Happy Birthday, Manfred Stohl!

A happy belated birthday to my favorite affable Austrian (not that I know any other Austrians). Haven’t done a birthday tribute in quite a while, but let’s see if the rust wears off.

Reasons to love Manfred:

He’s a very steady driver who’s almost sure to finish a rally. In 2006, he only had one DNF, and none thus far in 2007. And he really squeezed out great performances from the same Peugeot 307 that cursed Marcus the year earlier.

So 2007 hasn’t seen much speed from Manfred in his Xsara. Citroen swears it’s the same machine that Seb had last year, but Manfred has been very vocal about its noncompetitiveness. He’s ambitious and aims for the best, even after 110+ WRC starts. He doesn’t enter a rally to finish 10th, if he can help it.

I say this every time, but I love his name. Man. Fred. Truly fantastic.

Manfred’s the only WRC regular to have a female codriver, Ilka Minor.

He’s so genuine, friendly and good-natured. His face has a smile built in it.

The infamous leetle cow incident. Aww…

He rides a unicycle!

Listening to his TV interviews with his thick accent. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, but much happier (that’s not a stereotype–after all, Arnold’s my Governator!)

He’s the WRC’s true privateer. Keepin’ it real.

All righty then. This may be the end of the list of Manfred’s virtues, but not the end of our appreciation. Best wishes to Manfred and his young family!

Manfred sharing his unicycle skills    Manfred’s always smiling

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July 12, 2007. Appreciation, Citroen, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Some Lovin’ for “Climb Dance”

For those who don’t know, “Climb Dance” is a short film about Ari Vatanen’s run up the Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb that’s basically the best onboard ever. Yes, it’s Ari Vatanen’s genius driving that makes it awesome, but the direction by Jean Louis Mourey makes it beautiful. World-class driving + Group B-inspired car + perfect mise en scene = pure joy.

The best parts:
1) As previously mentioned, the best Scandinavian flick of all time.
2) The fact that he did it all without pacenotes.
3) The bug that splatters on the camera lens.
4) How Ari Vatanen uses one hand to block the sun and the other to drive.
5) The funny music. It can’t be hummed, but I try anyway.
6) He uses the whole road–and almost runs out of it!
7) The big scrape along the hill.
8) The mystery of how they got all those cameras to fit on the car.
9) The dust trails in the beginning, that you realize are being kicked up by the Peugeot. Peace…and then *bam*–car!
10) The car–the speed, the sound, the dated 80’s livery.
11) Ari Vatanen.
12) Did I mention Ari Vatanen?

If you haven’t seen it, clicky here. If you already have, go relive its brilliance.

April 30, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Peugeot. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Ari Vatanen!

Ari Vatanen has got to be one of the coolest beings on the planet. Here’s my logic:
He was the 1981 World Rally Champion, with 10 victories to his name in the golden age of Group B cars driven by the greats.
After a near-fatal accident in Rally Argentina in 1985, he came back to score podiums and…
to win the 1988 Pike’s Peak Hillclimb in the Peugeot 405 T16 in amazing style. “Climb Dance” actually deserves its own post.
Four (almost five)-time winner of the craziest rally in existence, the Paris-Dakar Rally.
He’s been a member of the European Parliament since 1999. He always looks so spiffy and handsome in politician mode.
And he still manages to make appearances for the sake of thrilling us rally fans. Whether it’s showing up in random places to hand out pastries, or Scandinavian flicking his way around super specials, he’s still every bit as beloved as he’s ever been.

Ari in the good ol’ days   Climb Dance - Driving One-handed

April 28, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Dakar Rally, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Harri Rovanpera!

I love this guy. Just looking at his smiling face makes me happy. I just wish he were around so I could look at him! He may or may not be retired, but maybe if he knows he still has fans, he’ll quit selling his jet skis and come back to the WRC.

Why I’m a fan:

The sunny disposition. In a 2003 interview, Phil Pugh said his favorite rally driver was “Harri Rovanpera–always smiling, never b****ing.” That about sums it up.

He’s one of the seasoned pros. One victory (his very first outing in the Peugeot 206) and over 110 WRC starts. Minus the ill-suited pairing with the Skoda Fabia in 2006, he’s been a steady fixture.

