As the FIA WRC Academy crews embarked on the notoriously challenging roads of the 2012 ADAC Rallye Deutschland, Elfyn Evans claimed his third successive victory to extend his lead at the head of the Championship.
But with old rivals and new talent coming to the fore, the Welshman far from dominated the event with a number of drivers proving their speed and potential in the feeder series which is supported by Ford Racing in Europe and runs control tires from Pirelli. Impressively Evans’ win also saw him placed 20th in the overall standings at the end of Day 2.
Running through the twisting corkscrew roads of the Mosel Valley vineyards, the first day of competition was characterized by endless junctions and hairpins – demanding total concentration and commitment from the youngsters. Over the morning loop, and the crews’ first taste of asphalt, a new star emerged in the form of Rally Team Scotland’s John MacCrone.
Taking two stage wins over the morning’s running – the third stage being cancelled – the Scot held a 15 second lead over Northern Ireland’s Alastair Fisher going into the afternoon service with Tarmac specialist José Suárez going strongly in third. A spin on SS2 rendered championship leader Evans an uncharacteristic fourth with Brendan Reeves getting into the groove of asphalt rallying in fifth.
A mature and composed drive through the challenging stages saw Dutchman Timo Van der Marel sixth. But, blighted by more misfortune, Fredrik Åhlin lucked out when an error at the stage start saw the bonnet of his Ford Fiesta R2 came loose twice through SS2 – restricting the Swede’s vision and, on the second occasion, damaging the windscreen.
With his hand still causing him some pain following his spectacular accident in Finland, the 21-year-old was also finding it difficult to use the handbrake through the hairpins, unaccustomed finding himself towards the end of the field in seventh.
Elsewhere, there was further misfortune for fellow Swede Pontus Tidemand, suffering a broken drive-shaft on SS1. The same stage saw WRC Academy new-comer, Martin Koči, bend the rear beam of his Fiesta. Both crews were forced to retire for the day, restarting under Rally 2 regulations on Day 2.
Embarking on the second loop of stages, there was heartache for the leading pair. Running wide on a patch of oil through SS4, MacCrone damaged the rear beam of his Fiesta R2 and had to complete the remaining stages with an ailing rally car.
Yet, despite the damage, the Scot did well to keep a good pace and found himself sixth – less than a minute adrift of the podium with a tough day’s rallying to come. Assuming the lead, Fisher claimed stage victory on SS4 and SS6. But SS5 was to be the 23-year-old’s downfall – incurring a puncture, forfeiting his lead and dropping to fifth.
With his fellow Brits left to reflect on what might have been, Evans claimed a stage win through SS5 and assumed what has become his customary place at the head of the standings. Rarely out of the top-three on overall stage times, Suárez maintained second with Reeves getting to grips with the art of Tarmac driving in third and Van der Marel’s composure paying dividends with fourth place.
As the crews embarked on a fresh challenge over the final day of competition – with two loops of three stages, each varying in character and closing with the perilous dash between the ‘Hinkelstein’ concrete blocks that litter the Arena Panzerplatte – Evans was back in control.
Clinching a stage victory through the opening test (SS7) and a third and second fastest time respectively on the following two, the Welshman held a minute’s lead over Spaniard Suárez with Reeves a further 20 seconds adrift in third.
Despite setting the fastest time through SS8 – the first stage win for Holland in the new national classification – Van der Marel suffered a puncture through the Arena Panzerplatte. Fourth place was thus gifted to a resurgent Fisher who claimed the stage victory through the Baumholder military ground – a stage which exemplified the close-fought competition in the WRC Academy with the top-five crews separated by seconds through the 46.54 km test.
Elsewhere, with the pain in his hand too severe and a developing sickness, Åhlin made the decision to reluctantly withdraw from the event.
Returning for the final stint, the crews held station over the first two stages with Fisher and Reeves each claiming a stage victory. But drama was to unfold on the final stage of the event as both stage victors hit trouble.
Stuck in first gear, Fisher was forced to retire from the rally painstakingly close to the finish. Running wide and going off the road to avoid one of the treacherous ‘Hinkelsteins’ that line the stage, Reeves’ podium place was up for grabs.
The Australian did well to get his Fiesta back on the stage, only to a puncture a mere four kilometers from the stage end. Changing the tyre on stage, Reeves brought his Fiesta home for a dramatic fifth place and vital championship points.
Securing the final stage victory on the Arena Panzerplatte, Evans brought his Fiesta home for his third successive win of the season ahead of Suárez; the Spaniard claiming his best finish in the WRC Academy to date. Setting the second fastest time through the Baumholder military ground, MacCrone pipped Van der Marel to the final podium position by just 7.1 seconds – some consolation after losing his early lead.
Recovering from his misfortunes on the first day of competition, Tidemand brought home some strong points in sixth, with Koči bringing his Fiesta home in seventh on his debut in the WRC Academy.
Elfyn Evans (1st) said:
“I am very happy with how today has gone. We had a difficult start yesterday – hard to find the right rhythm and set-up with the car. Shakedown was cancelled for us so it took a while to get that [the rhythm] going. It was a lot more slippery than we had expected and we were pretty lucky with a couple of moments!
