The Sebs, Rising Generations, and the “Global” Rallycross Championship

I honestly thought it had only been a few months since my last post, but alas! It never ceases to amaze me how time marches on, how the seasons pass, and how every day there’s yet another meal to cook (but I let my husband blog about that).

The seasons are changing in the world of motorsport as well. Michael Schumacher’s dominance as we knew it has ended. Just when we thought Lewis Hamilton would succeed him, he was outshined by another German, Sebastian Vettel, who looks poised to reign supreme. Will the same happen in rally? Has a worthy pretender to Sebastien Loeb’s throne been found not in Mikko  Hirvonen or Jari-Matti Latvala, but in Sebastien Ogier? Has Ogier actually been cloned in a French lab by rally-loving geneticists who, in their rush to inject talent into the sport, accidentally gave him the same name as his forebear? Are these people behind Sebestian Vettel as well? If you name your child Sebastien, will he poop his diapers faster than the other babies?

My point is, as much as I hate change, the march of time eventually robs our heroes of their prime, and the next generation must arise. Sure, we’re still far from rally’s heyday back in the 80’s and 90’s. But as much as I hate to see Sebastien Loeb lose, we are witnessing the ascendancy of the next World Rally Champion. And we have the fortuitous opportunity to compare the old and the new, apples to apples. We’ll know, that future day when Ogier is winning rally after rally, that he is as good, or perhaps even better than, the former greats. We’ll know that rally still has masterful talent behind the wheel. We don’t have to worry that rally is losing its glory.

Loeb’s former rival, the ever-entertaining Marcus Gronholm, put himself out to pasture in 2007, at the height of his game. I understand he got a bit bored in that pasture, but in a rather remarkable turn of events, he found a way to cure his boredom and come to California! Marcus has been dabbling in rallycross for a while, but he is now driving a Ford Fiesta in the “Global” Rally Championship. This is its first year, created in response to the interest generated by the X Games’ rallycross event, and it takes place in the western US. There were only three rounds this year, of which Marcus contested two, but even if there were 15, he’d smoke the other guys every time! And I’d imagine he’ll do the same at the X Games in July. There’s just no competition…but it’s always a pleasure to see good driving for the sake of good driving.

Photo Credit: GRC/Jan Tore Brustad

Photo Credit: GRC/Jan Tore Brustad

Photo Credit: GRC/Jan Tore Brustad

Photo Credit: GRC/Jan Tore Brustad

So if you’re in LA in July, make sure to snag some tickets to the two rally events this year! Rally cars in the streets of Downtown LA? Sweet.

PS: If there are any rally-loving American geneticists reading this–would you mind going to the X Games and cloning Marcus Gronholm? America needs a WRC champion!

PSS: If/When the NBA lockout happens next year–I know what to do with the empty Staples Center!

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June 27, 2011. Auto Racing, F1, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Thoughts, WRC. Leave a comment.

Back from the Dead!

Ouch. I haven’t posted since 2008?

It’s been so long, I forgot my own URL. I had to try my password twice.

So what made me wanna post again?

KIMI RAIKKONEN IS COMING TO THE WRC!

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/80616

Kimi and Ferrari made as much sense as a marriage between Lt. Saavik and Roberto Benigni. Down-to-business Citroen and Kimi? Much better. Maybe this marriage can last…

Meanwhile, enjoy your Christmas and your US television coverage of the WRC on HDNet! Fa la la la la, la la la la.

December 23, 2009. Auto Racing, Citroen, F1, Motorsport, News, Rally, Rallying, Sports, WRC. Leave a comment.

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!

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.

Rally Report: Wales Rally GB 2007

I still don’t believe it. How could that have been the end of the season already? How could that have been Marcus Gronholm’s last rally? Writing a report is really tough when you’re still in a state of denial.

I guess Sebastien and Marcus left me wanting more. We’d all expected an out-and-out showdown, with the two of them pushing each other to the limit like they’ve done so many times this year. However, stage one started with a stage win for…Mikko?! I love them both immensely, but I guess you’ve got to miss the spirit of rallying that came with larger-than-life heroes like Colin McRae who never drove less than flat out. Seb and Marcus went steadily. Marcus waited for Seb to slip up, and Seb waited for the rally to be over. And in the meantime, they let Jari-Matti Latvala steal the show.

