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Fredrik Åhlin wins on his debut FABIA R5 drive at the Border Counties Rally in Scottland, Raimund Baumschlager beats WRC cars to the Rebenland Rallye victory in Austria and Hermen Kobus takes the victory at the Zuiderzeerally in the Netherlands, while Benoît Allart and Vincent Verschueren finish on the podium at rain-hot Spa Rally and Alessandro Perico places third at the Rally il Ciocco.

Fredrik Åhlin accelerates to victory at the Border Counties Rally in the British Rally Championship

Fredrik Åhlin claimed a sensational victory at the Border Counties Rally in the opening round of the British Rally Championship, as he and his new Norwegian co-driver Torstein Eriksen came home 38.6 seconds clear of their rivals.

Driving the stunning black and gold CA1 Sport-run ŠKODA FABIA R5 (title photo above), the 26-year old Swedish driver was embroiled in a very close battle for victory, as the first major rally of 2017 in the UK was played out over nine gravel stages in the Wauchope, Craik and Tweed Valley forests near the host town of Jedburgh in the Scottish borders.

Fredrik Åhlin / Torstein Eriksen, ŠKODA FABIA R5, CA1 Sport. Border Counties Rally 2017

They overcame heavy rain which, when combined with a large field of 120 cars, made roads tough, especially on the second runs. It was also Åhlin’s first event in a FABIA R5 which made his victory all the more impressive.

 

David Bogie / Kevin Rae, ŠKODA FABIA R5, CA1 Sport. Border Counties Rally 2017

David Bogie and his co-driver Kevin Rae had taken an early lead in another CA1 Sport-run FABIA R5, courtesy of fastest time on the opening stage. They were sat well-placed in third position when a collision with a rock forced their retirement on stage 6. Ironically, that same rock also put paid to the chances of another FABIA R5 taking part, driven by Martin McCormick / David Moynihan for the Tiger Risk Rally Team, who retired at the same point of the same stage.

Ireland’s Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan were also running well in 5th position overall when they came off the road and were forced to retire as well in the penultimate stage.

The next round of the British Rally Championship will be the Carlisle Rally on the 29th and 30th April.

Raimund Baumschlager wins after dramatic finish at the Rebenland Rallye

The Rebenland Rallye was the opening round of the Austrian Rally Championship and saw experienced Austrian driver Raimund Baumschlager claim a fifth win in just the sixth running of this event.

Raimund Baumschlager / Pirmin Winklhofer, ŠKODA FABIA R5, BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team. Rebenland Rallye 2017

Baumschlager is joined in his BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing FABIA R5 this season by young German co-driver Pirmin Winklhofer after the retirement of his long-term co-driver Thomas Zeltner at the end of last season. Despite being just 22-years old, Winklhofer has already co-driven Armin Kremer in WRC2 events and has experience beyond his tender years.

The pair needed to bond quickly if there were going to make an impression and they did just that by winning the opening stage. But there was disappointment to follow as a couple of mistakes left the duo in third place at the end of the opening day. Their luck changed on stage 13 when reigning champion Hermann Neubauer was forced to retire which left them in a straight battle for the win with German Gerwald Grössing in a WRC car.

Raimund Baumschlager / Pirmin Winklhofer, ŠKODA FABIA R5, BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team. Rebenland Rallye 2017

After closing the gap in stages 14 and 15 it all came down to the final Power Stage. And the fastest time in that stage saw Baumschlager and Winklhofer claim victory by a margin of 14 seconds.

 

Andreas Aigner / Ilka Minor-Petrasko, ŠKODA FABIA R5, Eurosol Racing Team. Rebenland Rallye 2017

Whilst it was Raimund Baumschlager who took the headlines, there was also a good performance from Andreas Aigner and his co-driver Ilka Minor-Petrasko who managed to recover from an enforced retirement at the end of the first leg and a subsequent five-minute penalty. Aigner managed to win stage 3 of the rally and put in impressive times elsewhere too, but the crash on stage 7 ended his chances of a podium finish and in the end finishing 5th overall was a fantastic achievement.

 

Marijan Griebel / Stefan Kopczyk, ŠKODA FABIA R5, BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team. Rebenland Rallye 2017

Aigner was not the only unfortunate FABIA R5 driver, with the German pairing of Marijan Griebel / Stefan Kopczyk also going well for the BRR team on what was their debut on asphalt in a FABIA R5. They sat in 4th place overall after stage 14 and had just claimed their first overall stage victory on stage 13, before being forced to retire on the penultimate stage. The event was nonetheless good preparation for Griebel ahead of this European Rally Championship (ERC) challenge.

 The next round of the Austrian Rally Championship will be the Lavanttal Rallye on the 7th and 8th April.

