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.

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November 27, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, 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.

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: Rallye Deutschland Day 1

Holy cow! Francois Duval is in the lead! The good people at the forums tipped him to win, but I honestly thought the idea was a bit optimistic, judging from his performances the past two seasons. The C4 is obviously newer, but the Xsara’s still got a bit of magic left in it. Now if Duval can keep it on the road…

Seb Loeb made a wrong tyre choice? Rare. But the rest of the weekend looks to be dry, so it makes the choice easier. If Seb is on the right tyres, I’m sure he can overtake Duval for the lead. It’ll be a great fight, so I hope no one complains about being bored when Seb wins.

The Citroen mechanics had better be poring over Seb’s car for any mechanical problems, because he’s been lucky to not have the problems that Dani Sordo’s been having. With Dani out, that makes the points gap in the championship that much harder to close.

Subaru. It never takes more than a day for it to all go wrong. This time, driver error is to blame. Chris Atkinson had an off on stage 2 and Petter Solberg broke his steering trying to get around a hairpin. How many times have we said already that despite the (fill in mishap here) their pace was promising…

Henning had to retire from the leg after losing his tyre. I have yet to see the in-car footage, but this looks like it’ll be another entry for “The Adventures of Henning Solberg.” Too bad, because he was sounding very cheerful and doing quite well in his first true tarmac event.

We’ve also got some privateers in very enviable spots on the leaderboard. Good luck to them all. Not too much luck, because I’m still rooting for Seb to win his 6th consecutive Rallye Deutschland.

Overall Standings:

1 – Francois Duval
2 – Sebastien Loeb   +1.3
3 – Marcus Gronholm   +17.4
4 – Mikko Hirvonen   +22.7
5 – Toni Gardemeister   +1:04.2
6 – Jan Kopecky   +1:26.6
7 – Xevi Pons   +1:37.2
8 – Jari-Matti Latvala   +1:40.7
9 – Petter Solberg   +1:50.7
10 – Manfred Stohl   +2:10.3

August 17, 2007. Auto Racing, Citroen, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, Thoughts, WRC. 1 comment.

Rally Report: Finland 2007

For those of you who are just discovering rally, here’s something you should know right off: Finland is home to the greatest of ’em all. Nowhere in the world will you find more talented drivers or more dedicated rally fans. The stages are pure madness. If you thought the jump at the X Games was crazy, wait till you see the Finnish yumps. If you want to see for yourself, sit back and enjoy the world’s scariest rally stage, Ouninpohja:

OK then. For those of you who already know exactly what happened this weekend, here are my random thoughts:

Thank heaven Rally Radio is back! Yippee yahoo hooray!

Dangit. Marcus now has a 13 point lead over Seb, and even with four tarmac rallies left Seb will need Marcus to DNF if he has any chance at winning the title. It’s been eons since Seb has had this sort of pressure on him. If there’s anyone in the world who could catch Marcus, it’s Seb. But maybe that means no one in world can catch him now. Despite Marcus’ age and pending retirement from the WRC, he’s still at the top of his game and is 100% capable of holding onto the championship lead.

Mikko Hirvonen. He’s all grown up and ready to spread his wings–he’s now a true Flying Finn. He easily kept Seb at bay on all three days to finish 2nd. And (in Finland at least) is almost able to threaten Marcus. But he is really vocal about trying to win. That’s not the wisest thing to say, when your senior teammate is trying to open up the biggest gap possible in the points and chasing a 7th win in Finland that would put him in the record books.

Petter, Petter, Petter. Why does your car fail you? Julian Porter reports seeing Petter unable to even drive in a straight line. He came into the summer holiday with a podium finish in Greece, so he reasonably expected to be able to fight in Finland. When those hopes were dashed after the very first stage, he was in tears. Everyone who saw him was gutted. We all want him to do well. He really does not deserve this sort of heartache. I know the team works hard, but they need leadership and a talented engineer to direct their efforts into actual results.