Jari-Matti is so hot right now. He come out of nowhere, winning all nine proper stages on days two and three! Never mind that he was running second on the road. Even when he claimed he was slowing down to stay safe, he still came out fastest. Does this mean he’s stepped up to the top level? The Jari-Matti Theatre marquee should read: “Speed! Experience! Personality!” And then Malcolm Wilson will buy out all the tickets. Well, he’d be daft not to.
And while I’m wondering if Jari-Matti is stepping up to the top level, I’m a bit more secure in saying Mikko has. If he hasn’t, then next year will be less of a thrill and more of a monotone. Anyway, I’m sure Mikko wanted to prove that he could win a rally fair and square against Seb and Marcus on a really classic rally. This was his last chance, but neither Seb nor Marcus were driving at maximum attack. I don’t think it was an even comparison. That’s got to be annoying. Nonetheless, Mikko must be quite pleased to have four first place trophies to call his own.

But how amazing must it be to have four world championships to your name? Sebastien Loeb would know. Despite an unexciting drive that bored him to tears, Seb was genuinely elated to have cinched the title again. There is absolutely no doubt to how immense his talent is or whether the title was deserved. Seb was there scoring points when Marcus crashed out in Ireland. That’s it.

If we fans were to name the world rally champion, then it’d be handed to Marcus by a unanimous vote. He stuck it out for years in a gremlin-cursed Peugeot 307. Then in 2006, he finally got behind the wheel of a truly amazing car–catch is, it had some kinks to work out. Then 2007 was looking good until Rally Ireland. It was new and horrendously difficult. And it was tarmac. Wet tarmac. And that was the final nail in the coffin for Marcus’ title hopes. Such a shame. But we will always, always love him wish that he were still rallying.

The rest of my thoughts:

Petter actually made it through without a major catastrophe, finishing fourth. At least he doesn’t have to start his vacation with any anguish. He’ll be working obsessively with the team to improve the car, I’m sure.

Dani Sordo finished a fine fifth place amidst the worst Welsh weather any of the drivers had ever seen. And the best Dani Sordo moment? Hearing him speak French!

Matthew Wilson is getting more consistent, even when the weather throws a torrential rainstorm at him. Speed? Not so much. But I definitely do not mean any ill will towards him. He is perfectly welcome to prove us all wrong in a year by setting scratch times. Sixth place, coming off of a fourth in Japan, ends the year on a high note for the young Brit.

Chris Atkinson is not a happy chap. Being seventh place in the rally and in the championship isn’t horrible, but Atko seemed to take it very hard. He obviously thinks he has enough talent to challenge for victory, but his machinery fails him. He and Petter might be a bit masochistic to renew their contracts with Subaru, because who knows when the car’s going to improve.

Manfred Stohl finished in eighth. And although he says he’s still looking for a drive next year, it somehow seems like it’s the end of Manfred’s WRC career. I hope I’m wrong.

I was going to write about Xevi Pons, but I can’t remember what happened to him in this rally except that it didn’t go well. That’s how it’s been for him lately, I’m afraid.

Luis Perez Companc went off the road on day three. Maybe it’s a conspiracy. They didn’t want Matt Wilson to look so bad, so they went and found the perfect diversion–a guy who is even slower, even more prone to crashing, and with all the money in the world to pay for his drive. Sounds mean, but honestly, Toni Gardemeister deserves a drive more than Luis does.

Last note: props to Travis Pastrana. He is the two-time Rally America champion, but can still admit to being schooled on the world scene. Pwned, even. I really really really hope he makes it out to as many PWRC events as possible next year. Great guy.

So that’s it then, in a rather large nutshell. My rally notes contain many more juicy tidbits, but I don’t know if I want to be liable for posting them. But keep coming back throughout the break. I’ll be posting odds and ends as often as I can. Hasta luego.

The last we’ll see them together… Rally winner Mikko Hirvonen

Jari-Matti’s stage-winning streak The rolling car of Andreas Mikkelsen

December 5, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Sports, WRC. 3 comments.

The Dog Box: Almost to the End…

In anticipation of the final round of the WRC where our world champion will be crowned, Bruce McKinnon of The Dog Box rate how all the drivers have done this season. And who’s that goofy-sounding guest star? Why, it’s me!

So go check out the podcast already.

The Dog Box: WRC Season Round-up

This is also the penultimate edition, as Bruce is retiring from doing the WRC podcasts. He does such a wonderful job, it’ll be a shame to see it come to an end. But he’ll be going out on top, much like the great Marcus Gronholm.

