s ahead of the Citroen Xsara of Manfred Stohl. Not bad. Poor Manfred though. He must have expected a much faster car when he signed with Kronos.

So the first half of the season ends and the two month break begins, with many questions raised and left unanswered. Is this the beginning of Seb’s decline? Has this win inspired Marcus enough to keep him driving for another year? Is the Impreza really going to be quick and reliable from here on out? Is Jari-Matti going to keep wowing the judges? Will Henning or Atko ever string two good rallies together? Has Dani found his groove and gotten to grips with gravel? How will anyone survive this rally without mousse inserts next year? Will Petter keep his goatee? Does anyone in the world know the answers? Nope! Bring on the angst.

Phil’s super happy too! Henning’s Focus plays in the dirt

June 6, 2007. Citroen, Ford, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, Thoughts, WRC. Leave a comment.

Rally Animals: Sheep

The WRC seems to gravitate toward countries with high concentrations of sheep. And in a place like Wales or New Zealand, where there are more sheep than people, well… the law of averages means it’s inevitable for rally car and wool to meet.

Rally New Zealand 1997: the infamous encounter between Carlos Sainz, Luis Moya and Mr. Sheep.

The story goes that an itty-bitty Matthew Wilson was permanently scarred by the shreds of meat on the Escort coming into service. Apparently, it was both the sight and smell, as the engine was hot enough to barbeque the mutton. 😛

Lamb chops, anyone?

May 29, 2007. Animals, Auto Racing, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Sports, WRC. Leave a comment.

Only In Rally #3

When Gareth MacHale came into the end of the stage* with a few meters of barbed wire trailing behind the car…with the wooden posts still attached!

No pictures, unfortunately, but I’ve got a picture of him plowing through a pile of bricks.

A section of fencing, a ditch full of bricks–these rally cars take a pounding and keep on going!

Gareth McHale vs the bricks

*2007 Rally Mexico, SS9

April 19, 2007. Ford, Motorsport, Only In Rally, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Jari-Matti Latvala!

 It’s so exciting to see new talent emerge. I say “new,” but this now-22-year-old Finn has been rallying on the world scene since he was 17. Keeping on with WitWR tradition, here’s a rundown of why I like Jari-Matti.

His name. I say this for everyone, but he truly has an exceptionally awesome name. Jari-Matti Latvala. It just rolls off the tongue.

Great driving. He can post outstanding stage times–top three times, and even a stage win in Norway.

His exuberant personality. He loves to talk, and I love to listen. I was quite thoroughly enchanted with his “21 Fabulous Facts about Jari-Matti Latvala” feature on Rally Radio for his 21st birthday. I learned he has scrambled eggs for breakfast, was an officer in the Finnish military, he’s a natural blonde, and he swims naked in Finland (TMI!).

He is so driven to succeed. It gets him in trouble, sure, but every driver must pass through that phase of their career before they “make it.”

He’s got nerd-chic, yellow-tinted driving glasses.

All in all, he’s a likeable guy who’s a character. I’m sure he’s aiming to win world championships one day, and he’s got a seat in the Stobart VK Ford Focus that will help get him there. In a few years, it’ll be him against Mikko, Atko, Dani, Travis and maybe Andreas Mikkelsen. Jari-Matti is the future. So good luck to him!

Jari-Matti in Monte Carlo 2007     Very cool glasses.

April 13, 2007. Appreciation, Ford, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Toni Gardemeister!

This birthday wish may be horribly late, but it’s here, isn’t it? Here we go then–why is Garde so great?

Because he’s a very talented driver. He had very solid results in 2005 in his factory drive with Ford. Without a works team in 2006, he still drove like hell and scored a podium and three other top 5 finishes. All in a four-year-old Xsara with a shoestring budget.

Because he’s Finnish. Complete with the accent and the ability to swear in very long beeps.

