“It is baffling that these disputes are allowed to happen”
Rally Sweden turned out to be every bit as exciting and as dramatic as we had hoped it might be. For a good part of last week, however, it most certainly didn’t look as if that would be the case.
We had an astonishing situation where the drivers were openly talking about revolt. And what did it all come down to? One word: trust.
All of the histrionics in the days leading up to the event could have been avoided if everyone had put their trust in the Swedish weather service. Let me tell you, on numerous occasions, I’ve set my watch by the accuracy of the meteorological marvels in Sweden. If they say it’s going to snow at 1215, you can bet your co-driver’s bonus it will snow at 1215. Sadly, a fair number of our drivers come from countries where the weather forecast would be better believed if it was delivered by Mr Bean.
So making their way through boggy, slippery, squelchy, rut-riven stages on the recce, our boys and girls quite understandably had concerns, primarily about tyre wear and stud retention. Crew safety was their number one concern. It was put to me like this.
“Just imagine you’re a world class ski jumper. You turn up to the biggest event of the year and the hill and landing area are completely snow-free. You raise your concerns with the organisers, the promoters and the governing body. The reply you get is: ‘Well, we’ve sold lots of tickets and we have TV commitments! So, be a good boy, don’t worry about it, head up to the top of the jump and we’ll sort you out with a set of roller blades!’” Succinct, I thought.
As it turned out, the drivers were wrong and the weather forecast was right. By Friday, the stages were in remarkably good condition.
Of maybe more concern is the evident lack of trust between the drivers and the governing body. There are some very big characters with pretty big egos on both sides. If we are to believe what we hear, the trust between all parties has gone, the respect has gone.
Diplomacy is needed here and, with the best will in the world, I struggle to see a diplomat in either camp. Kofi Annan, Boutros BoutrosGhali and Ban Ki-moon are rather busy right now, so would someone just call Ari Vatanen and ask him to sort out this unseemly mess?
Because it needs someone to step in. What I find astonishing is that when these situations arise, there is a gulf between the two parties. It’s a bit like watching a courtroom drama, when defence and prosecution offer equally compelling and utterly believable arguments.
The drivers swear blind it’s unsafe and those on the other side, feel the risk is acceptable.
Give the big Finn a call, somebody...
Winning WRC2 in Monte Carlo was a great start to Elfyn Evans’ season. But he was under no illusion. Sweden last week was where the real work started.
The entry list was packed with stars from Skoda and Scandinavia. And one Scandinavian in particular was talking to the talk.
“I’m not here to come second,” said Evans’ M-sport team-mate, Norwegian Eyvind Brynildsen. “I did that last year. I didn’t come home to finish second again.”
Unfortunately for him, his home stages on Friday cost him dearly with a transmission problem leaving him in two-wheel drive. A fifth place finish beckoned.
Fredrik Ahlin pushed Evans hard through day one and was the only driver other than the Welshman to lead the category. Skoda men Pontus Tidemand and Esapekka Lappi were also at the races, but slipped back when the Norwegian Fabia broke a driveshaft and the Finnish sister car dropped time off the road.
Both recovered, however, to secure the Czech manufacturer a double podium finish.
The Brc-bound Ahlin’s hopes of arriving in Mid-wales on the back of a world championship class win went south with a puncture on Saturday’s opener. Fastest on half the Friday stages, despite not settling in as quickly as he would have liked, Evans was 17 seconds up by the end of the day.
“It’s been good,” he said on Friday night. “I just want to show Monte was no fluke…”
Having shown the speed on day one, he demonstrated the ability to control that advantage on Saturday, while managing a minor steering issue. With Sunday’s sole stage to come, he had 17.9s in hand over Tidemand. It was enough.
“I was pretty confident about that,” he said. “I have to say, the rhythm wasn’t so good on Saturday morning, but I didn’t panic – I just got on with it.”
Is there anywhere he can’t win in the WRC2 championship this year?
“No,” replied the man now walking the walk and talking the talk.
Tidemand ended the event 14.7s down in second place, while Lappi took third with fastest time through the final stage.
The Finn was feeling ill for much of the event, as was his rival for the bottom step of the podium, Anders Grondal (Fiesta R5). Brynildsen was fifth with Ole Christian Veiby rounding out the top six in his Skoda.
Sixty-two year-old Michael Fabre took a lonely WRC3 win in his DS 3 R3. The Frenchman led from start to finish as the sole starter.
Sebastien Ogier (Fra)/julien Ingrassia (FRA) Hayden Paddon (NZL)/JOHN Kennard (NZL) Mads Ostberg (NOR)/OLA Floene (NOR) Andreas Mikkelsen (Nor)/anders Jæger (NOR) Ott Tanak (Est)/raigo Molder (EST) Dani Sordo (ESP)/MARC Marti (ESP) Henning Solberg (NOR)/ILKA Minor-petrasko (AUT) Craig Breen (Irl)/scott Martin (GBR) Elfyn Evans (Gbr)/craig Parry (GBR) Teemu Suninen (Fin)/mikko Markkula (FIN) Thierry Neuville (Bel)/nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Khalid Al-qassimi (Uae)/chris Patterson (GBR) Kris Meeke (GBR)/PAUL Nagle (IRL) Valeriy Gorban (Ukr)/volodymyr Korsya (UKR) Jari-matti Latvala (FIN)/ Miikka Anttila (FIN) Mait Maarend (Est)/mihkel Kapp (EST) Yazeed Al-rajhi (Sa)/michael Orr (GBR) Eric Camilli (Fra)/nicolas Klinger (FRA) Lorenzo Bertelli (Ita)/simone Scattolin (ITA)