As your reading this, I shall probably be jetting off somewhere over the atlantic ocean as I head away from europe towards South America. Preparing myself for the best steak’s and locally brewed Malbec in the world. It is of course, the 4th round of the 2015 WRC in Argentina. This is only my 21st WRC event, so as I’m now into my 20’s of WRC ‘Starts’, I thought its time to get out of the european circle and go Long haul. So while I’m currently sitting on a 747 for many hours, staring at nothing but clouds and sky boredly awaiting another awesome WRC adventure, lets look back at the season so far….. Well, Back at glamorous Monte Carlo, we had a selection of celeb’s checking out the WRC and jumping in for a ride around the Monaco F1 track, which some asked, whats the point?…. Well I’m all for Celeb’s getting a taste of the world stage, as it does raise the profile of the sport in my opinion. People look up to celeb’s, and listen to what they have to say. So when Stars like Idris Elba or David Courthard say that WRC is brilliant, and have the best drivers in the world. Their fans hang on every word and even if it only picks up the interest of ten new fans, it makes our Sport ten fans richer. And that’s never a bad thing.
Of course there was only really one star that really stole the show in Monte. And that was the great man himself, the Driving God of Sebastien Loeb. And when i say stole the show, I mean it! On stage number one, everyone expected him to be just as fast as he was over a year ago when he was last in a rally car, but even we didn’t expect him to be 30 seconds faster than old-time rival Ogier. wow! What a start to the new season. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the close battle we had hoped. later on in the Rally Loeb – along with team-mate Kris Meeke – got caught out on some of the slippy stuff, ripping a wheel off. That ended his brilliant run. But it was still a great show from the old-timer. My driver of the Rally though was M-Sports returnee, Ott Tanak. On his first stage back with the M-Sport team, he was faster than anyone except for Loeb. That was a great way to prove to his Boss that putting him back into a World Rally Car was the right decision. unfortunately he did go off later on in the rally. But he left his mark on the top of the time sheets. The rally ended with Volkswagen showing that their unbeatable car has got even more unbeatable as they took the top three spots on the podium, in the order of Ogier winning, Latvala 2nd with Mikkelsen 3rd.
On to Sweden. And we began to see the VW battle that we were expecting to see. With Ogier and Latvala trading the top spot, it was as we expected. But the WRC always gives us unexpected edge of the seat action. And Sweden was one of the best for giving us that. Towards the end of day 2, after a battle between the VW’s Ogier spun in the stage, dropping several seconds and giving the 1st spot to Latvala. This would normally mean that Split times would be sent to Latvala and he would back down and run safely to the finish to gain a good safe lead. But that kind of information into the cars is banned now. Latvala had no idea Ogier gave him a decent lead. Thinking he was still in a close fight, Latvala continued to push as hard as he could, but towards the end of the stage he pushed to hard and went off into the deep snow along side the stage. Loosing minutes not seconds. When Volkswagens number three of Mikkelsen come to the end of the stage. He was massively surprised to be told that he was the one that ended the day in the lead.
Now it was the young guns fighting out the top. As Ogier worked his way back up the field, Mikkelsen and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville were the ones battling for the lead. By the time they came to the final stage, just 4.6 seconds separated Mikkelsen, Ogier and Neuville. We were going to have a thrilling battle for the win. It came down to the wire. Neuville came through giving it everything he had. Then Ogier pushed flat out. But Mikkelsen was matching Ogier’s times on the Splits. Ogier got to the end, and when being interviewed, he seemed to have excepted that he came off 2nd best. We were awaiting Mikkelsen to end the rally with what was expected to be his first ever win….. But in WRC its not over till its over. As Ogier was pretty much saying 2nd is the best he could do, Mikkelsen was swapping his back end for his front, as a touch on a snow bank with too much speed sent his Polo spinning into a snow filled ditch, the half spin resulted in a much-needed push, and you can see in the emotions from inside the car that it was so close but no cigar for them. News filtered down to the end of stage TV crews who – in mid interview, shouted in shock, “Mikkelsen’s spun, Mikkelsens Spun!” Ogier’s face was in shock, but quickly lifted into a big french smiley grin. “Yes” breathed a relieved Ogier. He won by the closest of battles. Neuville got second, and a very emotional and tearful Mikkelsen landed in 3rd.
Take a deep breath now, as Mexico for a very different reason, was just as breath-taking and thrilling. There was no end to Ogiers moaning about how its impossible for him to win being the road sweeper for two days of the three-day event. But Carnage threw his worries out of the window. As everyone suffered problems, breakages and crashes. Pretty much moving out of the way to allow Ogier to his third win in as many rallies. His closest rival on the time sheets was Neuville, But going too fast into a fast left hander slid him off the road and down the time sheets.
But the biggest headlines weren’t of the winner, but of M-Sports man Ott Tanak. He turned his Rally Car into a sinking ship when, after Breaking his steering, slid off the next corner and into a lake. It was the most horrifying type of crash any driver can have. The car rolled off the road into the water, luckily landing shiny side up, but it still only took 30 seconds for the whole car to fully submerge. The crews were quick to bail out. And it was only their speed in undoing the belts and climbing out that saved their lives. Swimming when your heart is racing, after crashing off the road not knowing which way is up, while wearing big heavy helmet, and fire-proof overalls cant have been an easy thing to do. The M-Sport team back in Service had no idea what had happened. The car had just disappeared. No tracking, no phones. Even after sending the TV helicopter over the area resulted in no sighting. It was 20 minutes before the team got word that the drivers had been found and safe. Showing a gap in the safety net of Rallying. A change is needed to prevent this from happening again. But the main thing is, they were ok. The story didn’t end there…. As after nearly 10 hours of the Fiesta Being at the bottom of the lake, it was dragged out. And the Team proved how much of a team sport this is. It took them 2 an a half hours to replace every part except the engine, to do the impossible. Fix the car and get it running again. These really are the best mechanics in the world. Even the chef’s were helping by trying to dry out the seats. The whole service park, including the other rival teams stayed up to watch and support them after such and amazing effort to get that car back up and running again. Tanak or ‘TiTanak’ as the team now labeled him, made it to the end of the rally in 2nd to last place.
What a story. And that was just the first three events of this season so far. What could possibly happen next? Well this is why i’m on my way to Argentina. Prepared to expect the unexpected, because in the WRC, anything can happen. Last time here, Latvala took the win. But a lot has changed in 12 months. Latvala has gone out in all three rallies so far, and Ogier has won them. Latvala is in a difficult position now for the Championship. My opinion is Neuville is the man who is Ogier’s closest rival. But his Hyundai is well behind the Polo on pace, and the high altitude stages can throw up all kinds of weather conditions. Ogier has never won Argentina. So strap in tight, and prepare for another exciting chapter in this years incredible WRC story.