Rally Ypres 2012: Skoda still dominant in the IRC [video]
A weekend in the fields of Belgium – but will CJ's girlfriend approve?
Perhaps it’s better if I don’t go and see any more of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with Skoda: every time I do, Skoda UK Motorsport entrant Andreas Mikkelsen crashes out.
Not that this stopped him winning the championship last year. And even though I was at Rally Ypres over the weekend, the ‘nice Norwegian’ and his co-driver Ola Fløene are still leading the 2012 title race. Which isn’t the same as saying they finished the round…
Rally Ypres is a fun event. Located within easy driving distance of the Eurotunnel, the keen crowds and use of Ypres town centre as the service park make for a great atmosphere – so it’s ideal as a first European rally destination. This year even the weather was kind. Something of a relief as I’d convinced my other half that what she really wanted to do this last weekend was stand around in a field waiting for something loud and potentially slightly sideways to hurtle by.
So off we trotted to the chunnel in a metallic blue Octavia vRS. The unmarked police car effect of this made the UK’s motorways a relatively straightforward affair, even at nine in the morning. Its impact was somewhat lessened in France, though – not least because by that point we travelling in convoy with two other Skodas, cunningly but coincidentally sequenced in red, white and blue.
It wasn’t until we were actually spectating our first stage of the rally on Friday afternoon that Jen realised I wasn’t joking about the fields. This could have been a bit of a problem, except the Skoda peeps and the other motoring writers they’d also invited along are a great bunch – time passed with loads of laughs. Mikkelsen and Fløene were still in the running, hard on the heels of local hero Freddy Loix in a Peugeot, and Juhu Hänninen in another Skoda, who was holding first.
If the windburn meant that Jen was flagging a little by the time we were on the way to the service park to watch the Fabia S2000 get a refresh, she quickly perked up again once she spotted Mikkelsen’s photograph in the programme. Yes, he’s that kind of ‘nice’ – an irritatingly tall and handsome bugger who can also properly drive. Cue swooning all round, not least from Skoda’s own personnel. The fact he sets out his pace notes in a rolling mixture of English, Italian and Norwegian didn’t make me feel any better, either. Apparently this is all to do with using the shortest possible word.
Anyways, while the ladies enjoyed Andreas I enjoyed watching the mechanics replace all four dampers and remove the gearbox to strip and rebuild the clutch in less than the time it takes your local franchise to renew the oil. All pretty straightforward routine stuff, rally cars are designed to come apart quickly like this. The Fabia did, however, also need a new rear bumper. An incident involving a ditch caused no significant damage, but even with the help of some kindly spectators it still cost a minute in time.
This meant slipping back to fifth. But come the overnight halt Mikkelsen and Fløene were already back up to fourth. Making it all the more of a shame that Special Stage 7 the next morning saw them overshoot a junction and muller the front lower left suspension arm. Game over.
Not that there probably would have been any catching the eventual winners, regardless. Hänninen and his co-driver Mikko Markkula set the fastest time on 12 out of the 18 stages, dusting second-place Loix and co-driver Lara Vanneste by over 50 seconds overall. Which isn’t bad going given it was Hänninen’s first victory at Rally Ypres, while Loix was chasing his eighth.
So happy outcome for Skoda, even if not quite for the UK Motorsport team – though they can surely take heart from the fact this was Mikkelsen’s first retirement from an IRC round since September last year. And not only is he still leading the championship, the two gravel rallies coming up next are said to be his strongest events.
As for rallying in general, despite the exposure I‘m still not sure that Jen sees the appeal. Whether this is to do with the ‘against the clock’ format, the fields or the way you can’t really see the drivers’ faces when they’re helmet on and at speed it’s rather hard to tell.
Finally, here's a quick 90-second video from Skoda UK Motorsport, summing up its weekend:
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Date 18/06/13, Duration 2:20, Views 374
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- Queue jumping
- Mobile phone use
- Middle lane hogging
- Forgetting to indicate
- Flashing headlights