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.

Rally Report: New Zealand 2007

It’s taken me a while to calm down from the most exciting and stressful rally I think I’ve ever seen. What can I say about Seb and Marcus’ battle? The closest ever finish in WRC history: 0.3 seconds. It was good, hair-pulling fun watching them swap leads and pushing each other so, so hard. Why would Marcus want to retire after a thrill like this? He and Seb are at the very top of their game, so evenly matched for speed on gravel, even with their different driving styles. Seb didn’t end up winning, but with a mere 0.3 seconds separating them, who could even say which was the better driver? After three days and 350-odd km, that’s just ridiculous! Congrats to Marcus. This victory must be ecstasy for him, to win a fight with such a worthy rival.

Mikko’s stuck in third again, and I think he’s frustrated that he was outshadowed by the monumental battle at the top. His steady and quick drive is due some respect.

Chris Atkinson finished in a fine fourth place. Jari-Matti Latvala has been looking like the hottest young talent in the championship lately, so I think it must be a sort of vindication for Atko to best him in an out-and-out battle. Luckily, the car didn’t choke and he didn’t crash, so he now has a result to show for his speed. But you can tell Jari-Matti is analyzing every detail of his rally, so he can learn every possible lesson to take with him in his career.

Dani Sordo finished in sixth, keeping ahead of Petter Solberg, whose Impreza held up steadily enough to finish the rally. Nothing spectacular from Dani, but Petter, I think, got enough to sustain him a while more. His recent column in Autosport shows just how emotionally difficult these past two years have been. He has the very intense desire, but no luck. Anyone else with Petter’s problems would have quit the sport or jumped off a bridge already. But Petter’s hanging in there, with faith in his own talent. The tough part is keeping his faith in the team, especially now that the 2008 Impreza’s first event has been pushed to Finland rather than the expected Monte Carlo debut. That’s a half season longer spent in an absolute dog of a car. I wish him all the best…

Also, I hope all the members of the world rallying community get over the nasty flu going around. Cato Menkerud, Henning’s codriver, had it the worst. With the scratchiest voice you’ve ever heard, he had to call out three day’s worth of pacenotes through the pain. Even Rally Radio’s Becs Williams got it. Kudos to them for being real troopers.

On a final note, Henning damaged another bumper. And I saw a herd of cows (I think they were) checking out the stage from behind a fence. They didn’t cause any crashes this time.

One of the sweetest victories of Marcus’ life  Yep! You only needed 0.4s more!

September 2, 2007. Auto Racing, Motorsport, Rally, Rally Reports, Rallying, Solberg, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. Leave a comment.

Another bumper gone for Henning.

 Bye bye, bumper. We knew thee well.

But that’s only the second (that I know of) this season, not counting the huge roll in Mexico.

April 4, 2007. Ford, Rally, Rally Reports, Solberg, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. Leave a 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.

The Adventures of Henning Solberg: Mexico Edition

Rolling the car back over

Henning’s first roll of the year! And it’s the highest quality video yet, cuz it all happened in front of an ISC camera crew. Of course we want Henning to finish well, but it’s just as fun when he rolls. He hit a rock and lost three minutes getting the car upright, but the car ran fine. He and Cato finished stage two, and drove stage three at competitive pace. His Focus and their lungs were filled with *cough* dust, but they made it back to service.

Cheeky Ford boys…

The Ford mechanics posted this hilarious reminder for Henning. Very cheeky. Hey–they should count themselves lucky. At least Henning kept the windscreen on!

March 15, 2007. Auto Racing, Ford, Motorsport, Rally, Rallying, Solberg, The Adventures of Henning Solberg, WRC. 1 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.

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.