He’s got one of my all-time favorite rally names. Although the announcer at the 2006 Race of Champions had trouble with it. “Harri Rovprrmt…”

I know the chances of him coming back are rather slim, but I do appreciate what he’s contributed to the WRC as a great driver and a gentleman. So if you’re in Finland, go show him your love and buy a jet ski from him.

Harri’s blonde goatee

April 17, 2007. Appreciation, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

No Stephane Sarrazin for Me

Stupid Murphy and his law.

So, I bought tickets to the American Le Mans Series race in Long Beach on April 14 for the main reason of seeing Stephane Sarrazin race the Aston Martin DBR9. Stephane, other than filling the third seat at Subaru, was named “Rookie of the Year” for 2006 at the ALMS. Actually, it was a very successful year for him. So imagine my dismay when, watching the 12 Hours of Sebring, there was no Stephane. A quick check on stephane-sarrazin.com told me why: he has signed with Peugeot for the Le Man Series (in Europe). Great news for him. Bad news for me.

He does get to test the Peugeot 207 S2000 car, at least.

Funny.

March 22, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Peugeot, Subaru, Thoughts, 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.

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.

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.

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 #10

Most of the rally drivers are humble, geniunely nice people.

With all the driving talent they’ve got, they could probably rule the planet if they wanted to.

But, when you’re driving on the roughest roads this side of Dakar, sitting forever at time controls, changing your own tyres, taking whatever Lady Luck and Mother Nature can throw at you, and sweating it out in 120 degree cockpits over three exhausting days, you simply can’t be a diva.
Seb and Petter are notoriously personable. Marcus is a farmer. The others don’t make a whole lot of money. And with seats that are hard to get and easy to lose, the drivers are just grateful to be in a car.

Plus, you’ll never see a NASCAR face-punching, all-up-in-yo-face brawl. You don’t have to worry about our rally heroes acting like children…

Petter pulling on Marcus’ ears

but it’s funny when they do!

December 20, 2006. Auto Racing, Citroen, Ford, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, Solberg, Sports, Subaru, Why I Love Rally, WRC. Leave a comment.

Only in Rally…

Actually, only with Henning!

Poor Cato!

Watersplash without a windscreen. And this is after driving a stage in the cold rain.

Which was after getting hot water splashed in his face with a broken water pipe. That’s the second time* this year!

(Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, 2006 Rally New Zealand, SSS11.)
*I couldn’t believe it the first time. 2006 Cyprus Rally, Leg 2.

November 22, 2006. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Only In Rally, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, Solberg, Sports, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. Leave a comment.

Belated start to Rally New Zealand

It’s day 2 now, and it’s been a fun rally so far.

That is, until this very moment, because Chris Atkinson has stopped in the stage, and is having a very crazy “only in rally” moment. He stopped in the stage to change a puncture, put the car up on their jack, but the jack sank in the mud and the car plopped back down! Now they have to find a way to prop the car up enough to change the tyre. How weird is that?

But backtracking a bit, this is the second rally for 7-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi (but the first one lasted half a stage, so I count this as his debut). In the pre-event press conference, he said he was hoping for a podium. I like the guy and respect his racing skills highly, but podium? Huh. Big words for a guy on his first real outing. He’s the slowest out of the WRC drivers. Silly boy, thinking he could beat the veterans. But you’ve got to give him credit for keeping the car on the road and having fun. It’s great listening to him talk–so animated! So Italian! And every new stage he drives becomes his new favorite stage. He’s lovin’ it.

The rain, though, has made things tough. I think the gloomy skies make the drivers sad, cuz Manfred Stohl sounded pretty depressed. He can be such a sad sack sometimes. I think it’s his gentle nature (see “leetle cow” incident/tragedy). Henning Solberg sounded like a normal person, not the lovable, bouncing-of-the-walls madman that he usually is. That probably means he’s crying inside. After all, he thought he was going to die in that 180 kph crash in Australia three weeks ago.

