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.

Happy Birthday, Chris Rawes!

Thank goodness we have people like Chris Rawes running Rally Radio–it’s a rally fan’s best friend. There’s tons of information, analysis, serious stuff–and slightly deranged humor to break up the intensity of it all. So if Becs is the Duchess of rally, Colin the Town Cryer, and James the Court Jester, then I’d nominate Chris as the Prime Minister. And why does he deserve control over this metaphorical parliament?

He keeps everything together. If there’s a problem, then Chris is there to press the buttons and get things back on track.

You’ve got to love the suave, refined, and yet nutty vocal stylings of Mr. Rawes. I still love the way he says “the Limassol Sponge Museum.”

He’s Henning Solberg’s biggest fan! And why? Because Henning once raced a bobsled on Top Gear. That’s a good enough reason for me!

Kudos for being a responsible adult, oftentimes taking the morning shift when James sleeps in.

So this completes my birthday tributes to all the members of the Rally Radio team. I really have no idea how old Chris is (you can never trust what’s announced on air…), but a big happy birthday to him all the same.

PS: I have no pictures to post. I say WRR takes a group picture, perhaps a Christmas gift to the world!

December 1, 2007. Appreciation, Rally Radio. Leave a comment.

Rally Report: Rally Japan 2007

I’m excited that I’m excited. After two less-than-thrilling rallies, I’m happy to be sitting here typing away about the weekend’s action. Here are my thoughts, random as they may be:

Oh, Marcus. We all knew a four-point lead in the championship meant the season was going to be dramatic. But I don’t think anyone expected drama like this. Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb, both undisputed masters, both crash out on the same rally! (Understandable, especially with fog and icy mud on the stages. Seriously!) The points gap remains at four points then, with two rallies left. If Seb wins both of them, and Marcus finishes 2nd on both, then Seb will win the title (though they’d be tied, Seb had more victories). But they’re also two of the trickiest rallies in the calendar, so there really is no way of knowing who will be champion. The sentimental favorite to win is Marcus, but either way the WRC wins with an amazing battle up to the season’s end.

Loeb had an unbelievable rally. It started well enough with Daniel Elena’s birthday. No one expected Seb to be lagging behind the leader with understeer, even before the most shocking part of the rally: Daniel Elena made a mistake. A wrongly read pacenote–yes, you’re not reading this wrong–was the cause of Seb’s retirement from day two. If Seb were rallying’s Mr. Perfect, then Dany would be God that granted Seb his perfection. Aside from the bonnet pin incident in Sweden 2006, the man has a spotless record of professionalism. Ah, no need to worry. Out of the millions of pacenotes he’s read in his lifetime, I guess it’s no stretch to believe one of them could be read incorrectly. Still stranger, though, was seeing Seb retire with mechanical failure on day three.

Mikko has proven he can win oddball rallies, but even with all his progress I doubt that he can win against Seb and Marcus on run-of-the-mill gravel. But if he really has stepped up into the upper echelons of driving talent, more power to him! In fact, it would be nice if he did, so Seb could have some competition next year and prevent a season-long –gently put– period of tranquility.

Dani Sordo was blessed with a bit of luck, finally. He finished the rally in 2nd, without technical troubles or big moments. While he hasn’t developed fully as a gravel ace yet, his six stage wins are definitely encouraging. And he’s such a nice lad!

Henning Solberg’s Rally Japan was just what the doctor ordered. After two humbling tarmac rallies, he’s rewarded for his patience with a lovely podium finish on his preferred surface. He’s even sounding like his old, chipper self!

OK, just facing facts, you know it’s been a high-attrition rally when Matt Wilson and Luis Perez Companc finish 4th and 5th, respectively. Matt did do a great job fighting his way up to 4th place, to his credit. And you know what? Staying on the road was something even the resident world champs couldn’t do. They weren’t going nearly as fast as the big boys, but hey.

One youngster, who really isn’t young when you consider his 50 WRC starts, is Jari-Matti Latvala. Homeboy can drive! He led the whole shebang from the first two stages and was still in third until he crashed out on unlucky stage 13. I’m abuzz about his potential, but he needs to learn how to concentrate. Jari-Matti’s a bit hyperactive. But he’ll have to learn how to drive amidst the mayhem, because falling window linings and crashed competitors are always going to be around on a rally.

Speaking of crashing, Chris Atkinson did his car in. They say the roll cage was broken in seven places. Atko and Stephane Prevot, however, were not broken.

Still a favorite is Petter Solberg, who kept driving and winning stages in order to entertain the faithful Norwegian flag-waving fans. I watched the breathtaking onboards of Ouninpohja, and reminded myself why I adore him. Though he’s far away from the win (to no fault of his own), we can’t let him get too far away from our hearts. Corniness not intended.

Also, a big thanks to World Rally Radio, who informs and entertains like no other. Where else can I hear Denis Giraudet tell a story about a bear running across a stage?

Fog Mud Trees
Fog, mud, and trees–oh my!

October 28, 2007. Motorsport, Rally, Rally Radio, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, WRC. 1 comment.

Remembering Michael “Beef” Park

In two short years, Britain has had to endure the loss of its greatest rallying heroes. The first of the untimely losses was that of codriver Michael “Beef” Park, claimed by a side impact at his home rally on September 19 18, 2005. A man with arguably the best sense of humor in the WRC, he made everyone smile with his on-camera antics. But Beef definitely wouldn’t want anyone to mourn over his memory. Here’s a great tribute video from AXN’s Shakedown that includes the absolute classic moments (“Did you watch football last night?”)