“We had some bad weather on slicks this morning, but we got our heads together and did a solid job there and were able to build on our advantage from there on. We just concentrated on having a clean rally since then and we are happy to be here with the win now.
“We tried to maintain a reasonable pace without taking any risks and silly cuts – it has just been a case of management and doing enough to keep the concentration It is definitely a big boost for the championship.”
José Suárez (2nd) said:
“I am very happy with the result after a lot of problems this weekend. We had some small issues with the brakes yesterday and then the tyres this morning [on full slicks when the optimum choice was a mix of slicks and intermediates]. OK, I would prefer the victory, but second place is better than third!
“I am already looking ahead to France where I want the victory. The Tarmac there is much more tight and compact so maybe it will be even better for me. But all in all, we have secured a good result here towards the championship.”
John MacCrone (3rd) said:
“We had a bad start this morning with the punctures, but I am very happy with the podium finish. I feel bad for Brendan [Reeves] and Alastair [Fisher], but we pushed hard on the last stage [SS12], caught Timo [Van der Marel] and got the podium.
“Hopefully we’ll get the budget together for France in the next few days. I’m not sure what to expect [in France] because we’ve never been there before. We will just have to get there and see how we get on but hopefully we can set some good times there to.
“We’ve not sprayed the champagne for a while now, so I’m looking forward to the podium now!”
Timo Van der Marel (4th) said:
“I didn’t expect to finish fourth before the last stage – what a drama! We saw Brendan [Reeves] off on the stage and it was actually quite scary because it was next to one of the famous ‘Hinkelsteins’. I thought he had hit it so he must have been very lucky there. You lose your concentration a little after seeing something like that, but we were OK.
“We gave it a go, but John [MacCrone] was just too good this weekend. He was leading the event before he made a few mistakes so that tells the full story! Full respect and credit to him.
“For sure it is a shame to miss out on the podium by only seven seconds. But OK we were fifth, and maybe looking at sixth, before the last stage so I am very pleased. This is our best performance of the year so I am happy and hope to get a better result and maybe a podium in France.”
Brendan Reeves (5th) said:
“The last stage [SS12] was good until about 24 kilometres in! It was a six-right and a five-left wide, but it wasn’t as wide as I thought! We slid towards the ‘Hinkelsteins’ and I turned out because there was a gap and I didn’t want to hit one of them! We went off into the trees and became stuck there for a good fifteen minutes or so.
“We managed to get the car going again, but then we got a puncture. There was only about four and a half kilometres to go so I thought I would take it slow but I just destroyed the guard so we had to change the wheel in the end.
“But we got it back. In the end we have only lost five championship points compared to where we were, but it is still disappointing to end like that!”
Pontus Tidemand (6th) said:
“Not so happy at the end of this rally. It started pretty badly with a broken driveshaft on the first stage [SS1] which meant we had to retire on the first day. We restarted today and it’s all been about getting through to gain the experience without pushing. The other guys had built up so much more pace and confidence with the extra day’s driving, so it was not so easy to challenge them.
“For sure it is all good training. We didn’t push so much today so I don’t know where our pace will be when we get to France, but we will see how we do when we get there.”
Martin Koči (7th) said:
“The rally was quite good but we didn’t have much luck yesterday or even today. We had troubles all the time, but I have seen the stages on my first time here so hopefully we can do better next year.”
Alastair Fisher (DNF)
Becoming stuck in first gear on the final stage [SS12], Fisher was forced to retire from the event.
Fredrik Åhlin (DNF) said:
“I am now at the hospital in Trier and we have unfortunately retired from Rallye Deutschland. I was not feeling well this morning and after the first stage [SS7] I started to feel really sick and dizzy and then I threw up.
“We got to service ahead of Panzerplatte [SS9] but my condition just got worse and worse and after 10 km into the stage we decided to go slowly. After speaking to everyone in service, we decided I should retire because of my physical condition and I am now at the emergency room to try and find out why I am feeling like this.”
João Silva (DNF) said:
“I am very disappointed not to have been able to compete here this weekend. We had a really good recce and I feel really confident on Tarmac. You can already see in the [WRC] Academy that there are those drivers who are good on gravel, those who are good on Tarmac, and those who are good on both.
I have a lot more experience on Tarmac and was really looking forward to showing some pace, but unfortunately we did not find the budget in time.
“Hopefully we will be back in France and I’ll be working hard looking for sponsors and trying to find the budget to complete the rest of the season.”
Ashley Haigh-Smith (DNF) said:
“I’ve been out watching the stages and the more you see the more you just want to be out there competing! It was good to see some of the [WRC] Academy guys on the stage though – it really showed just how competitive the field is because the top guys were all so neat and quick, better even than some of the guys in more powerful cars!
“I’d really like to be back competing in France and we are working hard to make it happen. We’re running an auction on our Facebook page to try and raise the budget. The top prize is an all expenses paid trip to the rally in either France or Spain – flights (from anywhere in the world), accommodation, food, access to the stages, everything paid for!
“We only need to sell 300 tickets to be in France and they are £85 each. Also everyone who buys a ticket will get a gift pack from the team with caps and t-shirts and a spot on my car at the event!
“I really hope the fans get behind us and that we can be back on the stages in France.”
Source: M-Sport WRC Academy