WRC 2016: Sebastien Ogier wins Wales Rally GB
Finally the world champion has won a gravel rally this year! Sebastien Ogier's win at Wales RallyGB finally ended the running order nightmare which has haunted him, in conditions where tracks which became progressively more slippery actually favoured him. For another time this year Ott Tanak found the conditions also completely suited his DMack tyres, notwithstanding his later running order and on this occasion he scored the most number of overall scratch times. The Estonian not only scored his second second place of the season but also his first ever PowerStage win. Ogier helped Volkswagen forget a nightmare event in which all their cars had driveshaft troubles by leading the team to their fourth successive Manufacturers' title. Simone Tempestini secured the WRC3 title leaving the only remaining series to be settled is WRC2, in which works Skoda drivers fought hard not only to overtake the championship total of Ford driver Elfyn Evans but also the privateer Skoda driver Teemu Suninen, to be resolved in Australia. The category was won by Esapekka Lappi after a dramatic first stage crash which wrecked his car's aerodynamic wing. British drivers fared badly, Citroen driver Kris Meeke had a most unhappy event struggling to finish even fifth, the only British driver to finish in the top twenty while Craig Breen retired off the road.
Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia on their way to victory at the 2016 Wales Rally GB
For the final round in Europe, the last time fans will see top drivers in action in the current specification WRC cars, there was a good turnout in the top teams, with the non registered Citroen team even bringing four examples of their DS3 WRC cars. There were no technical novelties among the cars and with continued attention to finalising the designs of the 2017 WRC cars, very little attention to pre-event testing of the 2016 cars. Special this year was a change of date, moving from the traditional November date into the warmer and longer daylight of late October and competitors were pleased to see good conditions during the recce. This immediately focussed attention on the other major change, the route between tyre changing points, which on Day 2 extended for 100km, an unprecedented distance under current rules. Drivers wanted to run soft tyres for performance, but would these last the distance in the warmer climate?
Actually they would, because the weather turned the night before the start. It was now wet and foggy! Someone happy to see the change was the DMack driver Ott Tanak, knowing that his tyres would be splendid on the wet and slippery Welsh roads. Indeed he had already created a shock when he was fastest on the rather softer but dry conditions at Shakedown. There was to be only one rival for Tanak for whom the conditions were also well suited. The recently crowned world champion Sebastien Ogier. He was happy as it was probably one of the few occasions during the season when running first car on gravel roads was an advantage. As the tracks became damp the slimy tracks got more and more slippery with passing cars. Except for Tanak who found the conditions gave his DMack tyres an even greater advantage!
So it was that Ogier set off on another rally, this time leading Tanak from start to finish. Tanak lost touch when he dropped about a quarter minute with a puncture late on Friday afternoon, after when Ogieer was in full control. Tanak ended up with 12 fastest stage times against seven for Ogier, an impressive confirmation of the speed of these tyres as shown in Poland and Finland. Volkswagen were in for a rally of stress, when all three cars suffered various forms of driveshaft failure, in the case of the champion it came just before the end of the final stage of the day. How about that for luck! This offered a lot more hope for the Hyundais who ended up with three cars in the top six places while Ostberg's Fiesta was struggling to keep up with Hyundai's Sordo. While Mikkelsen suffered bad time loss with his VW transmission trouble, Latvala was still able to join the top ten cars, eventually overtaking Ostberg into seventh place by the finish. The top ten were ended up with Stephane Lefebvre ninth on his first event since the Germany crash and Camilli tenth.
There were 19 competitors in WRC2 but sadly the British national champion Elfyn Evans was not among them. Best WRC2 driver at Shakedown was Suninen but it was Lappi who soon passed into the lead, despite damaging the rear of the car and particularly the rear aileron on his Skoda on the opening stage, a major handicap on the fast Welsh stages. Suninen continued in second place until the final stage when he was pipped by Tidemand. Tidemand was up to third behind Lappi and Suninen midway through Day 1. Although Tidemand had already lost his own chance of the WRC2 title he was in the position to support Lappi in his title race by reducing the points that Suninen could achieve. Team tactics! Tidemand started the final day 12.3 seconds behind Suninen. After the first loop the gap was down to 4.8 seconds and finally he snatched second place on the PowerStage. Standings in the series now saw Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen equal not only on points but also on the number of wins, 2nd, 3rd and 4th places gained during the season. Hopes lay with Lappi finishing first or second in Australia to secure the title without the need to consider the rule book further, at least for who takes the title! Abbring had another rally in the official NG i20 R5 entry but had to stop on all three days having slid into a ditch, then had transmission trouble and on the final day off the road avoiding a rock.
Four drivers were still able to win the WRC3 series, two of them were in Wales. These were the current leader Simone Tempestini, the veteran Michel Fabre and Sebastien Loeb's protégé Terry Folb (non starter), while the Peugeot driver Fabio Andolfi stayed at home. The winner of the associated Junior World Rally Championship series, for which Wales was the final qualifying round, was decided in favour of Tempestini, but the drivers Folb, Martin Koci and Vincent Dubert could still finish second. Best WRC3 at Shakedown was Martin Koci and he led the category from start to finish. Tempestini overtook Rossel into second place where he finished, gaining the WRC3 title.