Because he’s got a great name. Anyone remember Meisterburger Burgermeister from the Rankin-Bass movie “Santa Clause is Coming to Town”? Yeah. Like that: Meistergarde Gardemeister.

Because it’s funny how he sticks his tongue out when he’s really concentrating.

Because even his privateer car has great livery on it. I like the Koti Idea spots.

Except for the early 2006 car, which looked like it had hit a family of alphabets and they were still clinging to his hood.

And because he hasn’t given up. He placed fourth in the championship in 2005, then was dropped by Ford in favor of Mikko Hirvonen. But he’s been trying extremely hard to gather sponsors and to do events. He hasn’t disappointed. He finishes consistently and displays truckloads of passion for the sport. He thoroughly deserves a stable drive, but this difficult period has also helped him. It has reinvigorated him to drive with more purpose and determination to prove his talent. I really do hope it pays off.

Toni’s lookin’ good.    Poor family of alphabets.    Toni going bumperless

April 12, 2007. Appreciation, Citroen, Ford, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Another bumper gone for Henning.

 Bye bye, bumper. We knew thee well.

But that’s only the second (that I know of) this season, not counting the huge roll in Mexico.

April 4, 2007. Ford, Rally, Rally Reports, Solberg, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. Leave a comment.

Thoughts: 2007 Rally de Portugal

Not a bad rally, eh? I haven’t been around long enough to remember the original, but it was enjoyable, and certainly interesting. Here are my thoughts on my first Rally de Portugal.

Honestly, this rally is better than Cyprus or Turkey. The drivers think so too. Petter said that some of the stages are the most difficult he’s seen in his entire career. It’s also got heritage, a massive home fan base, and a sense of excitement.

The big news is the post-event scrutineering. The rear side windows were found to be non-homologated parts (who checks the thickness of a rear side window anyway?) so all six Ford drivers were handed five minute penalties. That changes the rally results to:
1st – Sebastien Loeb
2nd – Petter Solberg
3rd – Dani Sordo
4th – Marcus Gronholm
5th – Mikko Hirvonen
6th – Daniel Carlsson
7th – Gigi Galli
8th – Jari-Matti Latvala
9th – Manfred Stohl
I’m really shocked. Rules are rules, but that seems like a huge waste of a weekend’s worth of driving. Kinda puts a damper on the whole event.
Well, that’s victory number 31 for Sebastien Loeb. Another good battle, won mostly on leg 2 because of Seb’s uncanny ability to choose the correct tyres and look after them. And, apparently, the ability to keep his windows at their homologated thickness.

Marcus has proven he is still very, very fast compared to Loeb. He would still leading the driver’s championship if the penalty weren’t given. The 2006 Focus is still competitive against the 2007 C4. So Marcus–please, please, please don’t retire!

Speaking of C4’s, Dani Sordo’s 5th/3rd place finish impressed me. His speed was only behind that of the “Big Three” and Mikko Hirvonen, all of whom have much more experience and expertise on gravel. He’s showing that he’s improving on the loose stuff, which is exactly what he needs to be world champion one day.

Everyone else seemed to be struggling, in the car and emotionally. Manfred Stohl finished in 10th/9th and couldn’t make any impact in his Xsara. Neither could Carlsson for most of the rally. And Gigi was just stymied as to how the top guys could be going so fast. He put in 1000% and still ended up 1 second per kilometer slower than the leaders. Gee, the Xsara was just magic in the hands of Seb and Dani.
The only other guy to have a decent run was Jari-Matti. He set a couple third-fastest stage times and would’ve finished 6th.

And finally, the award for the most depressed driver of the week goes to Henning Solberg. Normally, he’s got the most cheer and chuckles than anyone in town. But after stage one, I couldn’t even recognize his voice, it was so disappointed and devoid of energy. I guess he’s taking more time to find the feeling with the Focus than he’d like, but he shouldn’t be so sad! Send a warm fuzzy from your heart to his, in hopes he’ll be back to his normal Henning-y self by Argentina.

