Novikov impresses to maintain podium position
in Rally de Portugal
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov continued to impress on the third day of competition at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal today. Despite incurring problems, the Russian maintained his podium position and is on target for his best ever WRC result. Similarly, Dennis Kuipers is on course for a good haul of points on this the Dutchman’s first time in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC since November last year.
Elsewhere, despite incurring further misfortunes, Ott Tänak set some strong times to climb from 17th to 13th in the overall standings.
Returning to last year’s route, the crews tackled the longest day of competition with 148.16 kilometres over two loops of three stages. Novikov’s maturity shone through over the opening stage. Suffering from a recurring issue with a misfiring engine, the Russian focussed on maintaining his podium position. Despite losing out to a charging Mads Østberg, Novikov conserved his tyres and, with limited knowledge of the stages, vowed only to push if the conditions worsened.
Continuing their strong run in spite of their problems, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet set a string of top-ten times in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to remain on course for their best ever World Rally Championship [WRC] result.
Another strong performance from Kuipers saw the Dutchman set for a strong haul of points on his first WRC event of 2012. Taking an impressive 15.4 seconds out of fellow countryman Peter Van Merksteijn over the opening stage (SS11), Kuipers closed the gap to seventh to just 34.9 seconds.
Continuing his composed drive, Kuipers set more strong times over the morning loop. Going well back behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the Dutchman reigned in Van Merksteijn to claim seventh place going into the afternoon’s loop.
Elsewhere however, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk’s misfortunes continued into Day 3 as the Estonian pairing were forced to leave service late following a problem with the prop-shaft.
Colliding with a rock five kilometres into the first test, the 24-year-old damaged the sumpguard of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. With the sumpguard hitting the road and making his Fiesta RS WRC an extremely nervy customer, Tänak took a steady approach over the remaining tests so as not to risk any further damage to the car. Despite his problems, the 24-year-old’s talent shone through with a string of top-ten times including the fourth fastest time over SS13.
Returning to the stages for the afternoon loop, Novikov consolidated his podium position over the final tests. Setting consistent top-ten times, the ALM Russia supported driver proved himself to be one of the most exciting young drivers in the field with maturity and composure as well as his raw speed behind the wheel.
Vowing to push if the heavens open tomorrow, the young Russian will be one to watch with Østberg just 29.3 seconds adrift in second.
Despite losing out to factory Ford driver, Peter Solberg on the opening stage of the afternoon (SS14), Kuipers kept his composure and regained the place when Patrik Sandell’s rally came to an end on the following stage (SS15).
With a good feeling in the car and an ever improving relationship with new-for-2012 co-driver Robin Buysmans, Kuipers is on target to score a good haul of points on his opening round of the season.
Elsewhere, despite catching an ailing [Dani] Sordo in the stage, Tänak set the fourth fastest time over SS14 – 4.2 seconds clear of Østberg – to confirm how his experience of Portugal Rally is growing.
Evgeny Novikov (3rd) said: “I was trying to push over the afternoon loop but it has been quite difficult. We made a few small mistakes but we did not lose so much time, maybe a maximum of 10 seconds.
"I don’t know the stages so we are just trying to do our best. Tomorrow we will have to see what the weather will be like. If we have rain of course I will push, but if it is dry I will maintain my speed and just try to finish the rally.”
Dennis Kuipers (7th) said: “This afternoon was very good – it was dry at least! We had a really good feeling with the car and we improved a lot with our times this afternoon so we feel really confident.
“We won’t make so many changes for tomorrow. Just keep the rhythm and try to put some pressure on those in front.”
Ott Tänak (13th) said: “The first two stages this afternoon were quite ok. There was a problem with [Dani] Sordo on the first one [SS14] and we had to slow right down, but most of the afternoon loop was good. Somehow we were struggling again on the last one [SS16]. For some reason I can’t seem to find a good balance on that stage.
“We will try and do a few small things in service, but mostly we will keep the set-up the same and see how we go tomorrow.”
More on WRC