Villagra defies odds to finish WRC season in style
"Saturday and Sunday has gone much better"
Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team driver Federico Villagra grappled with the challenges of a new co-driver, a car he had not driven for four months and missing the majority of the pre-event reconnaissance to make it to the end of this weekend’s RACC-Rally de España 16th overall in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
On the back of his sixth consecutive win from Rally de Concepcion del Uruguay in Entre Rios last weekend, Villagra was feeling confident ahead of his final WRC event of the season. The Munchi’s Ford team, however, were delayed in arriving to Spain when the Puyehue volcano range in southern Chile erupted and sent clouds of ash streams east over Argentina.
The disruptions to Villagra’s flights meant that that the nine-time Argentine Rally Champion missed Tuesday’s reconnaissance. The FIA granted the waiver allowing Villagra and co-driver Diego Curletto to recce two new stages (SS1 & SS4 Pesells and SS3 & SS6 Les Garrigues) in addition to some of the stages already scheduled for Wednesday.
After being absent from the world rally scene since Acropolis Rally in June, this weekend marked the first time since Greece that Villagra has driven the Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Spain also marked the first time Villagra has piloted the Fiesta RS WRC in a lower, more aggressive asphalt specification.
Despite a series of setbacks prior to the penultimate round of the WRC, the South American driver went onto set the second-fastest time at Thursday’s Shakedown. Friday’s unique mix of asphalt and gravel stages, however, proved troublesome for Villagra who struggled with brakes for the opening 80.18 km loop. The Munchi’s Ford service team changed the brake callipers, discs and pads at Service A and the driver climbed the WRC leaderboard to sit 23rd going into Day 2.
Friday evening’s 75 minute flexi service saw Villagra’s service team transform the Ford Fiesta RS WRC from a gravel set-up into full asphalt specification in order to tackle the remaining two days of competition which was set on Tarmac. Saturday posed no major problems for Villagra who improved his times to sit 19th at the end of Stage 12.
The final day of Rally de España saw the Munchi’s Ford driver move further up the leaderboard to finish the end of his seventh WRC event of 2011 16th overall.
Villagra will now return to his native homeland where he will concentrate on the final two rounds of the Argentine Rally Championship (ARC) which he leads by an incredible 125 points. With such a significant lead, it is expected that Villagra will be crowned the Argentine Rally Champion for the tenth time in December.
Federico Villagra: “It has been a difficult weekend but I am very happy to have made it over to Spain after the nightmare we had trying to get here earlier in the week! It was disappointing to miss the recce on Tuesday but at least we got to do some of Wednesday plus the organisers allowed us to drive Friday’s new stages. It’s always a big confidence boost doing the recce as it allows you to get to grips with the roads but I am lucky in some ways as it is an event I have done four times before so I already remembered some of the roads. On Friday we were more cautious on the first run so we could make changes to the pacenotes before we pushed on the afternoon’s repeat leg. Then we completely lost our brakes so it was a difficult day. Saturday and Sunday has gone much better but it has taken a bit of time getting used to driving the car in a different specification. I have enjoyed the challenge this weekend and now I will return home to concentrate on my championship back in Argentina.”
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