Wilks wins home rally; Arai clinches P–WRC title laurels
FIA Production World Rally Championship

Entered by the organisers of the rally, former FIA Juniors competitor Briton Guy Wilks and Welsh co–driver Phil Pugh (Mitsubishi) drove a confident rally to score their first P–WRC victory of the season, on the final round of the 2007 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Wales Rally GB. Juho Hanninen (FIN) brought his Mitsubishi home in second, 34.2 seconds adrift, with Mark Higgins (GB, Mitsubishi) in third. P–WRC title contender Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Mitsubishi) retired on the first day and with nobody else able to beat him, Japanese Toshi Arai (Subaru) secured the 2007 P–WRC title.

Higgins set the pace on his home event from the outset, but a couple of punctures on SS2 and SS5 saw a victoryhungry Wilks take advantage of Higgins’ problems in the tricky conditions and overtake him on the leaderboard. Unfortunately, Higgins overtook van Merksteijn’s Focus on the last stage of the day but the Dutchman stuck so close to his bumper with his full beam lights on that Higgins dropped even more time being partially blinded, dropping to fourth. In the meantime, Wilks dropped 45 seconds on SS6 when his light pod stopped working, although it didn’t affect his position.

With Wilks and Higgins fighting for British Rally Championship honours as well as a P–WRC win, local Guest Driver and another BRC contender Gwyndaf Evans (GB, Mitsubishi) adopted third by the end of leg one. His engine wouldn’t restart after a heavy landing following a jump on SS8 so, once going again he kept the engine running until the midday service but he was sidelined with a broken gearbox on SS10. A couple of stage wins on leg two saw Higgins retake second by the same stage which he held onto into the final day, despite a broken rear differential on SS12.

Providing the only real competition to the P–WRC’s local drivers was Hanninen (FIN, Mitsubishi). His times were fast enough to take third by SS2 which he defended almost throughout. But it wasn’t an easy ride and he couldn’t believe how difficult the conditions were on the first day, dropping some time simply from a lack of visibility. His only problem was a rear left puncture on SS10 which he drove on for nine kilometres which cost him 30 seconds and another rear puncture just before the finish of SS15. But the drama didn’t subside for Higgins who had faulty brakes on SS14 and through the stage following he lost the use of fourth gear and finished the stage with a collapsed rear suspension. And Hanninen finished in style by winning three of the four final stages to promote himself to second, assisting in securing his position as P–WRC sprinter of the season (see table 9).

FIA Juniors regular Alessandro Bettega (I, Mitsubishi) was on only his second outing in a Group N car and as with many of his competitors, he struggled with confidence a little in the fog on leg one. A heavy landing after a jump on SS8 saw him break a shock absorber mid–stage but seeing so many of his fellow competitors falling prey to the conditions made him continue steadily to avoid problems. During 2007, which started badly, the Italian has contested ten rallies in six different cars (Ford Fiesta S1600, Suzuki Ignis S1600, Renault Clio R3, Ford Focus WRC ’02 and ’06 and a Mitsubishi Lancer Group N) and he was happy his year finished on a high in fourth, bettering even his FIA Juniors results of the season. Now he heads to Italy for ĎMemorial Bettega’ in Bologna where he will compete with a 2007 Focus WRC.

David Higgins (GB, Subaru) had a fifth gear spin on SS3 and his light pod wasn’t working properly for SS6. Then on P–WRC GB Round–up, page 2 of 12

SS7 he dropped two and half minutes changing a puncture, pulling him down the order from fifth to ninth but his experience of the terrain and the conditions meant that he remained relatively trouble–free, except for damaged steering towards the end of the final stage of the rally, to take four points for fifth.

Mirco Baldacci (RSM, Subaru) struggled with a broken gearbox on SS1, leaving him with only the first three gears, and on SS3 a front–right puncture change cost him three minutes. The team changed the gearbox during the midday service but a couple of spins on the last stage of the day (SS6) didn’t help progress. Unfortunately, a lack of engine power from leg two meant the San Marino driver was unable to set times to allow him to finish higher than sixth.

