Freddy Loix steers ŠKODA Fabia R5 to victory in Belgium again. Raimund Baumschlager and Sylvain Michel scored podium finishes in Austria and France respectively. More Fabia R5s entered into WRC 2 and ERC championships.
Three in the top four as ŠKODA Fabia R5 excels in Spa
In the second round of the Belgian Rally Championship, Freddy Loix and Johan Gitsels continued their perfect start to the season with victory at the Spa Rally. After having to contend with a misting windscreen after forgetting to turn on the heating system on day one, they came roaring back in special stage four to establish a lead they never relinquished, eventually finishing 35 seconds ahead of their nearest rival.
“Two rallies and two wins, it’s impossible to do better. We had to push hard for the win,” said Freddy Loix after the event. “The Spa Rally was a pretty stressful race. The course was very technical and demanding and we had to deal with very changeable weather with mist and fog, especially on Friday. My team, 2C Competition, provided me once again with very competitive ŠKODA Fabia R5. I’m glad I could stay ahead.”
Meanwhile, Vincent Verschueren and Veronique Hostens, driving in the colours of Godrive, also managed to put a ŠKODA Fabia R5 on the podium, coming home in an impressive third place. “For us, the conditions were far from ideal: I lacked knowledge of the course and kilometres at the wheel of the ŠKODA Fabia R5,” explained Vincent Verschueren. “I am looking forward now to the TAC Rally, where I can go on the attack on familiar ground.”
A fine rally for the ŠKODA cars was concluded with a fourth place finish for Xavier Bouche and Kevin Fernandez, despite their lack of experience in the Fabia R5. “With this fabulous car, we occupied the 3rd place for much of the rally. Despite the lack of testing before the event, the car experienced no problems, and the result bodes well for the rest of our programme,” said Xavier Bouche.
The Belgian Rally Championship continues with the TAC Rally on 9th April.
Raimund Baumschalger more than happy for second at the Rebenland Rallye
In the Rebenland Rallye, there was a hugely impressive performance by Raimund Baumschalger, who brought his ŠKODA Fabia R5 home in a comfortable second place. The result in the first round of the Austrian Rally Championship is all the more impressive for the rule changes introduced this year which allowed World Rally Cars to compete in the championship.
Baumschalger, a 13-time national champion, who was driving for the BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team, had to use every bit of his experience and skill to keep pace with the competitors driving more powerful WRC cars. He was well aware that he was going to have his work cut out this year adding to his impressive haul of titles, and was understandably elated by his final position.
“I gave everything and was going almost to the limit, so I am really happy with my second place,” said Raimund Baumschlager at the finish. “The result gives me great confidence for the rest of the season and in the next rally I will certainly be attacking once again.”
The Austrian Rally Championship will resume on 8th and 9th April with the Lavanttal Rallye.
Sylvain Michel takes third place in Rallye Le Touquet
Sylvain Michel, driving for the 2C Competition team, has made a strong start to the French Tarmac Rally Championship with a podium finish in the Rallye Le Touquet – Pas-de-Calais. Alongside Belgian co-driver Lara Vanneste, the Frenchman showed great consistency in winning a total of six special stages and never finishing lower than fifth, as he finished just 30 seconds behind the eventual winner. After improving on his eighth place finish last year, Sylvain Michel will be pretty satisfied with outcome, which puts on course to have a very competitive season. The championship continues with the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières – Rhône from 21st April.
Valuable points for Umberto Scandola at the Rally del Ciocco
On 18th and 19th March the Italian Rally Championship got underway with a good result for Umberto Scandola and Guido D’Amore, driving for ŠKODA Italia Motorsport, at the Rally del Ciocco e Valle del Serchio.
They succeed in bringing the ŠKODA Fabia R5 home in fourth place, an agonising 0.8 seconds behind the third placed rival. Whilst the result will be a slight disappointment for Scandola, he has nevertheless given himself a platform to build on in future events.
“To be honest it was not a simple rally,” said Umberto Scandola. “After a puncture on Saturday, I had to change tactics in order to push for a positive result. In the end we managed a solid result and the points in this first round gave us something positive to build on for the rest of the season.”
The Italian Rally Championship continues with the Rally San Remo which begins on 10th April.
