Prokop takes Corsican victory; Ogier becomes J-WRC Champion*
Czech driver Martin Prokop and co-driver Jan Tománek scored their third J-WRC win of the season in their Citroën C2, on Rally de France – Tour de Corse, the final round of the 2008 FIA Junior World Rally Championship. Sébastien Ogier (F) who brought his Citroën C2 home in second, clocked his fourth podium of the year winning his first Junior WRC title on his debut season, following in the footsteps of his Citroën predecessors Sébastien Loeb and Dani Sordo. Local driver Pierre Campana (F, Renault) who was entered into the event by the organisers finished third.

The KNAF Talent First Team from Holland, represented by Kevin Abbring (Renault) and Hans Weijs Jr. (Citroën) brought both its cars safely to the finish and in the process their combined points saw them win the ASN classification for the best national association in the J-WRC, beating France’s FFSA.

Newly crowned Ogier scored a total of 50 stage wins throughout the season, more than 50% more than his nearest rival Prokop, who clocked 23 stage victories. Ogier also wins the season’s sprinter standings. And after such an outstanding debut season, culminating in winning the Junior WRC on his home rally, he was awarded the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award in recognition.

Spain victor Prokop set the initial pace although, with the Championship title at stake, both Ogier and Burkart were not overly pushing, conscious only of staying safe and avoiding mistakes, so Prokop settled into his lead comfortably. By the end of the first day however, he was being challenged by Corsican hot shot Campana who stole the lead after Prokop lost time on SS6 with a puncture. But the Czech driver soon upped his pace again to regain his deficit and he confidently defended his lead to finish his J-WRC season on a high.

Behind Campana, Bettega held third position throughout most of the event but high tyre wear on day two, after knocking a front wheel out of line, saw him drop time and a position to Ogier by SS11. But a stage win for Ogier on SS14 saw the Frenchman gain another place by the end of the same stage on the final day, relinquish it to a powering Campana on SS15, only to regain it by the end of the last stage. Sadly Bettega was forced to retire after a ball joint in the suspension arm broke on the penultimate stage.

Entered into the event by the organisers, Pierre Marché (F, Suzuki) had a rear puncture just 5km after the start of SS2, dropping one minute continuing with it, and he had another puncture just after finishing SS4. High tyre wear on the opening group of stages on day two forced him to ease off a little on SS9, proving fruitful for his stage times. His upped pace paid dividends as he reached sixth by the end of the day two and he powered his way through the final day to steal fourth from Aaron Burkart (D, Citroën).

Burkart had a relatively trouble-free rally. With the Championship title at stake his aim was to drive carefully and safely, avoiding problems and waiting to pick up the pieces if fellow title contender Ogier made a mistake. While he had no problems on the final day, he was unable to fend off Marché, finally settling for fifth. But his points total sees him finish second in the J-WRC and, under the rules of Citroën’s C2 Junior Experience, he wins himself a drive in a C4 World Rally Car on one event next year.

Patrik Sandell (S, Renault) struggled a little on day one, unable to get the best out of his engine, but a few changes overnight saw his performance improve on day two. By the end of SS10 his front tyres were badly degraded and he lost a position to Marché, so he drove more easily on the following stages to prevent such high tyre wear. The final day also proved difficult as he lost 30 seconds on the first loop of stages alone but he was happy to finish the rally on his first time in Corsica.

Florian Niegel (D, Suzuki) had a trouble-free first day on his first outing on the French island, although he found the stages tricky. But the story changed on day two as he had a spin on SS10, which cost 30 seconds, and he struggled with high tyre wear in the afternoon’s group of stages with the rubber wearing right down on SS11. But he resumed his trouble-free run on the final day to finish in seventh.

Kevin Abbring (NL, Renault) lost the use of his intercom on SS3 which cost the Dutch 19-year-old 15 seconds in the last three minutes of the stage alone. A few set-up changes midday improved his stage times but he struggled with his pace notes, finding them a little conservative, so he was unable to push as much as he wanted to. But he enjoyed the final day to take the last available point for eighth and his finish ensured the Dutch KNAF team secured the ASN classification. Stefano Albertini (I, Renault) wasn’t happy with his set-up on day one, although he had no problems to speak of. And on day two he was experiencing high wear on his front tyres in the morning, so avoided driving as aggressively in the afternoon. At the end of SS10 he lost the use of his brakes and continued through the group relying on the handbrake. Unfortunately his brake woes reappeared on the final day, before eventually finishing in ninth.

Gilles Schammel (LUX, Renault) stalled his engine on SS1 which cost about 20 seconds and in the afternoon of the same day he lost the use of his brakes 3km before the end of SS5. On the road section he tried to fix a calliper pipe which had come loose, incurring a penalty in the process, but he continued through SS6 without brakes, costing another minute and a half. Having discovered that the reason he was down on power on day two was due to a compressed exhaust, he was encouraged to finish the event with a little more confidence in his engine after repairs. He finished in 10th.

Jaan Molder (EE, Suzuki) complained his set-up was too soft and he lacked confidence to start with on his first outing in Corsica. On SS4 he had an electrical problem and was forced to drive through SS5 at 50kph, and he eventually had to stop. The car was fine to restart day two and although he found the first loop of stages tricky, he stepped up his pace on the second run through, claiming he was ‘getting his Corsican feeling’. The story was the same on the final day en route to finishing 11th.

Hans Weijs Jr. (NL, Citroën) struggled with his pace notes on day one, although a few set-up changes improved things later in the day. But a similar problem on day two prevented him from upping his speed so he decided to start making some extra notes in preparation for his next outing to Corsica and continued through the rest of the rally to gain valuable experience. He brought his C2-R2 home in 12th.

Simone Bertolotti (I, Renault) lost a wheel on SS3 after hitting something mid-stage so he incurred penalties for the rest of the day’s stages not completed. He restarted day two a little cautiously but soon picked up his pace only to go off the road on SS10 causing too much damage to continue.

Having never driven a Clio R3 before, Arnaud Augoyard (F, Renault) struggled to get used to it on day one and he spent time improving the set-up. But on SS7 he braked a bit late on one corner and slid sideways to end up with two wheels in a ditch and into retirement.

Michal Kosciuszko’s (POL, Suzuki) got off to a terrible start as a wrong pace note saw him hit a wall only two kilometres into the opening stage, damaging his roll cage and prevented him from continuing.
*Subject to the official publications of the results by the FIA

1st – Martin Prokop, Citroën C2 S1600:
“Three wins, but it isn’t enough for the Championship! It’s a nice way to end the season but I still feel quite disappointed as my aim was to be champion. Sébastien did a good job and we were prepared to fight, we have a lot of experience, the car has good speed but we just had too many problems through the year.”

2nd – Sébastien Ogier, Citroën C2 S1600:
“This is a perfect moment in a perfect place as I have all my family and friends here. After Spain the week off was difficult. But we had always led the Championship and we came here with four points more than Burkart so we knew we just had to stay ahead of him and finish. I hope to do Rally GB at the end of the year but I don’t know in what car yet!”

3rd – Pierre Campana,, Citroën C2 S1600:
“For sure before the rally we didn’t expect this result as I have only done about 15 rallies as a driver, the others I was a co-driver. So I’m really happy and of course it’s important here as I am the first Corsican driver.”

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