Fin­nish won­derkid dom­i­nates in wales .by Jack benyon

Motor Sport News - - News -

The sup­posed British bat­tle for R5 hon­ours never hap­pened on Wales Rally GB, but fans should have been rec­on­ciled by the spec­tac­u­lar Kalle Rovanpera and his phe­nom­e­nal WRC2 and RC2 class wins.

A lot has changed in a year. Rovanpera – co-driven by Jonne Halt­tunen – was launched onto the world stage with his WRC2 de­but on this event in 2017, but a small off led to ra­di­a­tor dam­age. When he was on the road he wasn’t threat­en­ing the top five in the order. Had the hype about ‘ral­ly­ing’s Max Ver­stap­pen’ come too soon?

A switch to a dif­fer­ent pacenote sys­tem – de­scrip­tive in­stead of the usual num­ber to de­pict the sever­ity of the cor­ner – and a works Skoda Fabia in­stead of a Ford Fi­esta has led to an up­turn in form, and to be hon­est, he de­served more time to bed-in and im­press given he is just 18 years of age. Put into per­spec­tive, he could drive in the Ju­nior World Rally Cham­pi­onship for the next nine sea­sons…

His main com­pe­ti­tion would be Pon­tus Tide­mand, his works Skoda team-mate who is fight­ing for a sec­ond WRC2 ti­tle. Jan Kopecky’s strong lead meant the Swede – who won this event and the WRC2 ti­tle last year – could re­ally have done with a win to keep his ti­tle alive.

How­ever, the bat­tle for vic­tory was over on the first full morn­ing on Fri­day and, while that may not be as ex­cit­ing as the over­all event turned out to be, it was just as fun to see this spec­tac­u­lar young­ster Rovanpera de­feat ap­par­ent WRC shoe-in Tide­mand over just 35 miles.

That was the dis­tance of the morn­ing loop, and 37.9 sec­onds was the gap built. Even the won­derkid wasn’t ex­pect­ing it. He was a sec­ond a mile quicker. In the same car.

“I can feel that we have good speed, but I’m still quite sur­prised the gap is this good,” he said, as he held a 58.6-sec­ond lead overnight, beaten on one of the first nine stages only.

The per­for­mance was all the more im­pres­sive given the fact he was car­ry­ing two spare tyres while most of his ri­vals took one. In­deed, it was that de­ci­sion that cost po­ten­tial win threat Eric Camilli as the Fi­esta fron­trun­ner had two punc­tures.

In­stead it was Brit Gus Green­smith tak­ing up the M-sport charge. Since its in­tro­duc­tion in 2016, the Fabia has won ev­ery WRGB, and Rovanpera’s pace showed it was ca­pa­ble of game-chang­ing pace once again com­pared to the Fi­esta.

But Green­smith has ma­tured and gone quicker this sea­son, and it was clear he didn’t want Tide­mand dis­ap­pear­ing off into the dis­tance.

A fastest time to open Satur­day morn­ing had Bury driver Green­smith within five sec­onds of Tide­mand, but Dyfi, SS12, de­cided it didn’t like British driv­ers as Green­smith and Aber­dovey’s Tom Cave also hit trou­ble.

“I had a fairly high-speed spin,” said Green­smith. “We lost 20-some­thing sec­onds. I still wanted to keep the pres­sure on Pon­tus be­cause I can’t just let him have it com­fort­ably.”

Un­for­tu­nately he had no choice, as Tide­mand raised his game on Satur­day af­ter­noon. There was a scare on Sun­day’s tricky and slip­pery Gwydir test, as Tide­mand hit a bank, but he lost min­i­mal time. He was, though, in a dif­fer­ent post­code to Rovanpera. He was greeted at the end by his fa­ther Harri for his sec­ond WRC2 win, this one com­ing with 15 of 23 stage wins in one of the best WRC2 fields in re­cent me­mory, as op­posed to Rovanpera be­ing the sole en­trant for his first win, in Aus­tralia, last year.

Cave – not reg­is­tered for WRC2 – was out in an R5 for the first time since this event last year, and for the first time since Fin­land 2017 in a Hyundai i20 R5. It yielded four class-fastest stage times. But like Green­smith he was caught out in Dyfi on Satur­day.

“I got caught out car­ry­ing too much speed in a very fast left-han­der, when it tight­ened, the car ran wide and we spun back­wards down a bank into some trees,” ex­plained Cave. “We were try­ing to get some spec­ta­tors but there weren’t many around.”

His fastest times were bril­liant given how long he was out of a car for, and how many events he had done this year, even if he was on the favourable DMACK tyres, along­side British cham­pi­onship fron­trun­ner David Bo­gie’s Fabia.

The lat­ter was also very im­pres­sive, ly­ing fifth in RC2 over­all be­fore the Dum­fries driver broke the ra­di­a­tor on his Fabia on Sun­day morn­ing.

Rally Turkey WRC2 podium fin­isher Chris In­gram got his first taste of an R5 at home, but it never came to­gether for the Manch­ester driver as an off on Fri­day sub­merged his Fabia in wa­ter up to the seats. He strug­gled to make an im­pres­sion on the top five in times, but if Rovanpera is any­thing to go off In­gram shouldn’t be too wor­ried for next sea­son.

Jari Hut­tunen – the works Hyundai driver – steered his i20 to fourth in his sec­ond year on the event in the car in a row, while Stephane Le­feb­vre con­tin­ued the de­vel­op­ment of the new Citroen C3 R5, even rip­ping its fuel tank out at one point, by tak­ing fifth as four mar­ques pop­u­lated the top five.

De­spite myr­iad prob­lems ( see BRC re­port page 11), new British cham­pion Matt Ed­wards made the top 10 in class with ninth.

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­, Red Bull Con­tent Pool, Jakob Ebrey

Rovanpera (r) and Halt­tunen (l) cel­e­brate strong vic­tory

Bril­liant stage times for Cave/mor­gan

Green­smith led the British R5 charge

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