Luca Artino takes victory in regional championship classification
Luca Artino, along with co-driver Titti Ghilardi, also tasted success in the Rally del Ciocco e Valle del Serchio. The first leg of the event, which comprises of 13 special stages and just over 75km of competitive distance, formed part of the Nazionale Zona 6 (an Italian regional championship). In the classification of this championship, Artino walked away with victory, finishing 17 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. It was a great result for the young Italian, and made even more impressive by the fact that it was his first event in a ŠKODA Fabia R5.
Neil Simpson eyes European Rally Championship Campaign
British rally driver, and ŠKODA UK dealer, Neil Simpson has registered for the European Rally Championship and indicated he intends to take part in a number of events as well as the upcoming Circuit of Ireland event on 7th-9th April.
“I’m a long-time supporter of the European Rally Championship, because the events offer a great sporting challenge and there is always a great atmosphere too. Registering now for the ERC gives us the option of doing other ERC events later on in the year,” explained Neil Simpson, who is taking part in a full British Rally Championship (BRC) this year too.
It remains to be seen, how many events Simpson will play a part in.
Ghislain de Mévius opts for ŠKODA Fabia R5 for WRC 2 programme
One of the rising stars of the Belgian rally scene, Ghislain de Mévius, son of famous former Belgian rally and rally raid driver Grégoire, has opted to take part in several rounds of the WRC 2 championship this year in a ŠKODA Fabia R5.
After previous experience in the R2 category in the World Rally Championship, Ghislain, along with co-driver Johan Jalet, is looking forward keenly to the new challenge ahead. “The BMA team having in-depth knowledge of the ŠKODA Fabia R5 and it appeared to be the best possible choice of collaboration,” said Ghislain de Mévius. “Our ambition is to compete in the rounds of the WRC 2 in Portugal, in Germany and in Spain, whilst Sardinia could well be added to the initial programme.”
It will mark a return onto the international rallying scene for Bernard Munster’s BMA team which has seen enormous success in the Belgian Rally Championship over the past two years in partnership with Freddy Loix and Johan Gitsels.
“With two titles in Belgian championship and two successes in Ypres, we do not have very much more to prove on the national scene, but we were seriously eyeing the WRC 2 front,” explained Bernard Munster. “The collaboration with Ghislain de Mévius seemed to be ideal, as his philosophy is to compete in lesser rounds, but to prepare for them better. This is an excellent approach, and BMA is delighted to be part of this new adventure.”
Ghislain’s 2016 programme will also include a number of other test events as he looks to acquaint himself with the four-wheel drive ŠKODA Fabia R5 and his first outing will come at the Terre de Causses, in the first round of the French Gravel Rally Championship in April.
Dan Gîrtofan hopes for home advantage at the Brașov Rally
The first round of the Romanian Rally Championship takes place from 25th to 27th March with the Brasov Rally. This tarmac event, which takes place over 8 stages and 114 competitive kilometres around the Romanian city of Brașov, is renowned for being the oldest and most challenging rally in Romania and is marking its 45th anniversary this year.
For ŠKODA Romania Motorsport, Dan Gîrtofan will be driving a ŠKODA Fabia R5 on tarmac for the first time and hoping to improve on the third place finish he managed in what is his home event last year in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000.
“It is always difficult to drive on home turf, but we are hoping that we will improve our times from last year and score a first win in our new car,” said Dan Gîrtofan, who was in a confident mood. “We are ready to fight and hopefully to come out on top at the end of the rally.”
Al-Attiyah seeks sixth victory at the Kuwait International Rally
The Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) continues on 24th March with Kuwait International Rally being the second round of the season.
Driving a ŠKODA Fabia R5, Qatari rally star Nasser Al-Attiyah, along with this French co-driver Matthieu Baumel, will be looking to cement their championship lead which was secured with a record breaking victory in the opening round of the season, the Qatar International Rally. The result has secured Nasser’s status as the most successful driver in the history of MERC, with an astonishing 61 rally victories now to his name.
“I am looking forward to this wonderful rally, and I am feeling very confident of success, if God is willing,” said Nasser Al-Attiyah ahead of the rally. “I am delighted with the power and capabilities of the ŠKODA Fabia R5 and I am confident of tasting victory again having already won this rally five times previously.”
The other ŠKODA Fabia R5 team in the MERC, Youth & Sports Qatar Rally Team, has been frantically rebuilding its car after a big accident in the Qatar Rally, but Qatari driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and British co-driver Marshall Clarke will be in the action in Kuwait again.