Rally de Portugal
The FIA WRC Academy was officially launched yesterday afternoon ahead of the opening Super Special Stage in Lisbon at the inaugural round of the brand new WRC feeder series. A panel of WRC Academy Principal, Marc de Jong, former WRC runner up and newly appointed FIA WRC Manager Michèle Mouton, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Manager Malcolm Wilson and Pirelli’s Matteo Braga gave the audience an insight into the inspiration behind the WRC Academy.
De Jong explained the key principles behind the scheme and how it came together, “We aimed to create a program which promotes talent – and the result is a sporting competition that is complemented with a tuition programme. The FIA WRC Academy is accessible and affordable and an ‘arrive-and-drive’ formula with the Ford Fiesta R2 proved the best option. It is perfect for crews taking part in their first international series. And it will be all about the driving, because everyone will have the same cars centrally supplied, maintained and prepared by M-Sport and fitted with Pirelli tyres.”
With one point up for grabs for every WRC Academy stage win as well as overall points the heat is on this weekend, but Wilson highlighted it isn’t just pace that counts out on the tricky Portuguese stages, “This weekend, some of the guys will go flat out from the beginning, but it won’t necessarily be the quickest driver who wins, it’ll be the smartest.”
The launch was followed by the Thursday evening Lisboa Super Special. Spanish driver Yeray Lemes tore through the course to claim the first point of the 2011 WRC Academy Cup and a slender 0.6 second lead over Irishman and Pirelli Star Driver Craig Breen. The full-length gravel test gets underway today at 0946 after a week of careful preparation by the 18 crews.
In the build up to the rally, as part of their ‘classroom’ programme, the WRC Academy Class of 2011 had the opportunity to quiz Monster World Rally Team driver Ken Block on the finer points of media relations and sponsorship acquisition.
The self-styled master of rally marketing had much wisdom to share: “If you put Ken Block and Sébastien Loeb together, you’d have the perfect rally driver,” says kite-surfing Estonian, Egon Kaur. “We have to think not just about what we want from sponsors, but how they feel and how they look at it.”
Ever-determined Molly Taylor, the WRC Academy’s only female driver and one of two Australians in the series, recognises the value of Block’s wisdom, “He’s been very clever in the way he’s been able to form the Monster World Rally Team. It’s an expensive sport, so no matter how good you are you need to find a way to finance it.”
Before Vodafone Rally de Portugal got underway, the crews tried out their Ford Fiesta R2s on a 7.6km gravel test stage to fine-tune the suspension settings. “It was quite a realistic road in comparison with the rally, with some medium speed and some fast corners,” says Northern Irishman Alastair Fisher, with his trademark relaxed attitude, “I’m very pleased with the car. It feels really positive and I’m very comfortable.”
Estonian Miko-Ove Niinemae, the youngest driver in the WRC Academy at only 17 years old, took a lot away from the test: “I was just trying to get used to the car, which will take a bit of time. I hadn’t driven the Fiesta before on gravel, but it feels better than the other R2 cars I’ve driven. I got a feel for the car in the high-speed corners, but I’ve still got a bit to learn in braking and slow-speed corners.”
-source: wrc academy