History in Greece, dominance in Jordan, and bad luck in Germany, as the ŠKODA Fabia R5 continues to make its mark in rallies around the world.
ŠKODA and Ralfs Sirmacis make history at the Acropolis Rally
The story of the Acropolis Rally, the third round of the European Rally Championship (ERC), was all about the ŠKODA Fabia R5 cars, as ŠKODA customer teams claimed the top four positions to give the Fabia R5 its first ever complete podium in the ERC, and the first 1-2-3-4 in overall results for an event. This was no mean feat in an event known to be one of the toughest in rallying and given the nickname ‘car breaker’ for its high number of retirements.
It was the Latvian duo of Ralfs Sirmacis/Arturs Šimins (title photo above), driving for the Sports Racing Technologies team, who led the way, claiming a remarkable victory by just over two minutes and finishing in the top three in all but two of the 12 special stages. Their rally was defined by their battle with Alexey Lukyanuk/Roman Kapustin who they led by 8 seconds after the first leg, only to see the Russian duo have a 10 second penalty wiped to put them in front.
But after Lukyanuk suffered suspension damage on day two, Sirmacis drove with a confidence which belied his years, to secure the win. It was the 21-year old Latvian’s first attempt at this event and also his first victory in overall classification outside of his homeland, so he was predictably elated afterwards.
“This is fantastic! It is difficult to put this into words,” said Ralfs Sirmacis at the finish. “Our goal was to compete for the top positions, as we did not come to Greece to just participate. We knew that it would not be easy, but were ready and anxious to show what we are capable of. One of our goals has now been fulfilled. I am happy that we can drive the ŠKODA Fabia R5 – it is the best and fastest rally car I have driven, and is very easy to control. Winning on our debut is truly an amazing feeling! Thanks to the team, sponsors and all our fans.”
Behind the young Latvian in second place was the experienced Greek duo of Lambros Athanassoulas/Elias Panagiotounis. Driving in their home event for the Laskaris Foundation Team Greece, they were keen to improve on their third place finish a year before, and put in an impressive and consistent drive, to edge the Czech pairing of Jaromír Tarabus/Daniel Trunkát into third place.
The final result saw the Greek team 32.1 seconds clear, but this was only after they were awarded 32 seconds for unfair obstruction after being stuck behind a slow car on the final stage.
“With the exception of the time lost in the last stage due to the driver that has started in front of us, the rally has been fantastic,” commented Lambros Athanassoulas. “The car has been perfect all weekend, and my thanks go to Motorsport Italia team for that.”
Meanwhile Jaromír Tarabus, who became the first Czech driver to finish on the podium at this event, added: “We started well to get up to third place overall on the first leg, but couldn’t keep that pace going and squandered a lot of time in the first section of the Sunday stages, before encountering a fast local driver in Lambros Athanassoulas. Still we are delighted to be the first Czech crew to finish on the podium at this legendary event. We avoided any problems with the tyres and the car worked perfectly so we are pleased.”
In fourth place was another Sports Racing Technologies Fabia R5 driven by the Estonia pairing of Raul Jeets and Andrus Toom. “Our goal was to be faster than last year,” said Raul Jeets at the finish. “Even though we made a mistake in tyre selection for leg one, we still managed to set good times and we drove cautiously to save tyres on the longest stage of the day. This strategy worked and we fulfilled our goal for the event. This is our best result in ERC yet, which is great.”
Each leg of this event also counted as an individual event in the Greek Rally Championship and Lambros Athanassoulas claimed victory in both of these to establish his position at the top of the championship standings.
The next round of the European Rally Championship takes place in Portugal with the Azores Airlines Rallye, from 2nd to 4th June, while the next Greece Rally Championship event is the Rally Kentavros which takes place on 4th and 5th June.
Nasser Al-Attiyah claims dominant Jordan Rally win to open up big lead in MERC standings
The third round of the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) took place last weekend with the Jordan Rally. Taking place alongside Jordan’s Dead Sea coastline, over 19 special stages and around 250 km of competitive distance, this gravel event saw two ŠKODA Fabia R5s on the start line.
And the outcome was a perfect one-two finish as well, with Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel utterly dominant throughout all three days of the event as they cruised to their third championship win of the year.
They won all 19 special stages to claim an overall victory by a staggering margin of 18 minutes and 18 seconds to cement their huge lead at the top of the MERC standings. Their victory was never really in doubt after the other ŠKODA Fabia R5, driven by Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari/Killian Duffy for the Culture & Sport Qatar Rally Team, went off the road on the second day. That incident pushed them down to fifth, but they drove expertly from then on to climb back up to second place by the end.
“I was able to control the rally from the very start and set my own pace,” said a jubilant Nasser Al-Attiyah. “It was important that I came here with a focus to win the rally and claim the maximum 39 points for winning both legs and the event. Whoever wants to compete outside in the World Championship needs to first beat Nasser Al-Attiyah in the Middle East!”
There is now a long hiatus in the Middle East Rally Championship before next round which is the Rally of Lebanon taking place from 2nd to 4th September.
Bad luck for Fabian Kreim as a missed chicane costs him the win at the Rallye Sulingen
The Rallye Sulingen was a tarmac event comprising of 13 special stages and just under 150 km of competitive rallying, and marked the third round of the German Rally Championship.
And it was a weekend of mixed emotions for Fabian Kreim and his co-driver Frank Christian, driving for the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland team. They were pleased with another podium finish after coming home in second place, but after finishing just 5.5 seconds behind the eventual winners, they were ruing the 30 second penalty incurred for under-breaking and taking a chicane incorrectly in special stage six.
