M-Sport press release
PODIUM FOR NOVIKOV AS TÄNAK STEALS POWER STAGE POINT
After one of the most dramatic events the World Rally Championship (WRC) has seen for decades at the 20123 Vodafone Rally de Portugal, Evgeny Novikov had a sensational drive to secure his best ever result and the first podium ever for a Russian driver. Similarly, Dennis Kuipers impressed to secure seventh place on his return to the WRC. Elsewhere, after an eventful rally for Ott Tänak, the young Estonian shone over the final stage to claim his first Power Stage point.
In what has been far from a trouble free rally, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet kept their composure throughout the weekend. Suffering intercom problems on Day 2, the pairing were forced to use the road head-set – Giraudet using all of his expertise with one hand on the microphone and one on his notes throughout the morning loop! On Day 3 an issue with a misfiring engine recurred to blight the duo. But, unfazed by the problems and ever focussed, Novikov thrived in the tricky conditions to lay third overall heading into the final day.
Similarly, Kuipers put in an impressive drive on his return to the WRC. Getting to grips back behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the Dutchman’s times improved throughout the weekend. Building his partnership with new-for-2012 co-driver Robin Buysmans, Kuipers prospered where the more experienced faltered, keeping his Fiesta on the road and securing seventh position heading into the final 155.08 km.
Elsewhere, there were mixed fortunes for Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk. The Estonian shone on Day 1, claiming his first stage win on gravel, a full 1.4 seconds clear of rally-winner Mikko Hirvonen. ‘Best of the rest’, Tänak lay fourth heading into Day 2. Regrettably, with treacherous conditions catching out a number of highly experienced competitors – including both factory Ford drivers – the youngster slid off the road and collided with unsighted rocks rejoining the stage. Despite being relegated to the back of the field, Tänak’s knowledge of the event grew as the youngster set some competitive times, rarely out of the top-five, over the remaining tests.
Embarking on the final day of competition, M-Sport’s young guns headed to the hills north-west of Faro. On course for his best ever result, Novikov conserved his podium position over the morning loop. Unfazed by the problems inflicting an ailing Mads Østberg on three cylinders ahead, the young Russian’s maturity shone through as he focussed on his own pace. Folding his balaclava neatly on his lap at the stage end, Novikov had everything under control heading into the final loop.
On a flyer, Kuipers targeted sixth place over the morning loop. More than comfortable behind the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC, the Dutchman took 21.9 seconds out of Martin Prokop’s lead over the first three stages, reducing the gap to just 20.4 seconds. Eager to secure sixth position, Kuipers was a man on a mission heading into the final loop.
After setting a stunning time over the opening stage – with the fourth fastest time just 4.9 adrift of Dani Sordo – there were further misfortunes for Tänak. Knocking the rear of the car and breaking the toe-link bracket about 25 kilometers into SS18, followed by a consequential loss of brakes, the Estonian lost over two and a half minutes. Getting the car repaired in Service, the youngster was looking for a good position going into the final loop and the all important Power Stage.
Embarking on the second loop there was late drama for Novikov as the throttle peddle became loose 500 meters into SS20. Losing time, but making it through the 21.42 km test, the peddle was completely off at the stage end. With Giraudet desperately trying to fix the problem on the road section, the Frenchman’s expertise got the pairing’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC running again. But there would be no maximum attack from the young Russian as he nursed his Fiesta through the final two stages to hold off a resurgent Petter Solberg in the factory Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Giraudet’s ingenuity paid dividends for the long 31.04 km of SS21. Despite losing over a minute and a half to Solberg, Novikov held a 34.2 second advantage going into the final Power Stage. Although his throttle problem hindered any chance of bonus points over the final test, an elated Novikov made it through the stage to become the first Russian and youngest driver ever to stand on the WRC podium. The pairings success was also Giraudet’s first time back on the podium since 2002.
Kuipers continued his impressive rally over the remaining loop. Despite being unable to catch Prokop for sixth, the Dutchman put in a sterling performance to seventh on his first event of 2012.
Elsewhere, a difficult event for Tänak concluded with a high when the young Estonian powered through the final stage to claim his first Power Stage point in third.
Back to his best, Novikov now lies fifth in the overall standings, eight points clear of Jari-Matti Latvala in sixth.
Evgeny Novikov (3rd) said:
“I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I am really very happy that we could achieve such a strong result.
“We had a scary moment on SS21 when the throttle peddle came off completely and we could only fix it on the road section. But we did so, using cable-ties and some tape!
“This really is an incredible achievement for me. I am very happy.”
Dennis Kuipers (7th) said:
“I am more than happy. I never expected this result and it is unbelievable. To have no mistakes in a rally like this is fantastic. The conditions were incredible, but we made it and I am really happy to be here.”
Ott Tänak (15th) said:
“This has been a difficult rally for us. The beginning wasn’t that bad but it just got worse and worse. Ok we finished, and managed to complete all the stages so I must take that as a positive.
“I am also very happy to have secured my first Power Stage point. But the rain was getting worse as the later cars went through so I think we may have had a small advantage.
“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t get a better result. We had a chance at a podium on this rally, but that is just the way it is. We were hoping for more.”