Also, on the anniversary of his death, Rally Radio produced a tribute program, including a revealing interview with driver Markko Martin recalling their most spectacular moments. He talks about Beef bringing the wrong pacenotes on the Safari Rally, meeting Beef, and even Beef’s hidden Japanese accent skills. You can download it here.

September 20, 2007. Appreciation, Rally, Rally Radio, Rallying, WRC. 5 comments.

Happy Birthday, Phil Mills!

The day before Rally New Zealand kicked off, Phil Mills celebrated his 44th birthday. So…why is Phil my all-time favorite codriver (well, tied with Timo Rautiainen)?

Yowza, can he talk! He’s rather quiet and mild-mannered outside the car, but when he’s strapped in the seat, it’s more of a machine gun than a mouth! Every single time I play onboards for my rally newbie friends, they ask, “is that English?!”

And that’s cuz he has to read all the incredibly detailed pacenotes before the next turn actually arrives. You gotta love hearing all the “forTEE’s” and “lineinta’s”.

He’s cool under pressure. Please refer to the loose steering wheel incident:

Phil has handled his and Petter’s bad luck streak with quiet poise. Petter is the vocal one. We always hear about his discontent and anguish. But Phil is in the same car with Petter, and he’s making the best of a miserable season.

His dry sense of humor. Here’s his “grilling” from Rally Radio. (I never would’ve pegged him as a Scissor Sisters fan.)

The classic 2004 Ouninpohja quote: “Gets faster now.”
Oh, since I’m feeling extra nice, here’s audio of the entire stage for you to enjoy.

Phil Mills is cool. The other codrivers are great guys, but Phil is the cool one.

Alrighty then. That’s it in a rather lengthy nutshell. Maybe you should drop by Phil and Petter’s blog and leave him a birthday message, belated as it may be. I think I’ll go do the same…

September 4, 2007. Appreciation, Rally Radio, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Rally Report: Rally d’Italia Sardegna

When I follow a rally live throughout the night, I don’t just stare at the screen. I actually write out my own take on each stage. Usually, I do it with pen and paper, but without the extra energy I get from Rally Radio, I find it easier to do it on MS Word. So if you’re somehow curious, this is what’s running through my mind in the middle of the night. Beware.

Download the file, with screenshots of splits and stage times, here. (You need to set it to the web page view.) It’s a full recap, so no need to put it in a separate post.

May 20, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Radio, Rally Reports, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Rallye Argentina–what a mess…

First, no Rally Radio. Now, no Day 1.

What is heck is going on?

Geez, I hope we end up with a rally to watch at all…

It’s a classic rally with the Mina Clavero and El Condor stages, but with Mexico de-facto gone from the calendar forever, it doesn’t make sense anymore to go to Argentina.  Norway, Ireland and especially Portugal are just poised to take its place. What. A. Mess.

May 4, 2007. Rally, Rally Radio, Rallying, Thoughts, WRC. 2 comments.

Happy Birthday, James!

It’s the big 2-0 for Rally Radio’s “petulant teenager.” Though I suppose he’s just plain petulant now. So why do we love James? Drum roll please:

He’s hilarious. Funny. Sometimes slightly insane. Which is the way we like it.
The sexy voice. Rowrrr…
He’s a redhead, which evokes memories of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
I do not know his last name or what he looks like. It makes him mysterious.
The ‘tude.
His often bizarre musical stylings. But I think that’s largely because I question the musical taste of Brits and Europeans in general. (Sorry.)

So happeeee birthday to our favorite young Welshman–I hope he stays around, because he is not allowed to leave Rally Radio, ever.

March 30, 2007. Appreciation, Rally Radio. 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, Colin Clark!

My favorite Scotsman ever, Colin Clark of World Rally Radio, turned 41* on February 4th. How do we repay a man who makes the “world” in “World Rally” go ’round? Dish out praise, and lots of it:

Where would we be without Colin’s intrepid stage-end reporting? It’s informative, insightful, and hilarious (especially when he and Chris Atkinson are in a cheery mood). But seriously, he does a wonderful job at asking the right questions, not just “How was it?” every single time. Colin describes everything. We know how the car is, what mood the drivers are in, what mood the other reporters are in, and sometimes we even get reports on timing board markers. He talks his throat sore every rally while covering close to every stage in hot and cold weather.

And when it’s hot and sunny, he’s wearing his pink bandanna around his neck. It’s so fashion-victim bad, it’s good. Maybe I just get a kick out of Becs mocking Colin for it. But word is that he’s got a new yellow bandanna for 2007. It has big shoes to fill. You can’t get much worse than hot pink.

He has great hair. Not quite Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey great, but it’s up there. It’s curly, it’s blond, and it sits on top of Colin’s head; therefore, it’s great hair.

Colin’s got a great laugh. From the “ha-ha” laughs to the mischievious “hee-hee” laughs, it makes things fun.

The Scottish accent. The gravelly voice. The sheer loudness. No wonder he’s called The Incredible Talking Man.

So a happy belated birthday to Mr. Colin Clark. Rally Radio is free now, so there’s no excuse why you can’t tune in. You’ll catch the most in-depth reporting, all the amusing banter, and all the crazy stories from the team. Plus, the alarming trend of Colin singing…

Here’s a clip of WRR from the 2006 Cyprus Rally, which was a particularly silly time for all the presenters. Enjoy.

*Colin denies this. Becs and James insist it’s true. So we actually don’t know how old he is. Here’s a compromise: Colin is ageless and immortal.

February 17, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Radio, Rallying, WRC. 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.