The incident came amidst a dramatic duel between the ŠKODA pairing and eventual winners Christian Riedemann/Lara Vanneste as Kreim battled valiantly to make up the time lost. Ultimately the gap proved to be just too much, but it was still a positive result for Kreim and the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland team.
“It was a great battle with local hero Christian Riedemann,” said Fabian Kreim. “I had the victory in hand, but it was my error which led to the penalty which ultimately cost us the win. We are just three rallies into the championship and I will keep fighting to win this title.”
There were two more ŠKODA cars making up the top four as well, as Dominik Dinkel/Christina Kohl in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000 of the Brose Motorsport team claimed the last spot on the podium after another great battle with fellow ŠKODA Fabia S2000 competitors Yannick Neuville/Jürgen Heigl.
Dinkel’s third podium of the season sees him in second place in the championship, one spot above Fabian Kreim. Meanwhile the Russian pairing of Dmitriy Biryukov/Evgeniy Kalachev came home in 11th place in their ŠKODA Fabia R5.
The next round of the German Rally Championship is the Sachsen Rallye which takes place on 20th and 21st May.
Umberto Scandola up to third in Italian championship after podium finish at historic Targa Florio
There was a spot on the podium for Umberto Scandola/Guido D’Amore in the 100th running of the Targa Florio – Rally Internazionale di Sicilia, a tarmac rally with 150 km of competitive distance divided into 15 stages. They finished third overall. The rally, in which the two legs are run as individual events of Italian championship, saw them claim fourth place in the first event, before coming third in the second leg.
The result saw the Italian duo, driving for the ŠKODA Italia Motorsport team, move up to third place in the Italian Rally Championship after scoring big points here, and afterwards Scandola suggested they perhaps paid the price for being a little too cautious in their approach to the event.
“I would say that today probably showed the ‘accountant’ side in me,” said Umberto Scandola. “We probably paid for being a bit too cautious in some of our choices and the tyre compounds we went with. But it was a good result which allowed us to climb up to third place in the Italian championship. Now we will focus on the next two rallies, which are both gravel events.”
The next round of the Italian Rally Championship will be the Rally Adriatico, which takes place from 27th to 29th May.
János Puskádi pushes back to claim fourth at Rally Opatija
In the third round of the Mitropa Cup at the Rally Opatija, Hungarian duo János Puskádi/Barnabás Gódor, driving for the Eurosol Racing Team Hungary, took their ŠKODA Fabia R5 to a fourth place finish overall, and third in the Mitropa Rally Cup standings.
It was an impressive result for Puskádi after a poor start to the event, but a strong second half of the event, and particularly the final stage, saw them push up the standings.
“It was a nice experience with the new car on this kind of tarmac. We had a chance to try it in dry and wet conditions as well. We learned a lot again and we are looking forward to the next rally,” said János Puskádi after the rally.
The next round of the Mitropa Rally Cup is the Rally Velenje in Slovenia from 20th to 22nd May.
NEWS IN BRIEF
Raimonds Kisiels/Arnis Ronis (Race Ring team) claimed third place in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 at the Rally Kurzeme in the second round of the Latvian Rally Championship. *** In the same event, Kalle Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen (TGS Worldwide OU) battled hard for the win in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000 before eventually finishing in second place by just 14.4 seconds. *** There was a ŠKODA Fabia R5 one-two at the Rallye National du Saint-Emilion in the French Cup. Pierre Roché/Martine Roché took the win ahead of Jérôme Galpin/Anne Galpin. *** Desi Henry / Liam Moynihan were forced to retire from the Tour of the Sperrins, the third round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship, but it wasn’t all bad news as Martin McCormack/Caron McCormack claimed victory in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000. *** Luca Artino/Titti Ghilardi won the Rally della Valdinievole, sixth round of Italian regional championship, driving the ŠKODA Fabia R5 of Swiss team Race Art Technology.
COMING UP THIS WEEKEND
Rally Internacional de Erechim
Rally Information: Erechim, Brazil. 13th – 15th May. 2nd round of the CODASUR South American Rally Championship. Gravel, 13 special stages, 160 km of competitive distance.
ŠKODA Fabia R5 Teams: Marcos Ligato/Ruben Garcia (Saba Competicion); Gustavo Saba/Leonardo Suaya (Saba Competicion).
Interesting Facts: Gustavo Saba is the joint most successful driver in the event’s history with three wins to his name so far. His last victory came in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000 in 2013.
Rally Information: Arad, Romania. 13th – 14th May. 3rd round of Romanian Rally Championship, 1st round of Tour of Europe (TER) rally series. Gravel, 11 special stages, around 150 km of competitive distance.
ŠKODA Fabia R5 Teams: Dan Gîrtofan/Tudor Mârza; Rashid Al-Ketbi/Karine Hepperle.
Interesting Facts: Dan Gîrtofan’s best finish in this event was third place back in 2009. Meanwhile Al-Ketbi and Hepperle won it in 2014; This event is the first round of the TER Series, a four-rally championship which also includes rallies in Portugal, Austria, and Switzerland.
Rally Information: Vyškov, Czech Republic. 13th – 14th May. 2nd round of Czech Rallysprint Series. Tarmac, 7 special stages, 72 km of competitive distance.
ŠKODA Fabia R5 Team: Tomáš Kukučka/Radovan Mozner jun. (KL Racing Team).
Interesting Facts: Tomáš Kukučka is taking part at the Rally Vyškov for the first time in his career.