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GP Week : Issue 148
What were the secrets of success in Portugal? Was it calm consistency? Ostberg, like Evgeniy Novikov and the luckless Mikko Hirvonen, completed the course without scoring a single stage win, a strange accolade that had also come to Latvala when he won New Zealand in 2010. Something even more unusual was that no Citroen scored a fastest time at all on the rally. We have seen Loeb off the road on other rallies, admittedly very rarely, but for Citroen’s champion and both the works Fords to leave the road all on the same event ... that was really unusual. Latvala wanted to fight back but then he had technical troubles, but Petter Solberg climbed back and was lucky to eventually finish third (pictured right), notwithstanding additional penalties for missing two stages. So was it luck? Solberg’s luck came from a string of cancelled stages which heavily reduced his penalties for missing stages. Only Loeb had finished a rally in a higher position with a SupeRally penalty, but that was only with one missed stage. Petter did it with two. When Hirvonen was excluded, Ford cars took the top three positions and five out of the top six places. Ford and Citroen were not the only cars in the news. Perhaps one of the most remarkable stories was the speed of Dani Sordo. Twelve months into the career of the Mini John Cooper Works team and we had a real unsolved mystery. We saw that Dani Sordo scored no fewer than six fastest times, more than any other driver except Solberg, and these included all three stages held on Day 2. Running first car on the road, on account of the penalties for missing stages because of his electrical breakdown on Day 1, he had the best available conditions on Day 2 ... and how! On Stage 5 he was 57.2 seconds faster and on Stage 6 he was 48.2 seconds faster, both times ahead of Martin Prokop who also had a favoured running order position. What have we here? A closeted, undiscovered supercar, a car totally dominant like the way that the Audi Quattros devoured the opposition on gravel roads 31 years ago? Or simply a driver who struck lucky with his running positions during the rally? According to Sordo the Mini JCW still is not perfect: “The new 01B Mini has been going well but we need to work to improve the traction. On slower stages we lose a lot of time. The wheels on the car keep spinning. We also lost a lot of time on the rally because we used hard tyres when soft would have been better, but I am really happy in the new car.” So the Mini isn’t yet a miracle car – Sordo also had serious problems in-between his bursts of speed. Not only the broken electrical cable, but also during Day 4 a broken exhaust which caused the rear bodywork to burn and for exhaust gasses to enter the car. The car was still going as well at the end of the event, witness his three world championship points on the Power Stage. He again had the advantage of the running order in the prevailing conditions on that occasion as well. Once again the wisdom of the Day 1 selection process, the night- time gravel stages and the reverse running order rules came sharply into focus. It was sheer luck that a most catastrophic sporting situation, parallel to Corsica in 2002, did not happen. This time, 13 cars went through the water splash, the refuelling area and then Stage 7, the rest were blocked. Hirvonen was only two cars away from being unable to tackle Stage 7, and eventual winner Mads three cars away. Had they not tackled the stage the most invidious decisions would have had to be made by the Stewards. Effectively they would have had to decide between themselves who had won the rally. Maybe the gap between Hirvonen and the other drivers at the end would have made a fair decision easy to make – but why do these rules give them that chance? Why should curious rules mean that rallies have to be decided by judges rather than split seconds? Rules are changing all the time. The running order selection process in Portugal only applied to three stages and not to a full day as intended. There was a sudden, and never officially explained, change of running order for the Power Stage. Is it reasonable that the Clerk of the Course and the Promoter (when there is one) have the power to alter regulatory running orders, at short notice, without the right or time to Appeal? Is the WRC sport or entertainment? There were anomalies all over the place. What was the real reason that Jari Ketomaa ran Michelin tyres on a car which boldly advertised DMack? How was it that Hirvonen was excluded for a technical offence but in 2007 when his Ford was one of the cars that were simply given time penalties after their thin window glass was discovered? A case of a penalty for a second offence? Obviously not, but outsiders would wonder what was going on behind the scenes. For the first time one of the major sports championship categories was won by a driver who did not compete the route and had SupeRally (now called ‘Rally 2’) penalties. Is this what we really want? I don’t think Mini Prodrive are complaining at reverse order rules. It seems probable that Sordo would never have gained the publicity of stage victories under last year's rules. In the end, the lasting memory of Portugal 2012 was the rain on Thursday. It would have stretched the imagination of the authors of the Bible to have come up with the story of the rain that arrived on the Thursday evening stages at the time it did and save the whole event from the disaster of having dust giving the first car an uncatchable lead for the rest of the event. And then what about the way the organisers really sprang into action, ferrying 250 litres of fuel up to the nearest main road to the blockage to rescue the stranded cars blocked by the water crossing and running out of fuel. Great stuff! Michele Mouton need not worry. Things are going well in the WRC as they are, even without a Promoter, even in spite of the crazy rules and idealistic policies. It is only our opinion, but please don’t plan for any rally to run dry dusty gravel stages at night ever again ... 30 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: RALLY >>> FEATURE