Edit: Enjoy Kingas great compilation of Kimi and the gang from Rally Portugal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzUR76DG94s
What up Raikkos! One and a half month has passed since Kimis 5th place in Turkey and I think we were all hungry for some Kimi action. There are not that many Formula 1 races during a year but WRC rallies are even more scarce. So Im clinging on to every bit of racing goodness I can get. Especially when we get to witness a first in the rally universe: An F1 world champion taking on what is believed to be the hardest motor sport category in the world. And his name is Kimi, Kimi Raikkonen.
Yes, I do think Kimi is larger than life when it comes to his very unique talent. I wont hide that. But I also know that he is a regular person like the rest of us. Who enjoys a good laugh, good friends, a movie and maybe a drink on occasion. His perspective on life however – that does stand out from the crowd. He has a special ability to quickly move on from the past and things that are already said and done. Most people tend to linger on the moments and have difficulty letting go. And that combined with his off the charts natural talent gives him an advantage in the tough world of racing.
You may be asking why I am jammering on about this in a lengthy prologue instead of getting to the point – the rally review. Well to be honest, Im a bit short on Kimi material here. If you followed Kimis rally in Portugal, I think you will agree that it was pretty anonymous. Not in the sense that he did a bad job. No, not at all. But in the sense that he didnt get much screentime on the rally recaps. They werent any really big incidents or crashes – which is good of course. And he was even more reluctant to get interviewed after the stages than usual. So here follows my views on that as well as a rally recap.
I tuned in to the live rally radio on all 3 major days of the rally. And I was waiting in anticipation and hope to see if Kimi could once again get a great pace going. Just like in Turkey where he matched several of the much more experienced drivers. After day 1 it became clear that was not to be in Portugal. His pace was a lot slower compared to some of the drivers he matched in Turkey.
I dont know if you need one. But I do. So here goes.
-This is Kimis fifth WRC rally. Fifth..
-The other drivers have been in Portugal 3 times before him. Their pacenotes are basically perfect. Kimi had no pacenotes coming here.
-He had the slight advantage in Turkey that the stages were not only new to Kimi, but to everyone.
-The Portuguese rally is considered by many to be the most technical rally of them all.
-Kimis aim has been to finish the rallies to gain experience and perfect the pacenotes. (which he cant do if he crashes out on the first day)
This is what Kimi had to say about the stages: “You often have corners that are right on the top of some crests and this makes it really difficult to get the braking and the line right. I can tell you this now: rallying is a lot harder than Formula One, but as always it just depends on what you’re used to.”
So far, Kimi has said after each rally that it was his hardest yet. But reading his comments during this rally, seeing his determination on the roads, and his unwillingness to get interviewed tells us someting. I think the magnitude of what he had taken upon himself this year really hit home after the first few stages in Portugal. The nature of this rally made listening to and trusting the notes read from Kaj even more important. Portugal was truly his hardest rally yet.
But instead of getting frustrated or making excuses for himself, he kept his head down, concentrated on the task and got on with the job. Which is probably why he wanted to keep interviews to a minimum between stages and just drove on instead of opening the door for the reporters. Once in the service park he was more relaxed to give out interviews.
So Kimi was in 10th position after day 1. His steady pace, as opposed to pushing, paid off. Ken Block, one of his closest competitors went off on the first day. However, before Block went off, Kimi was not only matching but beating his pace.
Day 2 sees another big name drop out of contention: Jari-Matti Latvala. He clips a tree with the rear of his car which spins him around and into yet another tree. Kimi moves up to 9th. Although he cannot match and beat Wilson like he did in Turkey, he is keeping Villagra and Al-Qassimi well behind him. The Latvala crash can be seen here: http://wrc.com/jsp/index.jsp?lnk=300&page=2&featureid=1621
Kimi does his first real mistake on SS13 and gets stuck for 40 seconds. But he has built up such a lead to the people behind him that he doesnt lose any places. Video of the incident here: http://wrc.com/jsp/index.jsp?lnk=300&page=2&featureid=1623
He does his typical “vittu” swear, but even that sounded more concentrated and subdued. Lol. Thankfully he gets going again and completes the 2nd day.
