Semerad conquers Swedish snow to make history as youngest ever PWRC winner
At only 20 years old, Czech driver Martin Semerad (Mitsubishi, DMACK) became the youngest ever series winner on the opening round of the 2011 FIA Production car World Rally Championship at Rally Sweden this weekend. The end of Day One exclusion of Patrik Flodin (SWE, Subaru, Michelin) and the Day Two retirement of early leader Anders Grшndal (NOR, Subaru, Michelin) left the way clear for Semerad to take the lead. His best PWRC result up to now being third place in Wales Rally GB in 2009, once Semerad had victory in his sights, he wasn't going to give it up lightly.
The untouchable performance of 2010 PWRC runner-up Flodin on his home event last year meant he entered this weekend the favourite to win the PWRC. However, Norwegian Champion Grшndal raised the bar when he stormed through Thursday evening's SSS1 to take the lead, before sealing a clean sweep of stage wins on the first loop of Day One proper putting himself over a minute ahead of second-placed Flodin. Grшndal eased off in the afternoon, intent on not making any mistakes, but then gave away more time than planned when he had to drive SS6 and SS7 without studs on his Impreza's tyres. Meanwhile, determined to reassert his dominance in the snow, Flodin whipped through the afternoon stages, stripped 40 seconds off Grшndal's lead and was ready to battle his fellow Subaru driver for the series win on Day Two. Unfortunately, the Swede's rally was prematurely curtailed by the Stewards after Day One because the rims used on his Subaru Impreza did not comply with the FIA's Sporting Regulations.
This left Semerad lying third in the PWRC at the start of Day Two, over four minutes behind Grшndal and nearly three minutes behind newcomer Dmitry Tagirov (Subaru, Michelin), until Tagirov's run-in with a snow bank on SS8 cost him over eight minutes and allowed Semerad to move into second. Without the pressure of his experienced rival Flodin behind him, leader Grшndal was on top form on Day Two, easily winning the first three stages. However, while Grшndal successfully topped the PWRC sprinter standings over the weekend, disaster struck for the young Norwegian on SS11 when engine problems marked the end of his rally and campaign for his first PWRC victory.
Although sorry for his competitors' misfortune, Semerad was delighted to be promoted into the lead in his Lancer on SS12. Consistency ruled the day and he powered on through Days Two and Three to reach the finish unperturbed, picking up three stage wins (SS15, SS17, SS18) and 25 well-deserved PWRC points. It was then Ukrainian driver Yuriy Protasov (Mitsubishi, Michelin) who came home second on his WRC debut, while Peruvian Champion Nicolas Fuchs (Mitsubishi, Michelin) took the final place on the podium on his first rally outside South America, sealing a Mitsubishi 1-2-3 on the PWRC podium.
Protasov focused entirely on his own rally. He saw his battle as one with the elements, not the other drivers and concentrated on completing each stage without any major delays. After a few close shaves on SS4 and SS5 on Day One, which he finished lying sixth in the PWRC, he quickly mastered his goal and powered through the field to second, even winning SS13. Rally Sweden was also a steep learning curve for Fuchs. Never having driven in the snow before, Fuchs lost over six minutes on SS2, the opening stage of Day One proper, when he went off into a snow bank and had to be dug out by spectators. However, he refused to be caught out twice. After two minor offs on SS3 and SS6, which each cost him only 10 to 15 seconds, he finished seventh in the PWRC on Day One, but went from strength-to-strength on Day Two, focusing not on sheer speed, but on keeping his Mitsubishi on the road, soon mastering the alien conditions to find a good rhythm in the snow and even win two stages (SS12, SS14).
1st MARTIN SEMERAD (CZE): "Consistency and patience paid off. Patrik [Flodin] or Anders [Grшndal] were more deserved of the victory, but the points are ours and we are stoked about it. It wasn't very enjoyable driving so carefully, but it's a great start to the season."
2nd YURIY PROTASOV (UKR): "We are very happy with this result. It's only my second snow rally and I'm very pleased to come second."
3rd NICOLAS FUCHS (PER): "I'm so happy it was a long event and it was my first time competing in the snow. It's been a good weekend for me. I'm very excited to be on the podium in my first PWRC event. Now, I'm looking forward to the rest of the season and new challenges. I have a great team I'm working with and I hope that this year we can achieve great things together."
VODAFONE RALLY DE PORTUGAL www.rallydeportugal.pt 24 27 MARCH 2011, ROUND 2 OF 7 FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP (FOR DRIVERS)