Chances of Cir­cuit WRC round im­prov­ing

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By Jack Benyon Pho­tos: Jakob Ebrey

The Cir­cuit of Ire­land’s World Rally Cham­pi­onship as­pi­ra­tions were fur­ther boosted last week by strong mes­sages of sup­port from govern­ment min­is­ters.

Both North­ern Ir­ish first min­is­ter Ar­lene Foster and deputy first min­is­ter Martin Mcguin­ness spoke of their pride in the event and the po­ten­tial for it to step up from the Euro­pean to world level.

The Cir­cuit re­mains con­tracted to the ERC for this sea­son, but event di­rec­tor Bobby Wil­lis spoke at length last sea­son with the WRC pro­moter on the po­ten­tial for the Belfast­based event to make its de­but at ral­ly­ing’s high­est level.

Foster said: “The am­bi­tion for the Cir­cuit of Ire­land is to be­come a world rally event and that’s very much still alive.”

Mcguin­ness echoed those sen­ti­ments, say­ing: “The Cir­cuit of Ire­land is hugely im­por­tant to the is­land of Ire­land. I have been a fan of ral­ly­ing for many years. I had the op­por­tu­nity of be­ing driven around a track in Dubai a few years ago – which was a highly en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Fredrik Ah­lin be­lieves that the pace he showed to chal­lenge DMACK driver Elfyn Evans for vic­tory on the Mid Wales Stages will make him a strong can­di­date for the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship in 2016.

The 24-year-old, driv­ing for Martin Wilkinson’s CA1 Sport out­fit, fin­ished 17.2s down on Evans on the Welsh­man’s home stages. He briefly took the lead be­fore ser­vice when Evans was strug­gling to sweep the road on the tricky morn­ing stages, which had been hit by snow and slush on top of the wet gravel thanks to a heavy down­fall on Thurs­day night/fri­day morn­ing.

The Swede was the only driver close to chal­leng­ing Evans, as a mix­ture of crews fur­ther back were suf­fer­ing from is­sues. Punc­tures and small mis­takes played a part in the sep­a­ra­tion, but the fi­nal man on the podium – Tom Cave – was over a minute and a half be­hind the spar­ring pair.

It is not the first time that the pair have du­elled, they are very fa­mil­iar with each other af­ter an­other in­trigu­ing bat­tle ear­lier in the year, al­beit at world cham­pi­onship level in Swe­den.

But Ah­lin be­lieves that the fact he was on the pace on roads he is less fa­mil­iar with bodes well for some of the later ral­lies in the year in the BRC.

“It’s good for me to show my pace. We were quick in Swe­den but if I can go very well here with very lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence [of the stages] and still be who he [Elfyn] is look­ing be­hind at, that is good,” he said. “I was the only one be­ing close to Elfyn so it looks good [for the cham­pi­onship].”

The rally was won on stage five, the penul­ti­mate test through Hafren/sweet Lamb. Evans ad­mit­ted to push­ing very hard through the stage in or­der to re­take the lead, hav­ing been just over three sec­onds down at the ser­vice halt.

“I pushed very hard in Hafren and we had a few mo­ments in there,” said Evans, who had cho­sen to use his dou­ble points Joker on the event. Each driver can nom­i­nate a round of the cham­pi­onship to score dou­ble points on, mean­ing a max­i­mum of 50 points is on of­fer if a driver play­ing his joker can win. “Ob­vi­ously with it be­ing my joker round I didn’t want Fredrik win­ning,” he added. “We put on a bit of a push there so we had a good gap and it was just a case of be­ing clean for the last one.”

The Welsh­man be­lieves that sweep­ing the road was also a ma­jor is­sue in con­tribut­ing to Ah­lin’s ad­van­tage on Sun­day morn­ing.

“I think the road po­si­tion was a big dis­ad­van­tage this morn­ing [for us] so I think once the road was the same for ev­ery­body, I was con­fi­dent we had con­trol [of the rally] then,” added Evans.

“He def­i­nitely had me wor­ried around lunchtime, ob­vi­ously tak­ing 8s a stage is a lot, but I thought I’d driven well in the first two stages. It’s im­pos­si­ble to know how much con­di­tions will im­prove [as more cars pass the stage] but it all came good at the week­end.”

The first event of the new BRC era drew high lev­els of praise from the large ma­jor­ity of at­ten­dees, with only small amend­ments sug­gested as the way for­ward. Fourth placed finisher and 2011 BRC cham­pion David Bo­gie praised the qual­ity of the stages.

“They’re ob­vi­ously great stages and it was a nice compact for­mat and it worked re­ally well,” he said. “The only thing I can think of is I would have liked it to be longer, but I’m sure the or­gan­is­ers will be look­ing at that for next year. There’s no way they could have an­tic­i­pated the num­ber of en­tries this year and fac­tored in the cost of mak­ing it longer. Ob­vi­ously it’s the first year of the new BRC and it was nice for it to come back with so much of a buzz.

“I think the or­gan­is­ers re­sponded re­ally well [to the weather on the event]. It wasn’t nice for the mar­shals but they all seemed to have smiles on their faces.”

Elfyn Evans has just driven one of the best ral­lies of his life in my mind. That may sound silly af­ter dis­cussing how close Fredrik Ah­lin was to the Welsh­man in New­town, but when you delve a lit­tle deeper, there’s far more that made Evans’ per­for­mance great. And great is a word I don’t like to band around a lot.

First off, let’s look at the cir­cum­stances that brought Evans to the BRC. M-sport went a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and have two dif­fer­ent driv­ers. That’s well cov­ered ter­ri­tory. Did that dent his con­fi­dence? I don’t think so. Speak­ing to Elfyn mul­ti­ple times be­fore the sea­son started and dur­ing New­town, the fire is burn­ing at a higher tem­per­a­ture than ever. There’s a cer­tain swag­ger to the Dol­gel­lau man’s de­meanour that screams cham­pion. Some­one on top of their game. That could well be be­cause he is.

Two wins at world level, and the at­ti­tude by most was that Evans couldn’t win in Mid Wales. If he did, it wouldn’t be enough or it was too easy as he had been in a World Rally Car for two years. If he didn’t win, some­how he would be in­fe­rior. I dis­agree ve­he­mently, but that was the at­ti­tude held by some. He was cer­tainly the pre-event favourite and any­one who said oth­er­wise was ly­ing or not ‘in the know’.

And then Ah­lin came along. The Swede is clearly a bit spe­cial. His pace has never been in doubt and in Mid Wales he did some­thing he’s strug­gled to do in the past, put a whole rally to­gether. Over­all it wasn’t enough, but if he con­tin­ues in that vein he’ll only im­prove.

Back to Elfyn and my jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. He was sweep­ing the road and fight­ing a com­peti­tor who had bet­ter tyres. Fac­ing the crush­ing strain of ex­pec­ta­tion from on­look­ers who – as I pointed to be­fore – had de­cided that he should win with ease.

That’s the kind of pres­sure that only the true greats per­form un­der. Se­bastien Ogier, for ex­am­ple. He’s swept the road for years, but he’s so good he of­ten tran­scends things that usu­ally de­fine how quick a driver will be.

De­spite all the pres­sure, Elfyn was noth­ing but smi­ley and ap­proach­able for the whole week­end. He was con­fi­dent he had pace in re­serve and as soon as the con­di­tions im­proved, he pushed like hell and backed up his words.

If that’s not a sign of a great per­for­mance then I don’t know what is. In my eyes, Evans has only fur­ther proved that he de­serves to be headed back to the World Cham­pi­onship in a World Car, but hope­fully not in Ger­many. That would clash with the BRC...

Ah­lin im­pressed with pace in CA1 Fi­esta Evans (l) and Ah­lin (r) en­joyed fight Evans has chal­lengers for BRC ti­tle

More than meets the eye in Evans BRC vic­tory

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