April 2, 2007. Auto Racing, Citroen, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Subaru, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, Thoughts, WRC. 1 comment.

Thoughts: 2007 Rally Mexico

Aqui hay mis pensamientos/locuras acerca de Rally Mexico:

The drivers’ championship is shaping up to be a good fight. Seb’s still got 4 points to make up on Marcus. With both drivers consistently finishing either 1st or 2nd, they’ll have to duke it out for each victory, gaining or losing 2 points at a time. But the Finn seems to be losing his motivation lately–the “sacred fire” within. (As coined by Stephane Lambiel, the reigning world champion in men’s figure skating, who abruptly quit when he just didn’t feel like skating anymore. I shudder to think that’ll happen with Marcus. And yes, I love both rallying and figure skating.)

Travis Pastrana! It’s weird yet wonderful to hear an American accent on the world rally scene! What a welcome addition! Such enthusiasm! And yes–every sentence ends in an exclamation point! Cuz Travis is awesome!

Mikko Hirvonen is quite the ambitious one, isn’t he? He’s got a taste of what it’s like to be on top, and he ain’t resting until he’s winning all the time. Headstrong, yes. But his mischievous sense of humor and boyish antics make him oh-so-loveable.

I’m so relieved to see Seb win. Norway was his worst finish since 2002 (!) and I was afraid he had lost his groove. All drivers eventually do. But what was I thinking? It’s Super Seb, and he hasn’t finished his reign just yet.

Another big sigh of relief for the Subaru WRT. The Impreza S12B is fast! And it’s only an interim car until the 2008 Impreza S14 arrives. Chris Atkinson said he could drive normally now, instead of taking risks like a madman just to keep up with the field. What a novel idea!

The second finish in a row for Jari-Matti Latvala–is this a sign of growing consistency? It’s a good step for him.

Also impressive was Dani Sordo. He finished in fourth last year also. He’s a circuit-racing-bred tarmac specialist, but he’s coming to grips with the sandy stuff. I think he finishes so well in Mexico because the cars are slowed by the altitude and he can cope better with the gravel. When the speeds get really fast, like in Finland, he has a harder time keeping up.

All in all, it was a fun rally, especially with the crew at World Rally Radio. Good times.

Last of all, I’m all for a rally in North America. But when the spectators cause this many problems, I’m also in favor of this rally being left off the calendar (which it will be for 2008). I couldn’t even count how many times they threw rocks at the cars. Unacceptable.

Petter and Phil - Mexico 2007 A friendly punch to the face Seb - Splish Splash The improved Impreza

March 15, 2007. Auto Racing, Citroen, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, Thoughts, WRC. Leave a comment.

The Adventures of Henning Solberg: Mexico Edition

Rolling the car back over

Henning’s first roll of the year! And it’s the highest quality video yet, cuz it all happened in front of an ISC camera crew. Of course we want Henning to finish well, but it’s just as fun when he rolls. He hit a rock and lost three minutes getting the car upright, but the car ran fine. He and Cato finished stage two, and drove stage three at competitive pace. His Focus and their lungs were filled with *cough* dust, but they made it back to service.

Cheeky Ford boys…

The Ford mechanics posted this hilarious reminder for Henning. Very cheeky. Hey–they should count themselves lucky. At least Henning kept the windscreen on!

March 15, 2007. Auto Racing, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Solberg, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. 1 comment.

Thoughts: Sweden and Norway

Who doesn’t love a snow rally?

But rather than give a recap, here are some random thoughts:

The C4 is quick enough, but not quicker than the Focus. So it has the same engine and suspension as the Xsara? So what has Citroen been doing the past four years? I hope it’ll get a new engine soon, because I don’t see how a car older than Sebastien Loeb’s career could possibly be competitive for much longer.

Snowbanks are evil blackholes and destroyers of hope.

