Novikov On Target For Best Ever Finish In Second
There were mixed fortunes for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s rising stars on Day 2 of the 2012 Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Despite incurring intercom problems throughout the day, a sensational drive from Evgeny Novikov sees the Russian hold second place going into Day 3. Proving himself to be one of the best young drivers in the World Rally Championship (WRC), Novikov is just 36.3 seconds adrift of the lead. On target for a strong haul of points on his return to the world series, Dennis Kuipers currently lies eighth. Elsewhere, there was heartache for Ott Tänak. After an outstanding performance on the opening day, the Estonian fell foul to the treacherous conditions and will Rally 2 tomorrow.
Returning to the Tavira municipality north-east of Faro, the M-Sport crews tackled 66.34 kilometres of competitive stages. With persistent heavy rain and poor visibility making conditions almost impossible to drive, organisers were forced to cancel the final loop of stages.
Novikov and experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet excelled in the difficult conditions. Despite suffering intercom problems on the first stage (SS5) the young Russian thrived in the conditions to set the fourth fastest time overall – just 4.6 seconds adrift of factory Ford driver, Petter Solberg. With fellow factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala going off the road, Novikov was propelled into fourth position overall.
Catching an ailing Jari Ketomaa on SS6 and having to cope with calling pace notes over the road intercom, Novikov set the sixth fastest time over the 25.15 kilometre test. As disaster struck for Solberg, the young Muscovite found himself in the final podium position going into the final stage of the loop – just 17 seconds adrift of Mads Østberg in second.
The drama continued over SS7. Fearless behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Novikov set the second fastest time in pursuit of his best ever WRC finish. A puncture for Østberg saw the Russian climb to second in the overall standings – 5.5 up on the Norwegian and just 36.3 seconds adrift of the lead heading into the third day of competition tomorrow.
Also battling with the tricky conditions, Kuipers continued his strong drive in pursuit of points with the 12th fastest time over the first stage (SS5). Contesting his first rally behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC since November last year, the Dutchman found himself in eighth place overall, just 17.1 seconds adrift of Patrik Sandell in seventh.
The Dutchman set more strong times through SS6 and SS7. In a composed drive through the difficult conditions, Kuipers and co-driver Robin Buysmans excelled where the more experienced faltered, to secure eighth place in the overall standings and will be looking for further gains as the rally unfolds.
Elsewhere, after a sensational drive on the first day of competition, there was heartache for Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk. Falling prey to the treacherous conditions on SS5 the youngster went off the road 1.5 kilometres into the stage. Getting his Ford Fiesta RS WRC back on the road but colliding with unsighted rocks, Tänak was unable to complete the stage but will compete under Rally 2 tomorrow.
With the conditions forcing organisers to cancel the remaining stages, ALM Rally supported Novikov is in prime position for the remaining tests.
Evgeny Novikov (2nd) said:
“It was very difficult out on the stages. It was raining, it was foggy, it was very slippery.
“We also had a problem with the intercom so Denis [Giraudet] had to call my pace notes on the road intercom which made it quite difficult for him.
“Everything is ok with the car and we’ll keep the same set-up. I’m feeling confident in the car and my times have been good. We just need to carry on the way we have been going. Maximum attack.”
Dennis Kuipers (8th) said:
“The conditions are absolutely unbelievable. We have fog, rain, mud, everything! You have to be there to believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“It is so slippery out there and a real challenge just to keep the car on the road. But ok, we are still here and that is the main thing.”
Ott Tänak (Rally 2) said:
”We tried quite hard because we wanted to set some more good times, but there was so much aquaplaning and we went off the road. It was possible to get back on the road because the ditch wasn’t that steep, but there were some big rocks that I couldn’t see which I hit and we got stuck.
“When we get everything sorted with the car, for sure we will carry on but we won’t be able to get any strong points now. But I think we can still do some good stage times and get the experience.”