Benoît Allart and Vincent Verschueren secure podium finishes at rain-affected Spa Rally

The Belgian Rally Championship returned this weekend (17th and 18th March) with the Spa Rally, a hotly contested event with no fewer than 13 R5 cars taking part. And it certainly proved to be an event which lived up to expectation, with much drama and excitement throughout a rally in which horrendous weather on the second day played a big part in the outcome.

Benoît Allart / Kevin Fernandez, Bayard. Spa Rally 2017 (Photo: BRC Media)

The action began on the Friday night at the Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit with the opening four stages being part of a special show at the home of the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix. But it was Saturday when drivers were really tested as the heavens opened and conditions became treacherously slippery, with a total of 34 cars failing to finish the rally.

 

Kris Princen / Peter Kaspers, Kris Princen Rallysport. Spa Rally 2017 (Photo: BRC Media)

It looked likely to be Kris Princen who would take victory once again, as the winner of the opening round of the championship, the Rally van Haspengouw, won four stages and finished second in seven more to sit at the top of the leaderboard going into the final stage. But Princen, driving a BMA-run FABIA R5 alongside co-driver Peter Kaspers, then rolled his car on the final stage to crash out of the rally and end his chances of a perfect start to the season.

But Princen’s misfortune was to provide an opportunity for two other FABIA R5 drivers to take a place on the podium. It was Benoît Allart and Kevin Fernandez driving for the Bayard team who benefitted most as they finished in 2nd place overall.

Allart, who himself crashed out of the opening round of the championship, drove a more cautious rally this time round and was rewarded for his conservative approach.

 

Vincent Verschueren / Veronique Hostens, Duindistel. Spa Rally 2017 (Photo: BRC Media)

Just behind Allart in third place was the GoDrive FABIA R5 of Vincent Verschueren / Veronique Hostens. They had to recover from a mistake on the first stage which cost them more than 3 minutes and left them languishing in 60th position overall.

But from there they drove with precision and consistency, despite suffering a double puncture early on the second day which cost them another 2 minutes 30 seconds. They also rode their luck at times, sliding off the course at one point, but sustaining no damage.

They continued to push as hard as they could and were rewarded when Princen’s retirement handed them a hard-earned podium place as well as the leadership of the Belgian championship standings.

Belgium will do well to match this year’s Spa Rally for drama and excitement, but they will do their best when the action resumes at the TAC Rally on 7th and 8th April.

Podium for Alessandro Perico at the Rally il Ciocco e Valle del Serchio in Italy

This weekend also saw the Italian Rally Championship get underway at the Rally il Ciocco e Valle del Serchio. The Italian championship is organized a little differently to many others, with the two legs of each rally counting as individual point-scoring races, with the top three in the overall classification this year being awarded points too.

Alessandro Perico / Mauro Turati, ŠKODA FABIA R5, Team Autoservice Sport A.S.D. Rally del Ciocco e Valle del Serchio 2017 (Photo: ACI Sport)

It was Alessandro Perico who was the best performing of the FABIA R5 drivers at this opening round of the Championship. Driving for Team Autoservice Sport A.S.D. alongside co-driver Mauro Turati, Perico drove with great consistency throughout to secure third place in both the first and second legs of the event as well as third place in the overall final standings.

It was impressive stuff on his debut FABIA R5 drive, especially his victory on the final stage of the rally, and the points scored leave Perico well placed in the championship after the opening event.

 

Umberto Scandola / Guido D'Amore, ŠKODA FABIA R5, ŠKODA Italia Motorsport. Rally del Ciocco e Valle del Serchio 2017

There was less to shout about for the other FABIA R5s taking part. The ŠKODA Italia Motorsport pairing of Umberto Scandola / Guido D’Amore finished fourth in the opening leg, just 1.8 seconds behind Perico in the standings, after suffering a one-minute penalty. But Scandola was forced to retire during the second leg meaning those were the only points he took away from the rally.

 

Andrea Nucita / Marco Vozzo, ŠKODA FABIA R5, DP Autosport. Rally del Ciocco e Valle del Serchio 2017 (Photo: ACI Sport)

It was a similar story for the DP Autosport pairing of Andrea Nucita / Marco Vozzo whose one minute forty second penalty saw them down in 8th place after the first leg despite posting a few fast times. In the second leg, they again looked quick and were the fastest on stage 15, but then puncture damage forced them into retirement as well.

The Italian Rally Championship will continue with the Rallye Sanremo on 30th March and 1st April.