November 27, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Nicky Grist!

This is the birthday I’ve been waiting for since the inception of this site. Nicky Grist, as host of the WRC reviews on the Speed Channel when I first discovered rallying, was the first personality that I fell in love with. That’s why so many of the following reasons for loving Nicky Grist are based on his TV antics.

In the review shows, he would deliver these ridiculous jokes with a deadpan expression. How did he keep a straight face while wearing a giant Mexican sombrero? So funny…

But he does smile! I had to wait until Turkey 2006 to find proof.

He’s a true professional, having sat beside many drivers including Malcolm Wilson, Juha Kankkunen, and the incomparable Colin McRae.

And he still seems to be OK after all the accidents. He must’ve lost count of them by now…

However, he still managed to rack up 21 rally wins beside two different drivers.

Although he and Colin parted company after in-car friction, I think he enjoyed the ride. I just love hearing him crack up after the sky-high pass over the Bunnings jumps in Rally Australia 1996.

He shares his vast store of rally knowledge. He offered a codriving class at Rally New York last year. Too bad I’m in California.

I did get to see him once. At the 2006 X Games codriving for Colin McRae. We shouted his name from afar, but didn’t get his attention. And on our way out, we just happened to be walking out to the parking lot at the same time as he was. It totally looked like we were stalking him. My brother and I didn’t want to disturb him on his cell phone, so we just got in our own car and watched him drive away in a rental minivan. In hindsight, I guess I should’ve chased him down for an autograph. Sigh…regrets…

Anyway, it’s hard to explain, but Nicky Grist is the biggest source of rally in-jokes between my brother and me. He’s the OG, as far as we’re concerned. If you’re in a window-shopping mood, why don’t you head on over this his website? It sells all the nifty rally equipment that he likes.

Colin and Nicky Grist, Turkey ‘06    Nicky wants you to go to nickygrist.com

November 24, 2007. Appreciation, Rally, Rallying, WRC. 2 comments.

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.

Happy Birthday, Daniel Elena!

If ever there were a perfect codriver, Daniel Elena is it. So in honor of his birthday (almost three weeks ago), here’s the traditional rundown of reasons why Dany is so great.

Literally, he is the greatest. Thirty-five victories makes him the winningest codriver in WRC history.

He makes so few mistakes that when he does make an error, it’s a shock. I can count them out for you right now: the unlatched bonnet pins in Sweden 2006 and the misspoken pacenote in this year’s Rally Japan. That’s it, as far as I know.

The delivery of his pacenotes. It’s precise. It’s musical. It’s rhythmical. It’s a bit funny-sounding. It’s almost like rap!

But his voice sounds completely different when he’s talking normally. Much more masculine.

When he’s out of the car, he is so friendly and always laughing. He doesn’t even anger when they flip the flag of Monaco upside-down and get the flag of Poland!

He actually is from Monaco, not a rich guy who moved there for the tax haven.

His chin has a dimple in it.

What’s not great: the bleached tips on his hair. I don’t think it looks good on anybody (sorry).

Back to what is great: his professionalism and dedication. Codrivers have a lot of work behind the scenes, and don’t get a lot of the credit. Sebastien gets the glory for his immense talent, but Dany is there to back him up. So happy birthday to a man who deserves all the honor a triple world champion should receive.

Daniel Elena  World champ, yes! Fashionista, maybe not.

November 13, 2007. Appreciation, Rally, Rallying, WRC. Leave a comment.

Happy Birthday, Travis Pastrana!

Travis Pastrana, America’s greatest hope in rallying, turned 24 on October 8. (I could say sorry for the thousandth for missing their actual birthday, but that’s the way it’ll always be. You’ll have to get used to it, I’m afraid.) Anyway, why–even though it’s obvious–is Travis so freakin’ wonderful?

His enthusiasm! His energy!!! The adrenaline!!!!!! Woooo!!!!!!!!!

The gag photos where he pretends to be punched by his friends. If you look around, there’s a lot of them.

The double back-flip.

The impressive one-man show at the 2006 Race of Champions, where he made the team nations cup finals all by his lonesome.

This item from Travis’ Wikipedia entry, under “other activities”: “On Sept. 26, 2007, Pastrana jumped out of an airplane over Arecibo, Puerto Rico, without a parachute. In a carefully choreographed stunt, he met up in midair with another jumper, then lashed himself into a harness in time to make a safe tandem landing.”
WHAT?!