Chris Atkinson, on the other hand, found a degree of performance out of his Impreza, because he finished very well in fourth. Maybe the codriver switch was just what he needed to refocus himself. Other than a couple stalls, he had a perfect weekend.

Jari-Matti Latvala was, for but a brief time, impressive. He pulled off the same surprise he did in Greece: snatching the lead after the first stage. Then, after the strangest problem (the rubber lining detached from his door) he had two offs, one of which damaged his roll cage. I’ve been somewhat critical of Henning Solberg’s recent lack of pace. But maybe he’s just being smart and doing what Jari-Matti needs to do: calm down, drive steadily, and gain the experience that will enable him in the future to 1) drive quicker and 2) finish rallies. It worked for Henning, who finished well in fifth.

Subaru’s new driver Xevi Pons gave us a pleasant surprise by finishing sixth. He could have easily put the car off the road in Finland in such an unfamiliar and unreliable car (and almost did). But it seems he’s truly conquered his hot temper and gained consistency, which he showed at the end of 2006.

One more mention: Urmo Aava’s finish in 7th is a big hint to everyone that he may be ready to graduate to the WRC’s top tier. We’ll see what happens in his next outing.

The end.

August 7, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, WRC. 2 comments.

X Games 13 Rally Super Special: Full Recap

It was supposed to be a few runs through a stadium super special. Then came the insanity.

And practice went so smoothly…

Course Layout

The first run for Ken Block and Andrew Comrie-Picard was incredible. It ended with Ken Block clipping a barrier, dragging a planter (complete with shrubbery) underneath the car, reversing to get rid of it, bumping into another concrete barrier, losing the front right tyre completely and damaging his suspension and turbo! But he still won over ACP, whose ailing engine caused him to land too short on the crossover jump, slamming the back wheels against the ramp and breaking his rear suspension. Absolute mayhem! Kudos to Block’s mechanics, who repaired his car in time for the next battle.

Ken Block - over the hedge

Colin McRae, celebrating his 39th birthday, took it easy on his match against Ramana Lagemann. Lagemann’s engine wouldn’t reach above 4000 rpm, so with no chance to win, he stopped the car.

Next, both the Rock Star Subaru teammates went head to head in a round that looked like someone held up a mirror against the entire track. But it was Tanner Foust’s smooth drifter-style moves that put him ahead of Rally America points leader Andrew Pinker. That is, until Pinker hit a barrier in the asphalt section, came into the stadium jump too sideways and hit the front left into the wall. That second impact threw his trunk door open, which made quite the spectacle as he went on to hit the last few hydrobarriers at the finish. But he did finish!

Pinker - trunk open and into the barriers

In fact, the only routine run was Travis Pastrana against Paul Choiniere. (Travis won.)

The real shocker came when, after a pretty tidy run that put him well in the lead, Colin McRae–rally legend and my favorite to win–ran wide into the hydrobarriers, which tucked under the car to form a ramp. And again, over he went, rolling the car. Except this time, he landed with a corner of the now twice-battered Subaru atop the barrier, with no way of coming down. Colin was so good during practice. With 146 WRC starts, this man has more experience than all of the other drivers put together. But he made the rather silly mistake of accelerating just a bit more, in order to gain speed where he didn’t need any. Sigh. That just means he has to come back to Los Angeles next year to claim the gold medal! Californian rally fans 1, Colin McRae 0.

This is how Colin got stuck

The penultimate match up, and the mayhem still continued unabated. The gap that Travis Pastrana opened up against Tanner Foust was small, but would have guaranteed him victory. But that slow 2 right caught Travis out. He came in too fast, crashed through the barriers into the other course, hitting Foust’s car! He was faster, but had to be disqualified for crossing the finish line in the other lane. Rallying may be nuts, but rules are rules. Travis didn’t mind–he had an absolute blast!

