SS2 on Thursday evening has been completed. Kimi Raikkonen has just done the 2nd fastest time on the superspecial and is in 5th place ahead of Sebastian Loeb. Not a bad place to start the rally from. But a lot of hard work was ahead in the form of 24 additional stages. Most of them on the tricky, slippery forest roads surrounding the Sapporo area.
A concrete barrier a tad out of place on shakedown had ripped his front wheel right off but the Citroen mechanics put the C4 together without any problems in time for the specials.
Earlier, Kimi had shone again in his true element. The Kimi Raikkonen challenge. A go-kart on a closed track. Well in this case it was in a shopping mall and the kart was electric. But even so – there was no beating the Kimster. Toshi Arai, a top rally driver was one of the guys that advanced to the kart finals and he was baffled when he heard the time Kimi had done. “Is that really the time Kimi did?” he said. Well, if a seasoned Ferrari crew struggled to comprehend how Kimi did what he did last year in the F60, we cant really expect poor Toshi to understand what Kimi does best, can we. Fun stuff. Full article here: http://bit.ly/av3iYY
Already on the first stage on Friday morning, Al Quassimi is the first to experience the unforgiving nature of the forest stages. He rolls his Focus, bending the rollcage in the process and he is done. A pretty long way to travel for 2 specials and half a stage.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z29gKGvAf00
The next guy to take a fall is the beforementioned Toshi Arai. Some of the stages were so extremely bumpy that the bumps turned into jumps and this caught him out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8B-G7lxvCQ
Perhaps he was too intent on at least beating Kimi on his own turf? 😉
As for Kimi, his pace on day 1 didnt set any records but it was consistent and he kept it on the road. More importantly, he was in touch with his closest rivals, Villagra and his current benchmark – Matthew Wilson. 16 and 45 seconds behind them respectively.
Saturday starts off with another casualty. Matthew Wilson has too high an entry speed into a corner, loses the backend and goes nose first into the ditch. No big drama but his car is beached on the bottom and without enough spectators around, they simply couldnt push it back out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcOG_5oIEjI He is done for the day but will be able to continue on day 3 under the super rally rules. This was a real shame in my opinion as I would have liked to have seen Kimi beat him on pace instead of a retirement.
Day 2 continues and Kimi is surprisingly starting to look really comfortable here. He says that his biggest problem is knowing how much grip he has but his pace notes are very good and he is catching Villagra fast. Already on SS12 he passes him and moves into 8th overall. He does however have quite a moment here at 0:48: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAKnNjA1OnY
Great interview after day 2: http://bit.ly/b8obzA
Saturday turns out to be one of his best rally days in WRC so far. He has driven pretty much error free since the start and he has steadily improved his pace. Villagra is 41 seconds behind and there is a huge gap up to Henning Solberg in 7th. All he had to do now was bring it home along with some good points..
And he would have. If not for a misheard note on Day 3. Again trouble hits on the very first stage of the day. Unfortunately, this time Kimi is the one that slides off the road and is stuck with no spectators around to push him back out. Maybe this rally business starts to early in the mornings for our Kimi? :p Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x4w-cK3tSE
Too bad, since he was doing so much better than I thought he would here. But I just love the shot of Kimi and Kaj walking along the dusty road @1:50. Iconic.
What can I say. It would have been better to finish, but learning the hard way also has its benefits. Those lessons tend to stick better in my experience. Kimi is a rookie, a beginner, a novice in rally, so it will happen again. I am still very upbeat in spite of this because he got his notes working really well and seemed to get a little more comfortable with the grip levels. Thats great news! One small miss doesnt change that.
I will close by congratulating Sebastian Ogier on his second rally win. It was the first time for him in Japan and yet he won it. I really dont like to think about how impressive that really is. Loeb was not on form at all. Couldnt find his rhythm or pace in Japan. And Ogier jumped on the chance. Fantastic job. Petter was an impressive second after suffering from the flu and having a steering problem on the last day. He also had a 10 second penalty after a jumpstart on saturday – but even without the penalty he would have still lost out to Ogier.
Latvala had to settle for third after his winning chances disappeared on day 2 after a driveshaft failure.
Now we wait with anxious little hearts for Rally France. Perhaps especially me, because I am going there – and I cant wait! Looking forward to some Kimi racing action up close! Its all new and its on tarmac. Similar to Bulgaria where he was setting some really impressive times before he slid off the road. I suspect he will be more focused on completing the rally than going all out for fast times. But you never know. If the notes are working as well as they were in Japan, then he might just go for it. Its going to be exciting thats for sure.
Take heart Raikkos! And Kimi – stay on these roads in France 😉
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Kingas video recap of Rally Japan: