-The Red Bull Citroen comes flying past our stand in a blue and silver blur. It is visibly closer to the limit than the previous runners. I was filming the first lap of the final stage of Rally Germany. Could it be I was watching the Raikkonen hustle? I put my camera down and when Kimi Raikkonen goes by for the second time I scream and cheer at the top of my lungs: GO KIMI!! COME ON!! GET HIM! –
The time had finally come for yours truly to head off to another WRC rally event. I was also looking forward to viewing and enjoying the action while still being able to feel my fingers and my toes. That were not always the case in Sweden 😉
Rally Germany is definately one of the most difficult of the season. The official WRC site says its an asphalt rally but thats a truth with some modifications. There is normal tarmac yes. But there is also a lot of gravel and concrete. So the grip and feel of the car shifts all the time. Its all about tire management. Especially when it comes to the infamous Panzerplatte stage. 48 horrendous kilometers of tarmac, gravel, concrete and those lovely Hinkelsteins by the side of the road. They were put there to keep tanks from going off the road so its not going to move for a rally car either. Just making it through in one piece while keeping a pace is an acheivement on its own.
Just look at Petter Solberg and Phil Mills that hit one of those in 2004: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vV9_mZboEC0
Not pretty. The irony of that video is we see Frank Duval passing the wreckage and Duval, a Germany expert, was the victim of one of these stones this year. They take no prisoners.
Lets get to it, shall we.
Kimi is off to a slow start. There were some worries that he had been told by Citroen to take it easy because of a shortage of C4s. He is interviewed after a couple of stages and he admitted that he had driven poorly that morning. Which was really a small relief since it meant he was not under any restrictions.
From SS4 he picks it up and starts to beat the times of the far more experienced Matthew Wilson. And he would remain Kimis closest rival from start to finish. After day 1 he is in 8th position. And more importantly, he made it through the first day.
Up at the front Loeb has assumed the lead with Sordo in second. No shocker there really. Solberg showed tremendous speed too but was very unlucky to pick up not one but two punctures. This puts him in 9th overall. Hirvonen is still struggling down in 5th and second driver Latvala has a great first day being in 3rd considering that tarmac is not his best surface.
I had finally arrived in Germany at this point and I was station at SS9 ready for the action. It was a great spot where we could see the cars for a long time before they disappeared around a bend. Kimi came flying around the high-speed turn, braked hard, flicked the car around the hairpin, roared right past us at full throttle, braked hard, turned left and away he went. Beautiful. Turns out SS9 was the only stage of the entire day where he got a slower time than Wilson, his main rival. The reason for that was him missing a junction here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CdFajOLwEk
He also had a broken antiroll bar which they were unable to fix at the small service park they had midday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-cdIQqeI5M
So he effectively drove with this problem all day while consistently beating Wilson in the Focus. Wilson may not be one of the best, but he proves to be a very good benchmark for the rookie Kimi. I would say he is the perfect sparring partner for him as he comes to grips with the car, the notes and finding his rhythm and pace. And at the same time he has a driver he can aim to beat if he gets things just right. For that I am thankful to Matthew Wilson. I think Kimi draws more benefit from that than we know.
On SS13 our great tour agency, Select Motor Racing, had found us a sweet spot where there were hardly any spectators but right at one of the tightest hairpins of the rally. The 00 cars that goes out before the rally cars run the course had to make a 3-point turn to get around. The 000 car were not so lucky while trying to be cool. That got him stuck in the ditch. Lol. So we had to get the poor guy out of there: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n13duUzI6Zs
First WRC car comes roaring down towards the hairpin! Its Loeb and he takes the corner effortlessly and in a flash. Gone. 2 minutes later its Sordo. Takes it in grand style. I am no more than a couple of meters from the cars and you feel the roar of the engine right down your spine. Its addictive!
Then Latvala takes the turn. The Ford gets very low on revs and he finally gets away but loses at least a second on that corner alone. I can clearly see his face from where I stand. He is completely focused on the road ahead.
Eventually Hirvonen is up, his Focus gets low on revs as well but suddenly spins up and then comes to a halt. Did it jump out of gear? No, something is wrong! He backs the car up and parks it, unable to get any drive. His codriver, Jarmo Lehtinen walks out and get some appreciative applause from the crowd for the effort. One spectator cant resist and shouts that he should buy a Citroen. It might have some resemblance of kicking a man when he is down, but I must admit I couldnt help laughing. Sorry Mikko 😀
Here is the footage I shot of the incident:
Every Ford that passes by does the same thing, gets too low on revs and loses torque which means a slower getaway. All the Citroens have the revs in the right range for maximum torque and takes off a lot quicker. It seemed like the Fords 1st gear was way too high. Im just guessing.
Now Im hearing Kimi in the distance. He thunders down the narrow forest road and brakes so late that I feared for a split second he wouldnt make the turn. But he does. And I am really trying not to be biased here.. But it was perfection. I cannot see how it would be possible to take the turn any cleaner or more effective. Just beautiful. Here is the picture I took of that with my phone: http://i33.twitgoo.com/2wmexie.jpg
I really regret not filming him instead, because I could watch that again and again. If anyone reading was present and filmed this, please get in touch. I would very much like to relive that moment.