Day 3 kicks off and we see yet another experienced driver drop out. Henning Solberg had trouble with the fanbelt on his Focus and had to pack it in. Kimi then inherits 8th place. Yet on SS16, Kimi suffers a puncture and his tire is ripped to shreds. His pace drops the closer he gets to the end of the stage so he is lucky to “only” lose about 40 seconds. But it does cause him to lose 2 places to 10th as Villagra and Qassimi passes him in the standings.
Look at how destroyed the tire was: http://www.imagebam.com/image/ce265382585434/
After that there is only one real stage left before the short super special stage in the stadium in Algarve. So Kimi takes it easy and just brings it home. Ok, 8th would have been nicer but punctures happen and his only real mistake was the off on day 2. He brought it home along with the experience which is what matters at this point. If Kimi does rally next year as well, he will have pacenotes ready for almost every rally which is a must. Unless that is in place you can never be competitive.
A RISING STAR
Before my final words, there is Sebastian Ogier. What a performance! His win in Portugal was nothing short of masterful. He basically lead from start to finish. And that is what makes it so impressive. He didnt play the tactics game and slow down after the first day to get a better starting position the next day. No, he just pushed all the way to make a gap that was big enough to keep the others (Loeb) at bay. Even when being first on the road, which is always the hardest as you lose time due to the loose gravel.
He has been so close to winning previously this year. Remember the heartbreak in New Zealand where he lost his win on the very last stage? But he finally got it and I think the next one will come a lot easier. Loeb, in the factory Citroen, had no answer for his pace. He said: “It seems I have a new rival”. So the challenge doesnt appear to come from Hirvonen this year as everyone expected but from within Citroens own ranks. I can not imagine that Sordo is going to keep his seat in the factory Citroen next year. If he keeps this up, maybe even Loeb will retire after 2010.
Ok, Kimi endured Portugal and big kudos for that. I know we are used to see him winning or fighting at he front and it may get tedious during the season to always point out that he is a rookie, and there is pacenotes and lack of experience and what not. But the fact of the matter is that what he does in the WRC is very impressive. Will he keep doing it? According to Kaj, his codriver, it has not been decided yet: “It hasn’t been discussed yet. At some point of the year he’ll make a decision about continuing.”
Kimis quote after the rally:
“It’s been a really tough weekend, but this is all part of the learning process. The other drivers have been here for the past three years so it’s hard to be on their pace. My only objective though was to finish the rally and gain more experience, so we have fulfilled our goal here. The last day was particularly difficult, as the handling of the car did not feel right, so we decided to play it safe and make sure of a finish. Then we hit something on the side of the road just after the start of the first stage in the afternoon and that gave us a puncture, which cost us a lot of time.”
Bulgaria is 6 weeks away. And you know what? Its an asphalt rally. Furthermore its a new rally – meaning unknown stages for everyone 😀 So the odds evens out in favor of our Kimster here. Come on!! I know I will be nervous and beside myself during every stage – just praying that he wont overdrive and just keep it on the road. And at the same time it would be fun if he maybe – just maybe.. Dare I say it? Challenge for a stage win and maybe a podium? I already made a bet with someone that I would eat my hat if Kimi won a special stage this year. But I forgot about Bulgaria being a new rally for all the drivers :p
Oh well, I guess I could swallow my pride – and some hat if that came to pass. Haha.
Alright, I know Im being overly optimistic here. Even though tarmac is his element, it is his very first tarmac rally as well. So if he wants to make it to the end of the rally, I think a more realistic bet would be something like 5th or 6th place. Given that none of his rivals retires that is. Anyway, my guesses dont amount to a hill of beans in this world. We will just have to wait and see what happens.