On his first time in GB, Armindo Araujo (P, Mitsubishi) struggled through the rally with suspension issues. He made changes throughout and things improved by the afternoon of leg two but the conditions on the first day caused havoc for many leading crews, including Araujo, and his cause wasn’t helped by his windscreen spray not working on leg one and a spin on SS8. He was much happier during the afternoon of leg two as the car felt better allowing him to push more but it all went downhill again on the final day as he stopped to change a front left and rear right puncture in SS15, costing six minutes in total, and had another puncture in SS16 as well as losing his exhaust. And he lost his sumpguard on the last stage before finally bringing his car home in seventh.

Stepan Vojtech (CZ, Mitsubishi) had a puncture on SS3 but he had a problem with the jack and couldn’t lift the car, costing almost five minutes and as with many others, there was so much mud on the light pod during SS6 that he couldn’t see. A front left puncture half way through SS7 cost another three minutes and he hit a hole which loosened the steering for SS14 and SS15. But after such an eventful and challenging rally in general, the Czech driver was simply happy to take the experience away with his eighth place finish.

Andreas Aigner (A, Mitsubishi) had a puncture 12 kilometres before the end of SS2 which he continued with but lost a minute in the process. The Austrian didn’t enjoy the foggy and slippery conditions and he came close to having to stop on a couple of occasions as the visibility was so atrocious and his windscreen was misting. A puncture on SS7, four kilometres in to the stage, saw him drop three minutes as he stopped to change it. Unfortunately things only got worse on the final day – he had a puncture at the start of SS15 but it took five minutes to change as he was stuck in mud in a ditch at the side of the road. Then on SS16 a further three punctures finally sidelined Aigner, to finish in ninth. Loris Baldacci (RSM, Subaru) started well but five kilometres into SS6 his engine overheated. He restarted the second day. The car performed well again for leg two but steering problems on the first loop of stages on the final day caused problems and Mirco’s younger brother eventually finished tenth.

Travis Pastrana (USA, Subaru) couldn’t believe his misfortune on the first day of the rally, commenting that it was the worst day rallying of his career. Only two kilometres into SS1 he spun, only to have a puncture later on and another spin in SS2. Stopping to change a puncture on SS3 cost him dearly as the car fell off the jack, costing him four minutes. And like most of his rivals, SS6 was a huge challenge with a misting windscreen and he didn’t have confidence in his notes. His pace improved on leg two but he damaged the front right control arm in the morning and then a suspension failure on SS10 resulted in his front left wheel folding under the car, seeing him sidelined for the last few stages of the day. The Rally America Champion restarted for the final day after a driveshaft change and he drove on a puncture on the last stage to finish in 11th.

Evans restarted for the final day after his gearbox woes at the end of leg two and he opted to SupeRally to finish in 12th. Martin Rauam (EE, Mitsubishi) had a difficult rally as he stopped to change a front right puncture on the first stage of the rally but it cost him 11 minutes after the car fell off the jack in the horrendous conditions. He had electrical problems on SS6 and his engine was lacking in power and with the thick fog and so much mud on his lights, he struggled to see where he was going. He damaged his radiator on SS8 after landing heavily after the jump. Claiming this was the hardest rally of his career and after another puncture on SS15, he eventually finished in 13th. Michal Solowow (POL, Fiat), debuting the Fiat Punto S2000 in the P–WRC, found the weather conditions particularly difficult and he overshot a few corners on leg one and from SS4 his engine went onto three cylinders. He finished the leg but was unable to restart.

Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Mitsubishi) struggled with a lack of power at the start of leg one and, finding the conditions very tricky, he slid off the road on SS5, pulling a front wheel off and breaking his suspension. As he needed a win in GB to secure the P–WRC title, he decided to retire. But he didn’t give up the possibility of a Championship victory without a fight as the Argentine scored 23 out of a possible 30 points on the three rallies preceding the season finale. Claudiu David (RO, Mitsubishi) struggled with a lack of engine power during the first loop of stages on leg one and on P–WRC GB Round–up, page 3 of 12

SS6 his steering broke. He stopped in SS7 with an engine problem which was terminal.
On his debut outing in the MG ZR S2000, Stuart Jones (GB, Mitsubishi) – with only 70 kilometres of testing in the car – he spent much of the first day familiarising himself with its capabilities. He had a puncture on SS3 which he drove with for 10 kilometres, costing about a minute. Ineffective rear brakes by the end of leg one accompanied by a dirty light pod made progress difficult and half way through SS9 the power steering stopped working. By leg three he had more confidence in the car but an off–road excursion on SS12 saw him sidelined. As his co–driver injured his shoulder, the pair was forced to retire.