EDIT: My friend, Yukari, whom I met at the rally were kind enough to upload her footage of this beauty to youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvBV56Kmcns
After this stage the drivers head off to do the gruelling Panzerplatte stage for the second time. Kimi beat Wilson again and got the 6th fastest time on this stage. Helped by Hirvonens retirement and the incident that I mentioned before: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsKHlWpCccg
Now thats gotta hurt. Two broken ribs for the codriver and a sore back for Duval. Bad enough but it could have been worse.
So Kimi is in 6th overall at the start of the first stage. And what a stage it is. We were up at 5 o’clock to get there early and watch SS15 and 17 from way up high among all the vineyards. What a view! We could see the cars from way way down in the valley and they disappeared from view now and then but reemerging closer and closer before finally blasting right by us. Fantastic! If you can ignore my satisfied smirk due to my new flat brim Kimi hap then you get the sense of the picturesque nature of this stage: http://bit.ly/c87qs1
Unfortunately Kimi is off to a horrible start. He missed 2 junctions within the same mile: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-HEFmhTzSA
Kai assessed that he missed the second one for still being upset over the first one. On top of that his setup on the car is too soft. The team gambled that the roads would be wet but instead they were bonedry which meant the car was sliding too much and wore the tires too fast. It was not noticeable from where we were standing. He made his way up the mountain and went flying past us to loud cheers from the crowd.
From being 20 seconds up on Wilson, he was now 6 seconds behind. So the chase was on.
Matthew Wilson is spurred on by eyeing a 6th place and goes equal with Kimi on the next Moselwein stage. On SS17 Kimi beats Wilson but only by 1.6 seconds. On SS18 they go equal again. Only a short super special left and 5,6 seconds is too much to make up. Still I was happy that Kimi got his second best result so far in his short rally career. 7th is very decent in such a difficult and variable rally.
We make our way into Trier to watch the final stage dubbed the Circus Maximus. Not to sound pretentious but rally history was about to be written. Yes – I could say I was talking about Loeb winning the German rally for the 8th time in a row. In fact he is the only winner of that rally. How that is even possible is beyond me. There is no touching him. So congratulations to him and his soon to be 7th world title. That of course is rally history.
However, as a Kimi Raikkonen supporter and the fact that everyone expected Loeb to win anyway, our eyes were poised on the battle between Wilson and Kimi. He comes up on the big screen and after what seems like forever, he finally takes off! 15 seconds later Matthew Wilson is released. Then Van Eldik, then Solberg.
I filmed his first lap but when I realized that Kimi was doing all he could to catch Wilson, I had to stop filming and go into full cheer mode. Everytime he went by we were screaming like crazy, urging him on. It was magnificent to see him push like that. In the corner of my mind I was thinking that this could possibly be a stage win but I shook it off, seeing that Ogiers time was 3.16:8. When Kimi crossed the finish line to a great cheer from the crowd, I looked at the screen for 5 very long seconds.
3:13.9 the screen said. I couldnt believe it was 3 seconds quicker on a 4 km stage. Could Wilson really beat that? No – he was 2 seconds slower! Did Kimi just win a rally stage after only 8 WRC rallies?? Van Eldik came in slower and Solberg had technical problems. When it had sunk in that no one could beat him, we cheered and gave each other hugs and he might as well have won an F1 race as far as we were concerned. Because we were buzzing and very happy to have witnessed this with our own eyes.
I am certainly aware that the top 4 guys were not going flat out as to not make any foolish mistakes and lose their points. But a win is a win. And it sure tastes better than if anyone let you pass so you could win. I am also sure that if the top guys were going flat out, they would still have found it very hard to beat Kimis time. Onboard of SS19: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_o0t89D190
The Kimster didnt beat Wilson for 6th place but the day and the rally ended on a high. He is the first F1 champion and proper F1 driver to take a stage win in rally and it will not be the last. But its going to take a while before he can challenge for an ordinary stage win. What is encouraging however, is the speed with which he is improving. Its more than times and results on a board. Its getting the notes right and getting some miles under his belt. Im proud to be a Kimi fan and I no longer care if he doesnt return to F1. It may be the pinnacle of motorsport but rallying is the hardest thing you can do on 4 wheels.
I want to thank all the Kimi fans that post all the videos and pictures that I link to in my reviews. And thank you to those who follow me on Twitter. It was fun and I hope to do it again soon. Next up is Japan. Its a gravel rally so needless to say its another big challenge for the big guy. Are there any benefactors out there that wants to send me off to Japan? 😉
Finally, here is Kingas great highlight video of Rally Germany. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJRy24PmE4o
I will make a video of the amateur footage I have of the rally later this week.
EDIT: Here is my footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRAS7psYEO4
Follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Kimi_Fanclub_FB
Feel free to join our Kimi Fan Club on Facebook: