MAKES THE BEST OF A BAD JOB IN WRC2
There was an element of farce about this year’s support series in the World Rally Championship – so much so that change has been forced for next season.
Esapekka Lappi won the WRC2 title in Australia, which was great for the him, but hopeless for fans trying to fathom who’s doing what: Lappi had been out of the running all year long before he walked to an embarrassingly comfortable win Down Under. That victory in New South Wales belied what had been, on occasion that the leading contenders had come together, a fierce battle and it somewhat sullied the WRC2 title.
When Elfyn Evans completed his seven rounds, he was 27 points ahead of Teemu Suninen, seemingly his nearest rival. Had it not been for a dodgy fuel rail sensor in Argentina or him whacking the suspension in Portugal, the title would have been his.
At this point Lappi was pretty much nowhere: 40 points behind and apparently out of the picture. But when the Skoda driver took victory on his first visit to Wales – and his teammate Pontus Tidemand turned in one of the stages of the season to elbow Suninen out of second – the Finn’s trip to Coffs Harbour was booked and the celebrations could begin early. Yes, this is a mechanical sport and anything could happen, but the world knew Lappi would win without any of his main competition in attendance.
The FIA is determined to put an end to this and is looking at ways to make sure the final three rounds are common to all competitors. That’s entirely necessary to ensure a worthy and understandable title run-in.
Michel Fabre provided an even worse case of a driver trying to dodge the competition and land himself a seat at the FIA’S end of season Gala. Contesting WRC3, the 62-year-old Frenchman signed up with PH Sport’s Junior Team and picked the rounds nobody else would be going to. WRC3 runs alongside the Junior WRC (and uses the same category of R3 cars), but the Junior drivers compete on a set calendar of rallies – avoiding those means shooting at an open goal for WRC3 glory. Fabre moved to the top of the table with a hat-trick of wins in Sweden, Mexico and Argentina, but ultimately missed out on the title by one point to JWRC winner Simone Tempestini.
From a sporting perspective, the right man won – Tempestini’s obviously the quicker of the two – but Fabre’s determination to land a world title via a regulatory loophole has to be admired. The FIA came close to closing WRC3 down for next season, but has inexplicably let this lame duck live on into 2017. Astonishing.
Tempestini dominated a pretty average Junior fight with three wins and two second places.
The Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy was a series which underwent a significant regulatory overhaul pre-season, with a straightforward five round (albeit the last event counting as a double-header) calendar being chopped up into three prizegiving pairs. Portugal and Poland doubled to offer the crew with the most points at the end of those two a pair of prize drives in a 2017 Ford Fiesta R5; ditto Poland and Finland and finally Germany and Spain.
Just getting people to understand this was a task in itself at the top of the season, but what it delivered was exceptional competition throughout the year and two British winners in Osian Pryce and Jon Armstrong. The Welshman and Northern Irishman won the first and last pair respectively, with Max Vatanen taking the middle two rallies.
Pryce won the overall DDFT title for accumulating the most points across what turned out to be a tremendously competitive season – with fellow Brit Gus Greensmith showing a solid turn of pace at the same time.
But Pryce was a worthy winner and one who showed startling speed on days two and three in Finland. Had it not been for his accident on the opening day, he would almost certainly have relieved Vatanen of the event win and two more R5 drives next season. ■