Leszek Kuzaj (PL, Subaru) seemed to have a string of problems on this rally. He spun on the first stage, stalling his engine in the process and then dropped two and a half minutes changing a front left puncture on SS3; he had a puncture on SS4, a misted windscreen on the next stage and, accompanied by even more fog on SS6, a complete lack of visibility. SS8 saw him finish with a completely bald rear left tyre and the final nail in the coffin was engine damage in SS12 causing a small fire.

On only his second WRC event, Hayden Paddon (NZ, Mitsubishi) bent the steering on SS1 after cutting a corner, knocking his front left wheel out of line and limping through the remainder of the stage. He restarted for leg two and was much happier with his notes even if his car was slightly down on power but he eventually retired with two punctures on SS11.

Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru) was disappointed that he struggled to set stage times that were as competitive as he set last year in GB. Like many others, his windscreen misted through the second loop on leg one, adding to the difficulties caused by the fog, and he went off the road twice on SS6. He pushed hard on leg two but on SS12 he hit a rock and broke the sump, sidelining him for the day. A good start to leg three unfortunately ended with three punctures. Evgeniy Vertunov (RUS, Subaru) had no experience driving in fog and he didn’t have any confidence in his pace notes, so the tricky conditions on leg one were challenging. His windscreen wash stuck open on SS2 and he drove on two punctures on SS5 – front and rear left – and by the end of the stage he had no brakes, adopting a 50 second penalty arriving late at regroup. The brakes stopped working again on SS9 and he dropped a minute for each of two punctures on SS10 and SS12, only to finish the day with a broken handbrake. Eventually he went off the road on SS14 and, unable to join, was forced to retire.

Spyros Pavlides (CY, Subaru) broke a track control arm after a deep cut on SS1 only eight kilometres into the rally, costing the Cypriot driver four minutes, and he had two more punctures, on each of SS4 and SS6.

Alternator problems during the morning of leg two meant he spent the rest of the day down on power, compounded by a gearbox problem which saw him drive the second loop on leg two with third gear only. Sadly for the Cypriot, his gearbox failed en route to the first stage of leg three.

Away from GB, outgoing P–WRC Champion Nasser Al–Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) has finished his year off in style by winning the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in Dubai, securing the title for the fourth time.

DRIVER QUOTES
1st – Guy Wilks, Mitsubishi Lancer:
"British Rally Champion – sounds good to me! On that last stage we just had to concentrate 100% and get on with it. It’s great, awesome – I’m over the moon! The team has done a great job – two BRC wins and a P–WRC win and all in one weekend – brilliant!

2nd – Juho Hanninen, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
"Second place wasn’t really what I came for. This morning we were third and I gained one more position which is good, but I wanted a win here. Next year I hope we can stay in WRC, although I don’t know in which car."

3rd – Mark Higgins, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
"To be honest I’m just lucky to be here at the finish. We had quite a few problems through the weekend and it’s not really what we were planning to do here. But after all the problems I just wanted to finish as we drove the motorway road section to the finish stuck in third gear. It was a pity coming to this rally with only one championship possible and we’ve left without it! But it’s been a fantastic season and fair play to Guy as he drove a great rally." P–WRC GB Round–up, page 4 of 12

Gabriel Pozzo, 2007 P–WRC Runner–up
"We made a little mistake on the first day. It was really difficult to see the road, there was fog, too much rain and I went off the road. We hit a tree and the front left wheel came off. We had only one way to win the Championship and that was to win. I just pushed too much but the local drivers are much better here as they really know the roads, they are used to these conditions and I just couldn’t catch them. But I’m not disappointed. It’s my first time here, the first year for the Tango Rally Team and second in the P–WRC is really good for us. I’m happy with our results through the year and car has been great. We will do the P–WRC again next year and maybe with two cars."

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