Prokop nets P-WRC win after Brynildsen is excluded from Rally GB
Martin Prokop (CZ, Mitsubishi) was awarded the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship victory on Rally GB, after the unfortunate Eyvind Brynildsen (N, Skoda) was excluded from the final round of the 2009 series, following post event scrutineering.

Brynildsen knew he could challenge for victory in the Welsh forests, having enjoyed a successful test in his René Georges Rally Sport Fabia S2000 the weekend before on the Cambrian Rally (a round of the BTRDA Gold Star series, held in North Wales), and having won Group N in the car on the Rally de España. The car was perfect for his driving style – smooth and precise, with early acceleration and lots of revs – and he exploited this to the full. Co-driven by the vastly experienced Denis Giraudet, Brynildsen set fastest time on the opening stage and led by almost one minute by the end of the first day. When that increased to two minutes by mid-way through Day 2, he eased off and cruised through the second half of the event – which in heavy rain, fog and mud wasn’t as easy as it sounds. He made no mistakes and had no mechanical problems whatsoever, and celebrated a “perfect” rally with his team on the finish podium.

Later at post event scrutineering, the measurements of the car’s rear brake callipers were checked and found not to comply to the homologation papers. The parts were supplied by Skoda and fitted to the car by the team believing they were correct, but upon inspection even the measurement of a spare calliper given in evidence, with the correct homologation number of the box and on the calliper, was incorrect. As a result, the Stewards of the Meeting excluded car number 39.

Prokop had held 2nd position for all but two of the 16 special stage event, and despite not record a fastest stage time and could not close the gap on the leader. After a good first day, Prokop punctured two tyres on SS10 and with only one spare had to drive carefully through SS11 and 12 to make sure the ‘flat’ he kept on the rear did not deflate. With a large time gap in front and behind him, Prokop’s aim was to get his Lancer Evo IX to the finish ramp in Cardiff Bay without problems, which he did. P-WRC victory in GB (and 10th in the overall classification) was enough for the talented 26-year old to add P-WRC Vice Champion to his J-WRC title, and brought to a close a fantastic season.

This was Toshi Arai’s (J, Subaru) first Rally GB since 2001, and his first in a Gp N car. Although he was pleased to have initially finish 3rd, he wasn’t so happy with his speed. Try as he might, the Impreza wasn’t giving him the confidence he needed to challenge for fastest stage times and a relatively subdued Toshi completed the event with little of a flamboyance normally associated with the hard-charging driver. He just missed a deer on SS13, Port Talbot 1, and was more than pleased to have allowed the beast its freedom, given the damage it would have probably done to the car. Second position was a great result to end the season, as Subaru prepares to introduce improvements to the Impreza for the 2010 P-WRC.

P-WRC champion* Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi) had already completed his six allowed points-scoring events, so wasn’t eligible to score points on Rally GB. He did contest the event in a Gp N Lancer Evo X, primarily to gather technical information for Ralliart Italy, and survived overheating problems to enjoy his victory lap of honour and finish 9th overall.

Martin Semerád (CZ, Mitsubishi) was under team instructions to change his driving style, which isn’t the easiest thing to do on the extremely slippery and challenging Welsh forest stages. A large yellow sticker on his dashboard displaying the words ‘use clutch’ was a less than subtle reminder, so it’s little wonder the 19-year old Pirelli Star Driver felt “off tempo” on Day 1. Nevertheless, he was very pleased to complete the opening day in 5th, and even happier to complete Day 2 at all – as it was the first time he had achieved this in 2009, without the aid of restarting. He started the third and final day in a relatively lonely 4th place, but was a little worried with the power of his engine and then went off on SS14, losing 30 seconds. He didn’t lose a position and with little damage, Semarád was overjoyed to finish 4th – and even happier to be classified 3rd, after Brynildsen’s exclusion. He was also the biggest mover in the P-WRC standings, going from 23rd to 15th.

A down on power engine was not what Bernardo Sousa (P, Abarth) required to end a disappointing season on a high, but it typified what a difficult season the 22-year old driver from Funchal in Madeira had endured. Persistence was the key to at least some success in Wales, and whilst his Grande Punto S2000 never gave him the opportunity to challenge for a stage win, Sousa’s reward for reaching the finish was 4th.

Mark Tapper (NZ, Mitsubishi) thought the mid-Wales stages were similar to those found in his native New Zealand, and the sight of sheep on the hills no-doubt reminded him of home too. A broken front anti-roll bar caused a lack of mechanical grip all through Day 1, as he understeered into corners and oversteered out. The Pirelli Star Driver eventually went off on the final corner of SS4 and had to wait for spectators to push his Lancer Evo X back onto the road, losing 40 seconds. The car was repaired in service, despite his engineer, Mike Zotos, suffering from food poisoning. After a good run through Day 2, he lost half of the rear bumper after hitting a bank on the very first corner of the first stage on Day 3.

Not even the loss of gears in the transmission was to deny him a finish, as he was classified in 5th at the finish. Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru) had hoped to challenge for the title this season, and despite challenging for the P-WRC victory in Norway, Portugal and Italy his campaign hasn’t delivered what he’d hoped. Having won the P-WRC category on Rally GB last year, the 25-year old from Hedemora’s hopes of ending the season on a high came to an end when an increasingly violet vibration resulted in the rear right wheel coming off near the end of SS3. With sheered wheel studs, there was no way of attaching the spare, and with a road section between him and his service crew in Builth Wells, Flodin was forced to stop for the day and incur 15 minutes of penalties for missing the three afternoon stages. He restarted Day 2 aiming to prove a point, and did precisely that with fastest time through Rhondda, Crychan and Halfway – and by the end of the day he’d moved from 12th back up to 7th. Two more fastest stage times on the final day illustrated what a future star Flodin is – and how competitive the Impreza is in the P-WRC – as he finished 6th.

