A comfortable victory in Kuwait, runners up spot in Romania, and crews readying for the first rounds of Hungarian, Slovak and French gravel championships.
Nasser Al-Attiyah guides ŠKODA Fabia R5 to a perfect victory in Kuwait International Rally
Nasser Al-Attiyah’s dominance of the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) continued at the Kuwait International Rally. The Qatari driver, along with his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel won all 13 special stages in their ŠKODA Fabia R5 (title photo above) to claim victory by a hugely impressive 11 minutes and 24 seconds. It was his sixth victory in the Kuwait International Rally, which is an event record.
Their rally was a perfect example of great team work as the efforts of everyone involved came together to give an almost perfect Rally performance. For Nasser Al-Attiyah it was a record 62nd MERC victory and he was in buoyant mood after the event.
“It was an easy victory because I didn’t face some real competition from the beginning,” said Nasser Al-Attiyah. “After 3 stages I was leading the rally with almost 47 seconds. I am happy like always and proud of my 62nd international victory. The team was great, the ŠKODA was really fast on the sand and didn’t face any single problem during the 13 stages I’ve passed.”
The next round of the MERC is the Jordan International Rally, which takes place from the fifth to the seventh of May.
Dan Gîrtofan claims second place in Brasov Rally
The Romanian Rally Championship began over the weekend with the oldest and most challenging event on the calendar, the Brasov Rally. The sole ŠKODA Fabia R5 on the start line was driven by Dan Gîrtofan and Tudor Mârza in their home event, and they managed to finish runners up in a rally beset by bad weather.
Having trailed the leaders by just one second at the end of the first day, a spin at the start of day two – caused by the incredibly slippery conditions – cost them valuable time and it was only thanks to the composure of the driving team, that they managed to put in a strong finish and claim second place.
“We wanted to win this rally very much and we are a little bit down because we didn’t,” said Dan Gîrtofan after the rally. “But we are happy that we didn’t have any technical issues with the car, which performed beautifully even though the road conditions were very poor. We will hope to do better at the next event.”
As well as being his home rally, it was an especially proud weekend for Gîrtofan as his son Andrei made his rallying debut as well. “I’m very proud of him and I hope that this will be the beginning of a very interesting career for him,” added Dan Gîrtofan.
The next event of the Romanian Rally Championship is the Sibiu Rally, which will take place on the 15th and 16th April.
Eger Rally marks start of Hungarian and Slovak Rally Championships
On 1st April, the Eger Rally will be the first event in both the Hungarian and Slovak Rally Championships. Taking place around the town of Eger, which is located north-east of Budapest and close to the Slovak border, this asphalt rally will comprise of 16 special stages, over two days of competition, with drivers travelling a total of 145 competitive kilometers.
For the ŠKODA Rally Team Hungaria, Norbert Herczig will be competing in the Hungarian Championship in a Fabia R5. The experienced Hungarian, who will be ably assisted by Slovak co-driver Igor Bacigál, is looking forward to the challenge of driving a ŠKODA Fabia R5 after enjoying considerable success in both the R5 and the S2000 cars last year.
“I am very excited because I haven’t sat in the car for half a year now,” said Norbert Herczig before the rally. “There are many good drivers with good technical backgrounds in the Hungarian championship this year, and competition will be fierce. But of course we hope to be fighting for the title once again.”
The Hungarian Rally Championship will consist of eight events finishing with the Ózd Rally in October.
Meanwhile, there will be two more ŠKODA Fabia R5s taking part in the rally and striving for the points for the Slovak Rally Championship.
Pavel Valoušek, along with his co-driver Veronika Havelková, will be competing for the Energy Oil Motorsport team. The pair has been working together for a year, since the Eger Rally 2015, and achieved impressive third place overall finishes in both the Czech and the Slovak Rally Championships in 2015.
MM Rally Team, which runs Valoušek’s car, opted for the new Fabia R5 over the winter, and the 36-year-old driver gave it the once over for the first time earlier this month during a test near Herľany, in Slovakia.
Speaking before the Eger Rally, he was enthusiastic about his chances. “I am looking forward to the incredible Eger Rally even more, because we can take part in the top-class Fabia R5,” said Pavel Valoušek. “During the test, I had realized fairly quickly that we were a good fit. The car is really solid, it tolerates hard handling, yet there was not a single moment during the test at all. This rally will be about the entire team learning the car, but we will also be expecting to fight for a podium finish as well.”
Co-driver Veronika Havelková added: “The ergonomics [of the Fabia R5] are clever and logical, which is something I am used to in ŠKODA cars, based on my previous experience. The test itself was indescribable. It will be very interesting for the fans, because Pavel is already really confident behind the wheel of this car.”
The other ŠKODA Fabia R5 starting the Eger Rally will be driven by Tomáš Kukučka and co-driver Radovan Mozner Jr. for the KL Racing Team. It is also their first international event in the car, and in preparation they took part in the Žiželice Testing Special Stage event in the Czech Republic last weekend. After an encouraging second place finish there, Kukučka will also be hoping for a strong performance at the Eger Rally.
Paraguayan Championship continues and CODASUR gets underway at Rally Trans-Itapúa
The Rally Trans-Itapúa, which takes place in south-eastern Paraguay, will mark both the second round of the Paraguayan Rally Championship and the 1st round of the CODASUR South America Rally Championship.
The event, which takes place on gravel and in extremely hot conditions, will see a total of four ŠKODA Fabia R5s taking part. Gustavo Saba, along with co-driver Leonardo Suaya, the reigning Paraguayan rally champions, will be looking to kick-start their defence after failing to finish last time out.
But Dider Arias won the last round, the Rally de Misiones, along with his co-driver Hector Nunes, and will want to keep that momentum going. The other two Fabia R5s will be driven by Marcos Ligato and Miguel Zaldivar.
Rallye Terre des Causses sees French Gravel Rally Championship get underway
Back in Europe, and the French Gravel Rally Championship gets underway on 1st April with the Rallye Terre des Causses. The rally takes place around the French town of Capdenac, over around 150 competitive kilometers and ten special stages.
For ŠKODA, Ghislain de Mévius will be taking part for the BMA team as part of his preparation for participating in three WRC2 events later in the season. Speaking before the event, he was frank about the extent of the team’s ambitions for the rally.
“We are taking part in the Rallye Terre des Causses to prepare for our WRC2 events. We want to use this event to help us learn and understand the car ahead of the Rally de Portugal,” explained Ghislain de Mévius. “This season we are taking part in fewer WRC2 events, but we want to be prepared as much as possible, and the Rallye Terre des Causses is part of that deliberate strategy.”
Julien Maurin will also be participating for the 2C Competition team. It is just his second rally in the Fabia R5, the first since the Rallye Monte Carlo and also the first with this car on gravel, so he is another driver still familiarizing himself with the vehicle.
“The goal for this rally is to win my class and score the best possible result also in overall classification. I like this event and I think that gravel is one of the surfaces on which ŠKODA seems to be very competitive,” said Julien Maurin. “But we have to be realistic. We know that it will be difficult to fight with WRC cars, but we will be focused on our performance. Reliability will be the key factor for the result of this rally as well as for the overall results of the championship. There are only five rallies on the calendar, so there is no space for mistakes. If we will do our job properly, then we should not be very far from the overall podium at the end of the season. Nevertheless, right now we are thinking only about Terre des Causses!”
Also driving a ŠKODA Fabia R5 in the rally will be Matthieu Margaillan.