Here is my review of Rally de Portugal 2012 and this time, I am not even attempting to make it short - it’s not possible with rally so crazy and eventful as this one was!
Before the rally and mainly during the qualification there were huge discussion about the best starting position, mainly because of the dust issues. The organizers were even watering the stages to avoid drivers being held by dust which is very stupid idea in my opinion. Next time maybe they could use huge lamps on the night stages or hire a bunch of people who will sweep the road - rally always was about coping with the tricky condtions, or not?!
Drivers wanted watering and they got it - it was heavily raining overnight so dust was the last thing which was on their minds. The whole rally changed into a huge mudocalypse and it was basically only about a survival in those terrible conditions.
First notable casaulty of this rally was quite surprisingly Sébastien Loeb who made a mistake which was the cause of quite a big crash and especially Daniel Elena (who has a twitter account, woohooo!) can be happy he is okay because the car was pretty destroyed at his side. Rollcage damaged, game over for Seb Loeb. Speaking about Loeb, I quite like that he has no problem saying that he made a mistake unlike some other drivers who are usually victims of bad luck and almost never admit that something might have been their fault. I also have to mention the one and only Paulo Nobre here who managed to crash and retire already during qualification. I don’t know whether Paulo Nobre : Rally driver and humorist facebook fanpage is somehow connected with him but it posted this hilarious status: "Welcome to Loeb on the retirement list. But i was first ;)" - I can totally imagine crazy Paulo saying it, it isn’t so much time ago when he said he feel like some kind of Mini-Loeb (I have to resist to make some pun about Loeb's height here) because he is running first on the road all the time.
Strangely, Sébastien Loeb has to be the happiest person in the next day of rally action. Not only he was in a warm and dry hotel instead in those ugly conditions which were happening on the stages but also Ford factory drivers did something imaginable. Instead of capitalizing on Loeb's mistake and get it safely to the finish line they BOTH managed to crash out during the 2nd day of the rally. Little Seb's Australia 2011 action were put in shame and look like nothing compared to this! The only good thing for them was that that the afternoon loop of stages was cancelled (according to pictures probably because of the rivers on the roads) so they didn’t lose so much time. Anyway, no wonder Christian Loriaux was furious at them - as he said: "We had it on a silver tray and we have put the tray in the bin and then buried the bin". But to be fair, Ford drivers could say the same to him in the next days because every Fiesta RS WRC encountered some kind of smaller or bigger problem.
In the end, the results looked like this: 1st place for Mikko Hirvonen who may have not won any single stage but did a very smart rally and survived everything which was the key. Second was Mads Ostberg who gave another very strong performance and third was Evgeny, Evgeny, Evgeny Novikov who miraculously didn’t bin it in those terrible conditions. Speaking about Evgeny - he is the youngest driver ever to claim a podium finish (21 years old) and his usually desperate co-driver who definitely wasn’t desperate this time - lovely Denis Giraudet is the old person ever to stand on the podium (56 years old), nice.
But even though the rally was finished, it was not really finished (yes, this sentence make a huge sense, I know). The stewards found an unhomologated clutch on Mikko’s DS3 WRC which means he was excluded from the rally! What a turnaround and what a shame for poor Mikko who did a really clever rally and surely deserved to win. I am not into those technical car thingys but according to the official Citroen press release, he didn’t gain any advantage by it - quite an opposite because this clutch was heavier than the homologated one. In the end Ford team which had a really disastrous rally leaves Portugal as the happy team even though they were given a huge chance to get into the lead of both championships by this. But after Portugal Sébastien Loeb (who meanwhile went to Paul Richard circuit to watch his team to claim its maiden podium in an endurance race) is still leading the championship despite not scoring any single point in Portugal and Citroen is still leading the manufacteurs championship.
In the end it’s Mads Ostberg who won in Portugal and thus claimed his maiden WRC victory! Huge congratulations to him - he definitely deserved it but I guess he wanted it in “normal” way. There was no climbing to the roof of his car after the rally, no top step of the podium for him, etc, etc. Also he is first privateer since 90s probably to win a WRC event (I guess I shouldn’t count Loeb and Kronos in 2006 because they were supported by official team). Evgeny, Evgeny, Evgeny is second and Petter Solberg claimed 3rd place. Speaking about Petter, he is now 2nd in the overall standings - only 4 points behind Sébastien Loeb and 34 points in front of Jari-Matti Latvala who is only 6th overall. Surely Ford has to start to play tactics in his favour now and to be honest I am quite surprised they didn’t order Mads ostberg and Evgeny Novikov to stop and let Petter pass them. Yes, it wouldn’t be nice at all but when you want to beat Loeb and Citroen you have to do some unpopular steps.
Great 4th place goes to my favourite Middle Eastern driver (who has really a great accent) Nasser Al-Attiyah who managed to beat Martin Prokop in the very last stage. But Martin also won’t be unhappy with his 5th position which is the best position of him in WRC ever + he equalled the best ever Czech finish in WRC (Roman Kresta finished 5th in France and Spain in 2005). 6th place goes to Dennis Kuipers.
Then there is another my favourite with the great accent, an awesome Little Seb. 7th overall with his little Škoda Fabia S2000. And it could be so much better if he didn’t lose time behind a car which was blocking the road on some of the 2nd day stages. He said he lost about 1 minute or a minute and a half there and if you reduce Ogier's by this you can see that he could finished on awesome 4th place. I cannot wait for the next year when he will sit behind a (hopefully) competitive car, he will beat them all!
Eight place goes to Thierry Neuville, another one of my favourite drivers (with the great accent!). A big shame about his technical problems in the day 2 where he had to retire otherwise he could claim his first points in a big style - by finishing on the podium. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t finish that high but when you look at his pace during day 3 and day 4 you can see that he was the only driver almost as quick as factory Ford drivers and Dani Sordo. Awesome performance by him and the is a lot more to come, definitely!
Speaking about Dani Sordo, what a shame about his day 1 problems! With the pace he showed he could really win this rally! At least he has won the power stage but I guess that is only a small consolation for him. I wish Prodrive will get some huge sponsor and Dani (and also Kris Meeke!) could do all this season (and also the next one) in which they would concentrate o the rallying only, without being worried about what will happen.
Next stop - Argentina! But before there is IRC event in Ireland..
tagged: wrc, sébastien loeb, daniel elena, paulo nobre, mikko hirvonen, mads ostberg, evgeny novikov, denis giraudet, petter solberg, jari-matti latvala, nasser al-attiyah, martin prokop, sébastien ogier, thierry neuville, dani sordo, hayden paddon, rally de portugal 2012, ford, tactics, my opinions