There have been some real “GO CITROEN!” moments–Dani Sordo and Xevi Pons have stepped it up! Dani’s in third and Xevi is fifth (maybe up to fourth?) and even beat Mikko on a stage today. Atko won that stage, but pft.  Doesn’t matter now. *pout* It’s really good to see Dani performing on gravel. He’s had such a bad string of rallies since that scary crash in Finland (plus the seatbelt lapse in Japan, the roll in Cyprus, then that senseless crash in the final super special stage). He’s happy now. I like Happy Dani.

I also like Happy Xevi. He had a blah run at the start of the season. Then, he took a vacation during Japan, and ta-dah! He came back renewed and started setting all these great times and getting great finishes. Good for him! He should go on more vacations! I should go on a vacation…to Wales on December 1-3…

Anyway, Te Akau North (SS10) is the infamous stage where Carlos Sainz hit the sheep in the late 90’s. Matt Wilson was just a kid back then, and one of his big rally memories is seeing that Ford come back into service with bits of sheep on it. Ew.

And the stage just keeps getting more infamouser. Henning Solberg’s rolled the car (Petter says that’s normal for him. Heh!) and lost his windscreen (again). No snow this time, but there’s freezing rain in his face! I guess it cancels out the hot water spraying him in the face yesterday from that leaking water pipe. Rolls make most people sad, but Henning gets really peppy. And yup–he comes into time control laughing and smiling. But will he drive back to service and do the super special, sans windscreen and Cato’s window? You betcha. He wants to show people he can do it, extra wind and all. And boy, can he! He threw that car around those corners and that water splash, and, if it weren’t for those Foci, he would have set the fastest time! Rallying shouldn’t be such ridiculous good fun…

And finally, what I really want to see is when the intercom went on the fritz during SS6 and made Glenn Macneall sound like a girl.

Plus the onboards of cow that Takuma Kamada and the very sophisticated Denis Giraudet almost hit. Sorry, not cow–“big milky.”  Thanks for that, Denis! (“Look at the cow, Amberie!” “What…cow? Oh! A big milky! Why didn’t you say so?”)

November 18, 2006. Auto Racing, Citroen, Ford, Motorsport, Only In Rally, Peugeot, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Sports, Subaru, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Timo Rautiainen!

Monday was my favorite co-driver’s b-day!

Just take a moment and truly appreciate…
his impeccable pacenotes (I never hear Marcus correcting them),
the way he rrrrolls his R’s (“kiraa, kiraa”),
the way he calms Marcus’ nerves and puts him in his place sometimes,
how he isn’t fazed by those spectacular crashes,
that hilarious yet desert dry humor of his,
how he soldiers on despite his back injuries, 
his nifty-sounding name,
how he personally answers fan questions on the official Marcus Gronholm message board,
and the fact that he doesn’t really know how to play baseball.*

Who knows where Marcus would be without Timo?
Where would we be without Timo? Um…the same place, I guess. But our (rally) lives would be less complete. 🙂

*Shakedown, 2006 Rally Japan. Great Timo moments in that show. 

November 15, 2006. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Ford, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, Sports, WRC. 1 comment.

Fanfare!

Welcome one, welcome all! If you’re a serious WRC fan who really isn’t all that serious, then bienvenido to my blog–home to all the rally trivia, analysis and weirdness that I can conjure up.

I love rallying. Absolutely adore it. Not only because it’s the world’s most challenging and dramatic motorsport, but also because it’s got quirks and all-around insanity. So bit by bit, I’ll let it be known why I love rally and why you should too.

So here’s a start:
Rally, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Why I Love Rally, Reason #1
You can roll the car, slam it down on a tree trunk, and then drive another 337 km with dust in your throat and your eyeballs…
(Well, maybe you can’t, but Marcus can. Marcus Gronholm & Timo Rautianen, 2006 Telstra Rally Australia, SS3)

Why I Love Rally, Reason #2
…and then, set the third fastest stage time two stages after that roll.
(All hail to the Big Finn and his Focus! And someone get Timo a cough drop. Marcus Gronholm & Timo Rautianen, 2006 Telstra Rally Australia, SS5)

November 9, 2006. Auto Racing, Ford, Motorsport, Peugeot, Rally, Rallying, Sports, Why I Love Rally, WRC. 1 comment.