Prokop scoops Spanish J-WRC win
Czech driver Martin Prokop and co-driver Jan Tománek scored their second J-WRC win of the season in their Citroën C2, on RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada, the penultimate round of the 2008 FIA Junior World Rally Championship, after a surprise retirement by Championship leader Sébastien Ogier (F, Citroën). Italian Alessandro Bettega (I, Renault) equalled his best J-WRC result to date, bringing his Renault Clio R3 home in second and Aaron Burkart (D, Citroën) finished third in his Citroën C2. The results sees Ogier hold onto his lead in the J-WRC driver standings with 34 points but Burkart’s all-important podium finish sees him lie just four points behind the Frenchman and he heads to the final round of the J-WRC next week in Corsica as the only driver to challenge Ogier for J-WRC honours.

For the first two days of the rally, Ogier was almost untouchable, with just Prokop denying him a handful of stage wins. The Frenchman built his lead to over a minute from Prokop with his debut J-WRC title firmly in sight, but disaster struck on the last stage of day two (SS12) when he hit a bank and broke his C2’s radiator, causing too much damage to continue. Perfectly placed to adopt the lead, Prokop took up the reins and sat tight despite a few engine concerns at the end of day two. With all chasing crews being promoted up the leaderboard, Bettega adopted second behind Prokop which he defended confidently, despite a fight from Burkart.

Shaun Gallagher (IRL, Citroën) made a cautious start, wanting to avoid punctures by not cutting corners. But points but determination kept him in the game to finish in a solid fourth. His Championship points equal those of Burkart but as he didn’t nominate the Corsican round as one of his points scoring rallies, he is unable to challenge for the title. Patrik Sandell (S, Renault) lost the use of his brakes on SS1 after a calliper screw came loose. He made repairs on the road section and filled up with spare brake fluid but, having not driven a tarmac rally since Spain last year, he eased off on the next few stages to play it safe. Afraid of losing the brakes again, he tackled the long SS7 a little too cautiously; on SS9 he broke his exhaust 5km before the end and on the repeat run through it (SS12) a spin cost him a few seconds, but he continued to finish a welcomed fifth.

Jaan Molder (EE, Suzuki) had some acceleration problems in fifth and sixth gear early on day one but, like Sandell, his last tarmac rally was in Spain 2007 so he admitted to being a little rusty. Adjustments to the set-up improved things but a front right puncture 14km before the end of the long SS7 cost over two minutes, and was followed by a front left slow puncture nearer the end of the same stage. He made some changes to the set-up to make it harder and lower in preparation for Corsica and was happy to score three points for sixth.

Stefano Albertini (I, Renault) made a few set-up changes in the opening group of stages to eliminate some front tyre problems. He stalled on SS6 but the 22 year-old Italian, who started out in circuit racing, put it all down to valuable experience and a steady drive, improving stage by stage saw him take two points for seventh.

Simone Bertolotti (I, Renault) lost the use of his brakes 7km before the end of SS1 and the problem continued intermittently through the rest of the group. His pace improved throughout the event and he took the final available point for eighth, despite a few ‘moments’.

Michal Kosciuszko (POL, Suzuki) made a fantastic start to the rally lying second at best on the opening day but some balance issues for Kosciuszko, combined with some excellent stage times by his competitors, saw him settle into fourth. Unfortunately a broken throttle cable mid-stage on SS9 cost him five minutes to repair in the stage and he dropped more time driving out of the stage at a steady 50kph. Then a front right puncture and a broken brake pipe on SS12 cost more time and made progress even more difficult. But he stepped up his pace on the final day to clock two stage wins en route to eventually finishing in ninth.

Florian Niegel (D, Suzuki) made a good start to the rally but he lost his front left wheel near the end of SS5 after the bolts broke, sidelining him for the rest of the day. The German 24-year-old restarted, made some set-up changes to his Swift and had a trouble-free run for the rest of the rally. He eventually finished in 10th.

Kevin Abbring (NL, Renault) had some brake issues near the end of the first stage so he spent time building his confidence on his first outing in Spain and he was happy to be in a battle with Sandell by the end of the first day. But a broken driveshaft 15km into SS7 sidelined him for the day, seeing him incur a large amount of penalties for the rest the day’s stages not completed. He finished in 11th. He also scored maximum points as the only finishing ASN driver for the Dutch KNAF team which now leads the French FFSA by four points going into the final round.

Gilles Schammel (LUX, Renault) lost the use of his brakes on SS1 and even though they were a little better in the afternoon, a brake pad change that evening made progress a little easier. But his rally didn’t end well as a broken wishbone bolt on the penultimate stage of the event saw him retire whilst lying in eighth.

Hans Weijs Jr. (NL, Citroën) had a great start to the rally and his cautious approach paid off as he reached sixth place by the start of the final day, which would have been his best J-WRC result to date. But he was denied that opportunity as he slid wide on gravel on SS14 and rolled down a bank into retirement. His team now faces a race against the clock to get his car ready for Corsica.

Kris Meeke’s (GB, Renault) rally didn’t start well as a puncture just four kilometres into SS1 cost him a couple of minutes, before he lost the use of his brakes by the end of the same stage. The first run through the long 38.27km El Priorat (SS7) saw his engine start cutting out and further brake issues saw him spin, which cost another 30-40 seconds before restarting. But his power steering and alternator belt came off on the first stage of day three, finally truncating his rally.

Sergio Perez Donosti (E, Citroën) was entered into the event by the organisers but had a difficult rally. He spun his C2 on SS1 which cost 20 seconds and his power steering broke on SS3. Then he stopped about 10km into the same stage as he had oil leaking onto his windscreen and discovered he had an alternator problem, which cost another 12 minutes, and was the eventual cause of his retirement.

Recently crowned ‘Best J-WRC Rookie’ Francesco Fanari (I) started the rally but two days of illness preceding the event forced the likeable Italian out before the first stage.

Andrea Cortinovis (I, Renault) did not start the event following a minor operation at home. He will also not start Corsica.

Driver Quotes
1st – Martin Prokop, Citroën C2 S1600:
“It was a very lucky weekend for us and we’re lucky to be here. After Sébastien retired yesterday it was quite easy for me to win as I had a comfortable lead. Also I know how to drive on tarmac so it was not difficult to stay focused and drive the car to the finish. It’s a shame that I have been so unlucky during the first half of the season, otherwise now I could be fighting for the title.”

2nd – Alessandro Bettega, Renault Clio R3:
“I’m really happy as I didn’t expect to finish in this position. I’m happy for the team – they did a really good job. And we had a good rally – we made no mistakes, had a good rhythm, especially today with Burkart on our tail. Now I’m really
looking forward to Corsica.’

3rd – Aaron Burkart, Citroën C2 S1600:
“We made no mistakes and we just tried to push. Today was good for us – I liked the stages as we did a few best times, I just don’t know why we couldn’t do that on the first day.’

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