Countdown to Wales Rally GB
Wales Rally GB - Preview
Are you standing in the Wales Rally GB service park? Probably not. It’s not the best place to read wrc.com, is it? If you were, you’d be standing in the Roald Dahl Plass. It’s little known outside the capital of Wales that the man who wrote The Fantastic Mr Fox and James and the Giant Peach was from these parts. It’s also little known that Cardiff only became a city 105 years ago - and only became the capital of Wales 50 years later.
What Cardiff and Wales are well known for is rugby and singing. The former has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, the latter has been a constant from Ivor Novello to Duffy.
Another constant are the classic gravel roads found north of Roald Dahl Plass. People talk about Finland and New Zealand being great, fast rallies - well Wales Rally GB is right up there with them. And this year’s event is going to be an even bigger challenge with some of the trickiest asphalt around being slotted into Saturday’s stages on the Epynt military ranges.
But, for the mainstay, this event is about the woods; it has been for the last half-century. It was 1960 when then clerk of the course Jack Kemsley decided to give the RAC Rally some teeth. For too long, the event had been little more than a jaunt up and down country with a few driving tests thrown in along the way.
In 1960, the first closed road special stage was included. It was a three-kilometre dash over the forestry commission land at Monument Hill. You’ll notice this year’s route also includes a stage called Monument Hill - this one is Wales, and is so-called simply to commemorate the original.
Kemsley’s initiative of 50 years ago, transformed the event. In the ensuing years the number of stages increased and the number of driving tests decreased, leaving one of the world’s toughest events. And a rally all of the drivers want to win.
Who’s going to win?
Is this year’s World Rally Championship finale going to be one of Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected? Quite possibly. But that probably depends on what you’re expecting.
The question of who’s going to win is more open on Wales Rally GB than on many of the other events this season. Sebastien Loeb is chasing a hat-trick on the event, but it’s his fellow Citroen driver Petter Solberg who has the strongest record, having won four from the last eight Rally GBs.
The Norwegian knows this event better than anybody else; among the front-runners, nobody has competed in Britain as many times as Solberg - and this is an event where experience can really make a difference. The grip level, particularly in places like Crychan, can change very quickly, especially when it rains, and knowing how to read that grip level is absolutely vital: get it right and you’ll be fastest, get it wrong and you’ll be in the trees.
This has been a stupendous season for the Frenchman (who is still only in his second full year of the WRC). He’s been pretty much the fastest driver on the loose over the second half of the season; winning in Japan and running Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala close in Finland.
Ogier’s leading the charge for the runners-up spot in the championship, he leads Latvala by 11 points, with Solberg a further five behind. But Loeb’s team-mate has already stated that he’s not overly concerned where he finishes in the season-long standings, this week’s about win number three for him. Citroen Junior Team driver Dani Sordo is also capable of springing a surprise in his C4 WRC.
On current form, Latvala’s the most threatening of the Ford drivers, but his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen is another former winner in Wales.
Further down the field, the Production and Super 2000 World Rally Championships will be concluded in Wales. Xevi Pons leads the S-WRC standings, but he will have Jari Ketomaa and Patrik Sandell to deal with, while Patrik Flodin is the only man who can stand in the way of Armindo Araujo and back-to-back P-WRC titles.
The only disappointment about this event is that Sordo’s not in a position to win the championship. If he was, we could have been spraying the champagne in the Roald Dahl Pass on Sunday afternoon, cheering, Dani, the champion of the world!
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