NEWS IN BRIEF

Vincent Dubert / Alexandre Coria, ŠKODA FABIA R5, Team FJ. Rallye Le Touquet - Pas-de-Calais 2017)
  • Hermen Kobus enjoyed a successful return to the Dutch Open Rally Championship (ONRK) with victory in his Kobus Tuning-run FABIA R5 at the Zuiderzeerally in Emmeloord. Along with co-driver Eric de Wild, he won the 13-stage, 116.5km long event, which is also the opening round of the FIA ​​Benelux Rally Trophy, by a margin of 13.1 seconds. Two wins in the final four stages helping to catapult him to the top of the standings after a time penalty saw rival Jasper van den Heuvel demoted to third place.
  • The Rallye National du Pays du Gier was the opening round of the Swiss Rally Championship and consisted of 8 stages and 155.8km of competitive distance on asphalt. It was Thibault Habouzit and co-driver Sandra Fargier who were the highest placed FABIA R5 drivers, finishing in third place. They, however, are not entered in the Swiss championship, so Nicolas Althaus and co-driver Alain Ioset, who finished 5th overall in their FABIA R5 for the Lugano Racing team, placed 4th in the championship standings.
  • Pedro and Marcos Burgo made a good start to the Spanish Tarmac Rally Championship finishing 4th at the opening round, the Rallye Sierra Morena, in their ACSM Rallye Team FABIA R5. It was a position they held throughout the event as they delivered a consistent drive at this 10-stage, 196.8km event.
  • In the opening round of the French Tarmac Rally Championship at the Rallye Le Touquet - Pas-de-Calais, Vincent Dubert / Alexandre Coria were the highest placed FABIA R5 crew, finishing 5th overall and 3rd in the R5 standings for Team FJ. At what is a testing 18 stage, 209km long event, there were 3 other FABIA R5s which finished in the R5 class top 10: Pierre Ragues / Julien Pesenti (RTTC – Yacco) came home in 6th, Pierre and Martine Roché (Team FJ) finished 8th, while Mickaël Reydellet / Thomas Chauffray were one place behind them in 9th place.
  • The Safari Rally in Kenya was the 2nd round of both the Kenyan and African Rally Championships. The famed event, which is tipped to rejoin the WRC calendar soon, this year consisted of 9 stages and 201.5km of competitive distance and had two FABIA R5 competing. Onkar Rai / Gareth Dawe finished in 4th place overall for the Kabras Sugar Racing team, while Manvir Baryan, who along with British co-driver Drew Sturrock, won the opening round of the Kenyan championship at the Mombassa Rally for the Multiple Racing Team, came home in 9th place this time round.
Joseph McGonigle / Ciaran Geaney, ŠKODA FABIA R5, McGeehan Motorsport. West Cork International Rally 2017
  • Joseph “Joe” McGonigle and his co-driver Ciaran Geaney, overcame high drama in difficult conditions on the penultimate stage to finish 5th overall in their FABIA R5 at the West Cork International Rally. After having to steer past three stricken vehicles on the same corner, McGonigle was overtaken by rival Sam Moffett who then span right in front of him. After avoiding a collision, his own spin later in the stage led to him becoming stuck and ending up in 5th. The other FABIA R5, driven by Brendan Cumiskey / Ronan O'Kane, came home in 7th place overall, their best finish in the car so far.
  • At the Super Prime Copa de Verano - La Colmena, the 3rd round of the Paraguayan Sprint Rally Championship, Pedro Fadul / Hans Thiede finished in 3rd place in their FABIA R5. The result was enough to secure them the championship’s ‘Summer Cup’, handed to the driver with the best performance over the opening three rounds. Fadul has a 1st, 2nd and a 3rd placed finish to his name so far.
  • Across Europe, preparation is underway for the start of many national championships in the coming weeks, with many FABIA R5 drivers taking part in warm-up events. In the Czech Republic, Jan Černý / Petr Černohorský won the popular event ‘Testovací RZ Žiželice’, 11 seconds ahead of Korno Racing’s FABIA R5 of Karel Trojan / Petr Chlup. Across the border in Slovakia, Martin Koči / Lukáš Kostka won the R5+ Cassovia Rally, a 6-stage 35km long asphalt event, by 36 seconds for the Styllex – L Racing team. And in Hungary, the 35km long, 5-stage Teszt Rallye az RRC Kupáért was won by Péter Ranga / Tamás Szöke for Ranga Motorsport, 10.7 seconds ahead of fellow FABIA R5 drivers Sándor Ollé / Zsolt Tóth (TMC Rallysport).
  • In the French Rally Cup, at the Rallye National du Vallon de Marcillac, Anthony Puppo / Jérémy Cenci took victory by a margin of 1 minute and 5 seconds at this 10-stage, 157km long asphalt event. It was their third French cup victory in three weeks! Meanwhile, at another event, the Rallye Régional de Meuse, a 6-stage 40km long asphalt event, Adrien Cereda / Jean-Baptiste Salsmann took victory by 1 minute and 6 seconds from their closest rivals.

COMING UP THIS WEEKEND

Date Rally Surface
24-26 Mar VALAŠSKÁ RALLY Czech Rally Championship Round 1 Asphalt
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