If all this weren’t crazy enough, he proves he’s even crazier than our already very brave WRC drivers by doing this:

And then reacting with a “Woooooo!”

And somehow, despite the apparent madness, Travis is still a friendly, humble, approachable guy who loves him mom. His is a personality we need in the WRC. For anyone who is wary of Americans, don’t be afraid of this one. He’s a keeper.

Me with Travis Pastrana and Ken Block–Yay!  A friendly punch to the face

October 31, 2007. Appreciation, Rally, Rallying, Subaru, WRC. 2 comments.

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.

Thoughts: Rally Catalunya and the Tour de Corse

I’m really sorry for not posting in a while! You can direct all complaints to Sam. His cell phone number is…just kidding.

But honestly, it was difficult to write a report about a rally like Catalunya. To no one’s fault, it was rather uneventful. Besides the shuffles on leg one, there were no position changes or major incidents the rest of the weekend. The only item of note was the four points Sebastien Loeb gained on Marcus Gronholm, thanks to Dani Sordo’s second place finish.

The way I see it, we should analyze the Spanish and French rounds together to develop a larger picture of what’s happening. Actual rally: not so exciting. Championship implications: very exciting.
Petter Solberg is no longer having miserable rallies, only mediocre ones. I guess that’s progress. Chris Atkinson failed to deliver on his very promising fourth place finish from Rallye Deutschland, so the reports of his tarmac mastery have been a bit exaggerated. Xevi Pons is becoming the bad-luck magnet of the Subaru World Rally Team (much to Petter’s relief, I’d guess).

Henning Solberg continued his “the only way out is through” approach to learning to drive on tarmac. Jari-Matti Latvala is making a strong case to be Mikko Hirvonen’s teammate next year (fingers crossed!).

But he could be in a state of limbo if Marcus decides to guest-star in selected rallies next year (ie: anything but tarmac). Classic Marcus quote: “I hate tarmac rallies.”

Mikko, though he retired, actually reminded me of how consistent he is (his last retirement due to driver error was clear back in December last year in Wales Rally GB).

Though he looked poised to be a star this time last year, Dani Sordo never regained the momentum he lost mid-2006 around the time of Finland and Cyprus. But that was only natural because of his many mechanical failures and his decision to go steady and finish, rather than go fast and crash.

Sebastien Loeb must be quite optimistic for the championship. With only 4 points between him and Marcus, with another upcoming tarmac rally, it’s a virtual tie. Though Seb is my favorite driver, I’ve got to say Marcus is everyone’s sentimental favorite. The fact that Marcus hasn’t won a world title since 2002 is deceptive. He’s still jaw-droppingly quick, and still every bit the champion at the ripe old age of 39.

Last note: mostly due to WRC non-finishes, the Peugeot 207 S2000 driven by Dani Sola finished in tenth overall. I really hate the idea of replacing world rally cars with the S2000. Can you imagine the entire championship field as slow as the Peugeot here? It finished ten minutes back from the leader!

October 15, 2007. Funny Quotes, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Thoughts, WRC. 1 comment.

Why I Love Rally, Reason #18

Beauty is a car sliding sideways around a corner.

I maintain that our rally drivers could out-drift drifting champions. It’s simply one of the many driving techniques that they must master. They have so much car control and sideways experience. It’s business as usual.

Behold:

The other guys are good…

But that’s just Monte Carlo, really.

October 4, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Sports, Why I Love Rally, 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.

The Passing of Colin McRae

If you haven’t already heard, Colin McRae has been killed in a helicopter crash at his home in Scotland. I can’t believe that a man who seemed so invincible, who survived countless crashes and rolls, is now gone. Oh, how we’ll miss him…

But just think of what an adventure it was to be Colin McRae! The WRC, the Dakar, the X Games, the MBE, the motorcycles, the R4, the video games, the fame, and the wonderful family. He’s like a real-life action hero, with all the virtues one looks for in a friend. Few people will be as admired and loved as Colin McRae is.

My recent birthday tribute to the departed legend.

Meeting the man himself. 

Colin - Turkey ‘06 Stage End Colin and Nicky Grist, Turkey ‘06

How can you not love Colin?

September 15, 2007. Appreciation, News, Rally, Rallying, WRC. 2 comments.

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