Travis’ illegal lane change

So the final consisted of Tanner Foust and Ken Block, who might still have been in a state of disbelief at advancing the round against Colin. Tanner Foust, though, was a bit worried about the handbrake that had snapped off in his hand. But whatever advantage Ken Block gained midstage, Foust had somehow recouped the time by the finish. The two cars were neck in neck, but both of them came into the finish, again, too fast. As luck would have it, Block’s car served as a snow bank for Tanner to bounce off of. And there you have it. Tanner Foust, stunt driver and drifter extraordinaire, is also now the gold medalist at the X Games Rally Car event. Whew!

Block bounces Foust to the win

By the end, my jaw was tired from dropping so often and my head was buzzing from the excitement. I don’t even think we see this much carnage on the Acropolis! But, all this chaos just goes to show the American public what rallying is all about. Yes, they keep going even on three wheels. Yes, they drive even when their brakes are out. Yes, they roll the car and keep on driving. And yes, when you think you’re in trouble, you hit the accelerator. Anything can happen in rallying, and whatever happens, it’s always spectacular!

August 7, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, News, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Subaru. 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.

Glenn MacNeall vs. Stephane Prevot

I’ve been in denial since the announcement that Stephane Prevot will codrive Chris Atkinson for the rest of the season. I will always pine a little in my heart for Glenn.

However, Glenn thinks he’s made the right decision. He gave an interesting and candid interview to RallySport Magazine, saying they weren’t improving well enough as a team and the repercussions were too costly. Glenn is now the happiest he’s been in years. He’s at home with his girlfriend/driver Emma Gilmour, contesting events in the Australian Rally Championship.

Still, I’m not too crazy about Prevot, after hearing of some really nasty comments he made about Francois Duval when they split in 2005. And I find it really surprising they’d choose a codriver who has never done a rally in English before (only French). Other than the Subaru/Sarrazin connection, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on paper. But if he and Atko get along, I guess that’s all that matters. They have such different personalities though. And I wonder how he’ll take Atko’s driving style–Duval’s didn’t impress him any and we know how that ended. Time will tell. Or…Argentina will tell.

April 24, 2007. Rally, Rallying, Subaru, Thoughts, WRC. 2 comments.

Bad, bad, bad, bad news. Glenn is leaving!

Glenn MacNeall has decided to leave the Subaru Team and no longer co-drive Chris Atkinson.

I’m just brokenhearted. Ridiculously so. He’s such a funny, professional guy who enjoys a close friendship with Chris. His statement reads:

“Competing in the World Rally Championship is far more than just a job, and while I really have enjoyed my time with the team I’ve simply come to the point now where I want to do other things. Having made up my mind to go, it wouldn’t be fair on Chris for me to carry on with anything less than 100 per cent commitment, and for this reason I felt it would be best to step down straight away. I’ll continue to follow the sport very closely and I wish Chris, Petter and the whole Subaru team the best of luck in the future.”

Maybe his life is heading in a different direction. Maybe he needs a life where he’s not abroad 40 weeks out of the year. Maybe he couldn’t take another high-speed crash into the rally scenery a la Stephane Prevot. I don’t blame Glenn for leaving, but where are they going to find a guy to take his place? George Clooney-coiffed Tony Sircombe, perhaps? Anyway, while the SWRT scrambles to get a replacement, I’ll be watching the old Shakedown spotlight on Glenn and crying on the inside.

April 3, 2007. News, Rally, Rallying, Subaru, WRC. 1 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.

Why I Love Rally, Reason #12

I love, love, love the growl of a rally car. Behold: the lumpy boxer engine of the Impreza, the aggressive Xsara, and the monstruous Audi Quattro.

March 26, 2007. Appreciation, Auto Racing, Citroen, Rally, Rallying, Subaru, Why I Love Rally, 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.

Video: Engineering the World Rally

Discovery Channel Europe has begun showing 6 episodes of “Engineering the World Rally,” which follows the 2006 season alongside the Subaru boys. I just hope I get to watch them someday! Last year was ridiculously bad for the whole team, so expect plenty of interesting things. Here’s a taster: preview clip one and two on MySpace. *salivate*

March 17, 2007. Rally, Rallying, Solberg, Subaru, WRC. Leave a 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.

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