Patrik Sandell (S, Skoda) hadn’t rallied his Fabia since the Acropolis Rally of Greece at the beginning of June, so a brake problem on SS1 was an unwelcome distraction as he tried to get back into his competitive stride. It proved to be a temporary distraction, as he moved rapidly up the leaderboard and was 2nd at the end of Day 1, despite losing the intercom on SS4 and 6 and being guided by Emil Axelsson’s hand signals only for the final part of each stage. Second in Wales would have been sufficient for Sandell to finish runner-up in the P-WRC, but he lost the power steer oil – quickly followed by the power steering – on the opening stage of Day 2. Having lost 50 seconds on SS7 and 8, he went off 2.6kms into SS9 and a large group of spectators lifted his car back onto the road. He completed the stage, but had lost over 16 minutes and dropped to 9th. Another two fastest stage times on Day 3 helped Sandell move up to 7th by the finish. He eventually finished 5th in the P-WRC standings.

Having become German Rally Champion the previous weekend, Hermann Gassner Jnr (D, Mitsubishi) came to Rally GB to gain valuable gravel rally experience as he eyes a full P-WRC assault next year. He broke the rear differential on SS3 and, with only limited spares available at the remote service halt in Builth Wells, could not repair the car for the afternoon loop of stages. He restarted Day 2 running 48th on the road and was immediately flying – overtaking two cars on the opening stage. Heavy showers of rain made conditions very difficult on Day 3, but Gassner Jnr rose to the challenge and finished 8th, enabling him to score the final P-WRC point

Power steering problems haunted Gábor Mayer (H, Subaru). Having survived all of Day 1 with intermittent power steering, the Gaboko Hungary Autosport Egyesulet team thought it had cured the problem at that night’s final service, but when Mayer drove out of Cardiff the following morning he discovered that he had no power steering whatsoever. The team then replaced the power steering unit with the one from the recce car for the afternoon’s stages, but unbelievably the problem remained. Arms aching, there was no-one more pleased to reach the finish ramp that Mayer, as he came home 9th.

Fréderic Sauvan (F, Mitsubishi) only drove his new Lancer Evo X for the first time at Shakedown, and naturally spent Day 1 getting used to the new car. He was going well until a fuel pump problem stopped him in his tracks on SS8, and having restarted on Day 3 he eventually finished 10th.

Having finished 4th in this year's British Rally Championship, Dave Weston Jnr (GB, Subaru) was keen to compare his pace on his P-WRC debut. The opening three stages were ruined when a brake pipe broke 2kms into SS1, and he had to complete SS2 and 3 with no brakes either. A puncture on SS6 completed a frustrating day, but the talented 19-year old Scott, who was contesting his third Rally GB, completed the opening day in 9th. Efforts to improve his position came to an end when he slid wide on a slippery corner 2kms from the end of SS7 and he left the road, damaging the front of his Impreza against a tree. He restarted Day 3 and was going well until he went off the road again on the penultimate stage and ripped part of the suspension off his car.

Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) used the opening loop of three stages to check his new pace notes, and having completed them in a safe 3rd place was intent on increasing his pace when the stages were repeated that afternoon. Unfortunately, he was distracted by a spectator 12kms into SS4 on a very fast corner, and hit the brakes a fraction too late for the following sharp bend. He clipped a mound of gravel on the inside of a corner and gently rolled his Barwa Rally Team Impreza, coming to rest against a tree. Despite the efforts of other fans, the car was stuck fast. He restarted the following day, aiming to finish in the points and secure 3rd place in the series. He had just set the second fastest stage time on SS14 when he rolled out on the next stage, dropping to 4th in the standings.

Giorgio Bacco (I) was contesting his first rally since New Zealand last year, and had to tackle his first three stages in 14 months without brakes, after a pipe broke on SS1. Problem solved, the 21-year’s old from Padova (near Venice) increased his pace until he lost 5th gear on SS8, and once the gearbox was replaced he was up to full speed. He was in 12th position when he stopped on SS14 with engine problems.

Egoi Eder Valdés López (E, Subaru) stopped on SS2 when a broken engine mount caused one side of the engine to collapse, seizing the transmission. The car was repaired, but gearbox problems stopped him in his tracks during the opening stage of Day 2.

1st – Martin Prokop, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“I’m very happy with our result on Rally GB and to have finished runner-up in the Production Car World Rally Championship. I lost my motivation a little during after Rally Argentina, but everything has come good at the end of the year. It’s really nice to add vice P-WRC champion to our J-WRC title. It’s been a great season.”

2nd – Toshi Arai, Subaru Impreza:
“This was my first rally in the UK since 2001, so I am happy with the result but not with my speed. It was quite difficult conditions and not so easy to carry speed. We had a few problems with the car and my driving style. I pushed as hard as I could, but for some reason I did not have so much confidence with the car.”

3rd – Martin Semerád, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X:
“This has been a fantastic event for me. I had to change my driving style and use the clutch more to save the gearbox, and in the slippery conditions that wasn’t so easy. I didn’t have a good tempo to start off with, so I was really pleased to be in fifth position at the end of Day 1. I was even happier to reach the finish of a rally for the first time this year, without the help of Superally.”

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