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Toni Gardemeister is contending for the top five in an outdated Mitsu Lancer that wasn’t competitive even when it was new.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!

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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, 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.

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, Alister McRae!

I caught the rally bug after Alister’s exit from the WRC, so I don’t know too much about the younger McRae brother. But I can say that the sibling rivalry between him and illustrious older brother Colin must have been absolutely spectacular. Setting equal stage times and challenging for rally leads together–what good fun! I’m taking my time machine back there, when I build one. Or not. We’ll see.

Anyway…happy birthday, Alister! Hopefully, we’ll see him more often in 2007 in that Toyota Corolla S2000, or in any other car.

December 24, 2006. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Ford, Hyundai, Mistubishi, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Sports, Subaru, WRC. Leave a comment.

Why I Love Rally, Reason #9

The guys who hand-cut tyres. I don’t know why, but I like.

Pirelli Competizioni guy cutting tyres

November 29, 2006. Auto Racing, Mistubishi, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Sports, Subaru, Why I Love Rally, WRC. 1 comment.

Why I Love Rally, Reason #8

Clearly-labeled cars. A simple thing, but it makes spectating so much easier. (Are you listening, Formula 1?)

Gigi Galli
(Gigi Galli and Giovanni Bernacchini, 2006 Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo)

November 28, 2006. Auto Racing, F1, Mistubishi, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Sports, Why I Love Rally, WRC. Leave a comment.