Swedish rally fans find the funniest hats. You can’t buy those here in the US.

And you can’t beat their dedication either. Minus 23 degrees C, and they’re still out in the forest watching rally cars zoom by.

Toni Gardemeister is contending for the top five in an outdated Mitsu Lancer that wasn’t competitive even when it was new. The man deserves a drive, people!

I don’t like talk of Marcus Gronholm’s retirement. But you can see his motivation and enthusiasm waning with each passing rally. He looked like he couldn’t wait for Rally Norway to be over. Motivational issues aside, it must have been embarrassing to be outpaced all weekend by the #2 driver.

How impressive was Mikko Hirvonen? He held the lead from stage one and was faster than no less than three world champions. One of them was in the same machinery. Everything about him just screams “world champion!” The question is, “how soon?”

Seb had a…bad (?!) rally. I have literally never seen him finish lower than second. I don’t even know how to cope yet. But he’s been honest and upbeat–not anything like Marcus’ glazed look all weekend.

Petter and Chris couldn’t wait to get the heck out of the 2006 Impreza, I’m sure. I think Prodrive should take it out back and burn it. Keep your fingers crossed that the S14 isn’t the dreambuster that the S12 was.

Speaking of Solbergs, Henning is coming out of nowhere to regularly beat former world champion Petter. Leave it to the Solbergs to both entertain, and to have the most awesome colored cars ever. I just can’t wait to see if Henning can move up to the top level alongside Seb and Marcus.

Poor Becs Williams tore some ligaments in her hand. And she didn’t get the sympathy she deserved!

Dani Sordo’s inexperience really shows in the events where he’s a fish out of water. Or a Spaniard out of the sun. Or something. I hope he breaks out of his tarmac expert label, because he’ll need to in order to be world champion.

Jari-Matti Latvala is impressing me too. If he matures and quits making silly mistakes, he certainly has the speed to be a champion.

Alrighty then. There’s my two cents until Rally Mexico. I can’t wait to see how Travis Pastrana does!

February 19, 2007. Auto Racing, Citroen, Ford, Mistubishi, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Radio, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Sports, Subaru, Thoughts, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday to Marcus Gronholm!

How could we with words possibly capture Marcus Gronholm: the Big Finn, Bosse, He of Endless Funny Quotes? All I can do is list all the reasons why he is wonderful.

First and foremost, he is fast. He’s 39 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s been unbeatable on gravel in the Focus, pushing Seb to his absolute limit and still beating the Frenchman.
Like I said, Marcus is really funny. What’s even more comical is that he’s usually frowning, and doesn’t even mean to be funny. Enjoy some sound clips.
He even scratches his head funny. Look for it, and you’ll see what I mean.
The Finnish accent. With all the rrrrolling rrrrs.
The way he always says, “but OK” and “yeeeah…” and “heh!”
And “Oy, oy, oy!”
And all the other sound effects and gestures and faces he makes.
I don’t know if it makes him wonderful, but the fact that he doesn’t blink is unique. Weird, even.
His grumpiness. It’s endearing, really. He’s like a Finnish Walter Matthau.
Marcus is a farmer. Absolutely nothing fast about farming, yet somehow he’s the fastest living man on gravel.
He likes Bond. James Bond.
He’s got quite the filthy mouth. This is what it sounds like when harm befalls the car: “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Beeeeep.” Petter swears often, but Marcus swears long.
His column for RallyWorld Magazine is always entertaining. And for some occassional gems, (shh) go read the official FIA press conferences.
The way his Focus eats foliage. “Christmas trees,” Marcus calls ’em.

Geez…gotta save some for next year. Marcus is one of a kind. Irreplaceable. We love him, period. So a huge happy birthday to you” from me (and Timo).

Foliage-chomping Focus As if Marcus weren’t already tall enough…

This is my current wallpaper. Hehe. One of a billion funny faces

February 6, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, WRC. 1 comment.

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