Another weekend of great rally action warrants another edition of the Service Park. We had the Rally America boys and girls going at it here domestically and the Prime Yalta round of the IRC as well. Don’t forget the FiA has released the 2012 WRC calendar as well with the return of an old friend and some new faces being excluded.
2012 WRC Calendar:
The FiA has released next year’s calendar and to a few peoples surprise, Monte Carlo is back on for 2012. If you remember, Monte Carlo had been the traditional opening round event until 2009 when it was left off the schedule. The event organizers were not going to have any of the FiA’s flip flop schedule making and defected to the IRC. The IRC round would play host to a number of WRC drivers as the event proved to be a good chance to get in the car before the season would open in Sweden. As was originally reported, both the WRC and IRC will stage their opener simultaneously at the storied venue. This is a big deal for the WRC no doubt. The event was thought to be crucial for the future of the series and a must on the calendar. If you team this announcement with MINI and Volkswagen joining the fray, there now seems to be some upward potential in the series again and a chance to further grow in the coming years. Almost like a sense of stability and a return of an order to be honest. I am very happy to see the Monte back on and I thi genuinely think it will produce an amazing event for both the IRC and WRC.
With the addition of the Monte, Abu Dhabi has yet again been left off the schedule all together. They had been working hard to get at least a candidate event role which would work much like an exhibition, but the FiA has removed any hope for the short term that a new Middle Eastern round would be added. The FiA may have learned their lesson after the Jordan disaster as well as the massive turmoil that has existed in the region so far this year. The FiA did not remove any chance saying that Abu Dhabi may run as a candidate event in a couple seasons. A huge set back for the event for sure. I think this is a good call because we have seen what has happened to the “new market” that the FiA has approached with Formula 1. It has not went over so well to put it nicely. While the Middle East has a large rally fan base, I still don’t think you can justify adding another round there and potentially chopping a classic venue. There are enough events still being rotated in and out, but adding Abu Dhabi is just not a wise move at this present time. Perhaps if the WRC can ride some momentum and get people investing in the sport again, then maybe, just maybe we can talk about expanding to new markets with the product. Unfortunately, that means the WRC will not be coming to the United States anytime soon. Sad but true. Listed below is the 2012 season so far:
22/01 MCO Monte Carlo
12/02 SWE Sweden
11/03 MEX Mexico
01/04 PRT Portugal
29/04 ARG Argentina
27/05 GRC Greece * (or 03/06)
24/06 NZL New Zealand
05/08 FIN Finland
26/08 DEU Germany
16/09 GBR Great Britain
07/10 FRA France
04/11 ESP Spain
October ITA Italy *
* Dates subject to confirmation
It was also announced that in 2012, the shakedown stage will be used as qualifying for the gravel events on the calendar. Given the rude amounts of tactics being played and events seemingly being ruined because of them, the FiA has moved to remedy the situation for next season. The fastest crews will be permitted to pick their starting spot on day1 and will begin the remaining days in a reverse order to their finishing position. This will allow the fast cars to run on clean stages and the slower cars will act as sweepers as opposed to the current system. I like the idea of making shakedown count and trying to eliminate the tactics game from competition. We have has some truly great rallies, but then again we have had some instances of ridiculous tactics being played. Those tactics are taking away from the competition. This new system will allow the fastest cars to see indeed who the faster driver is and due well to eliminate the tactics that have plagued competition. It was almost like you were being penalized for leading the championship because you would be the street sweeper on day 1. Not the way it should work in my opinion.
Prime Yalta Rally:
Fresh off of their last round in France, the Intercontinental Rally Championship traveled to Ukraine for the Prime Yalta Rally. Freddy Loix was absent and unable to defend his championship lead, but Skoda entered their wildcard into the picture. Juho Hanninen who has been on a mysterious program with Skoda thus far in 2011 would compete on the asphalt stages as well. Hanninen left nothing to chance and took a convincing win and with it the championship lead. The victory also made the Skoda ace the most successful driver in IRC history with seven victories. Keep in mind the championship has not been around that long. Hanninen was able to control the gap rather easily and showed that even though his schedule is up in the air, when competing in the IRC he will be the man to beat.
Monte Carlo winner Bryan Bouffier finished second place for Peugeot. A solid performance for the Frenchman who has looked pretty impressive so far this year. Really showing that Monte Carlo was not a one off and that he can still run with the best of them on stage. Jan Kopecky would close out the podium in his Skoda factory ride. Kopecky does well to get a podium here but is just not getting the job done in terms of victories. He is lucky to be Czech I think sometimes as Skoda is a Czech manufacturer. He always pales in comparison to Hanninen. Andreas Mikkelsen would finish in fourth position after an off seen him damage his Fabia S2000. He would make repairs and work back to fourth while also winning the Colin McRae Flatout award.
The next round for the IRC will take place in Belgium for the Ypres Rally 23-25 June.
The Rally America championship was on this weekend as Subaru USA driver David Higgins would look to make it three in a row. The British driver did just that by the slimmest of margins. Attrition teamed with complete chaos during day two service would see the margin of victory only 1.3 secs. Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew would have a malfunction in their intercom system which seen the duo resort to hand signals in the car for pace notes! It would be more issues for Antoine L’Estage that would see him narrowly miss out on the top step. Higgins is definitely the hot hand in the Open Class as he looks to secure the title for both himself and Subaru yet again. Travis who?!?
The Super Production class would see Ramana Langemann and Chrissie Beavis finish third overall and first in SP class. It was Travis Hanson however that would have the last laugh as his second in class performance earned him the 2011 championship. Congrats to Hanson Motorsports on what has been an absolute awesome season.
Chris Duplessis would return to competition after his falling out with Scion. Duplessis would be the first driver in North America to have a proper R2 Fiesta on stage and he dominated the event. He was leading 2WD by over eight minutes before a suspension failure seen him out of the event. That gave top honors to Chris Greenhouse and his 1995 Plymouth Neon ( O.0) and his first ever national championship victory. There again proving that you must finish the event to win the event. Unreal.
The final round of the Rally America championship is upon us as the New England Forest Rally based in Newry Maine concludes the championship. John Cassidy will have a newly revamped T4 for the event and we encourage everyone to head out and see John and the boys with Last Ditch Racing in Maine. A class act and great fun to be around in the service park!