For the RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada, we have not had to delve too far into the archives to unearth a real highlight. Because just twelve months ago, this event saw one of the highlights of ŠKODA time in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and perhaps one of the finest moments in the FABIA R5’s short rallying career to date. Four ŠKODA FABIA R5s finished the rally and they finished in the top 4 positions in the WRC2 standings. And believe it or not, it could have been even better!
It was the Swedish pairing of Pontus Tidemand / Emil Axelsson (title photo above), who claimed the victory for the ŠKODA Motorsport team. With teammate Esapekka Lappi expected to be at the front of the pack, Pontus Tidemand delivered a dominant display, leading from third special stage to finish and showing a level of consistency, which the rest of the field could not match. He went into the event with an outside chance of winning the WRC2 title, but knew, he had to drive out of his skin to do it.
Just 10.7 seconds behind Tidemand, in second place, were Jan Kopecký and his co-driver Pavel Dresler. With three official ŠKODA Motorsport cars entered into this event, they were technically driving for the ŠKODA Motorsport II team, but they belied this status and other issues over three days to convincingly claim the runners-up spot and miss out of the win by just a whisker.
Jan Kopecký’s main aim in the rally was to support the championship aspirations of ŠKODA Motorsport teammate Esapekka Lappi and finishing ahead of his main challenger Nasser Al-Attiyah. And he achieved this, as Al-Attiyah could only finish in third-place, almost 4 minutes further back.
But for the Qatari driver, the result was enough to ensure, that he would be crowned WRC2 champion for the 2015 season. It meant, Al-Attiyah, who was also driving a FABIA R5 car, had successfully defended the title, which he won a year before.
In the absence of Esapekka Lappi, who was his main challenger, Al-Attiyah admitted, that he lost concentration a bit, as he knew, that the title was his to lose.
Al-Attiyah needed a third place finish to be sure of the title after slowing over the course of the final leg, but he found the extra pace, when it mattered on the final stage, to just hold off a strong challenge from yet another ŠKODA FABIA R5.
The veteran German driver Armin Kremer and his co-driver Pirmin Winklhofer, who were competing for the BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team, could feel an opportunity to sneak onto the podium and after a solid second day, they drove hell for leather on the final day to try and steal third place. In the end, they fell short by just 0.1 seconds to ensure that Al-Attiyah would be the WRC2 champion.
But what of his main rival Esapekka Lappi?
The Finnish ŠKODA works driver, who was in a ŠKODA Motorsport’s FABIA R5, had been right in the mix after the first leg and sat in second place in the WRC2 standings after 10 stages on Saturday morning, more than a minute ahead of his Qatari rival. But then disaster struck, as Lappi rolled his car down a slope into a tree and out of the rally.
Ultimately it was that crash, which allowed Al-Attiyah to close out a well-deserved second WRC2 championship title. But it also denied ŠKODA the opportunity of a perfect ‘1-2-3-4-5’ finish.
It doesn’t seem like a year has passed since this amazing rally unfolded. But it is now 2016 and there will be plenty more FABIA R5s, including most of the protagonists of last year’s excitement, who will be hoping, that they can contribute towards a similar result this year too.