The French duo of Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia set the quickest time on the opening 2.5km super special stage of LOTOS 72nd Rally Poland at Mikolajki Arena on Thursday evening. They headed into the overnight halt with a lead of just half a second over the local hero, Robert Kubica, and his co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak.
Leading crews tackled the televised stage in front of a massive crowd and a setting sun and Ogier’s quickest time spoiled a potential party for the home fans and deprived Kubica of the stage win. Andreas Mikkelsen was third, despite clipping a barrier with his Volkswagen Polo R WRC, but Kris Meeke stalled on the start line, lost four seconds and slipped to 17th.
Polish hopes for the weekend rest firmly on Kubica’s shoulders.
“As usual I want to do well, but it’s more about me driving well. I am not targeting any position. Instead I would like to get the best driving from what we have and see where that gets us. When it comes to expectations we have to be realistic. We have a smaller budget and a much smaller team than the factory crews.”
Seventh-placed Frenchman Stephane Lefebvre held a lead of one-tenth of a second over Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand in WRC 2, with Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah a second behind in third.
Frenchman Matthieu Margaillan had been the first competitor through the stage in his Citroën DS3 R3T. He ran alone before Abu Dhabi Racing’s Mohamed Al-Mutawee joined the UK’s Osian Price as the first pair into the short timed test. Frenchman Quentin Gilbert was fastest of the WRC 3 runners even though his engine cut out 100 metres from the finish of the stage.
Thousands of fans had braved intense heat at the ceremonial start earlier in the afternoon, where 70 of the original 74 entrants lined up in the centre of Mikolajki. A large group of dignitaries were present, including Jacek Protas, vice-marshal of Warminsko-Mazurskie region, Piotr Jakubowski (Mayor of Mikolajki) and Andrzej Witkowski, president of the Polish Automobile and Motorcycle Federation,
Shakedown success for Ogier
Ogier left it until his third run to set the quickest time of 1min 39.1sec during Thursday morning’s shakedown stage. Poland’s Robert Kubica was the fastest of all the drivers on the first run. He posted a time of 1min 43.5sec and that was 0.8sec inside the time set by Ogier. The Pole was not to be denied on the second run either and an improved time of 1min 41.4sec was sufficient for the Ford Fiesta driver to nip inside the 1min 41.5sec set by both Ogier and Ott Tanak.
But Mikkelsen hit the front on the third run and his time of 1min 40.1sec was four-tenths of a second quicker than the time set by Kubica on his third pass. The Norwegian was in fine form and became the first driver to break through the 1min 40sec barrier with a fourth run of 1min 39.6sec. But Ogier was not to be denied and the Frenchman returned to action with his third run to hit the front with a winning time of 1min 39.1sec.
Kubica and Latvala tied Mikkelsen’s time of 1min 38.6sec to move into joint second and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville finished fifth with a time of 1min 40sec. Citroën’s Kris Meeke rolled late in the session on the first corner of the rutted stage and forced his army of mechanics to work through the afternoon to rebuild his DS3 in time for the start.
“I was just 100 metres into the stage on a flat-left, fourth gear corner. I was on the line and the car launched into the air and rolled,”
“I had been completely flat through that corner every time before. The ruts were getting bigger but it caught me by surprise and the car went over and landed on the bonnet.”
Tomorrow (Friday) crews will tackle six special stages, starting with a run through the 13km Gorklo stage at 08.00hrs. This timed special will be repeated in reverse as part of the Paprotki special from noon on Saturday.
Crews will then move on to the Goldap stage, in close proximity to the border with Lithuania and the neighbouring Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, from 09.50hrs. Then they tackle the 14.65km of Babki on two occasions, the daunting 39.12km of Stanczyki twice and a re-run of Goldap before returning to Mikolajki for a repeat run through the super special stage at 19.05hrs.
Only then will teams be able to visit the service park in Mikolajki before the overnight halt, although there will be remote refuelling and a tyre fitting zone during the course of the day.
The former MotoGP rider will make his debut at Merzouga Rally on October 11.
The Merzouga Rally welcomes two great names coming from road racing and the Rally Raid world: Carlos Checa and Stefan Svitko.
Great protagonist in the 500cc and MotoGP scene and 2011 Superbike World Champion, Carlos Checa is back on track these days on board of the Ducati Panigale R for a Superbike test. The Spaniard will face the desert and the roadbook navigation in occasion of the 6th edition of the Merzouga Rally that takes place in Morocco from the 10th to the 16th of October.
“I have been always been fascinated by the Rally Raids and some years ago I was in Morocco with Marc Coma”
said Carlos Checa.
“In January I had the chance to follow the Dakar in Chile and I met Edo Mossi. I started to think about the possibility to join the Merzouga Rally. As I’m new to the discipline, I participated to an Italian round of the Italian Motorally and to the Sardinia Rally with Team Beta Dirt Racing. My target was to practice the navigation and to finish the race. Mission accomplished.What I like from the Rallys? The feeling of freedom and the variety of the route. In Rally Raids you enjoy stunning landscaped and there is not a corner similar to another. This is so different from what we are used in road racing. Everything is new for me. I’m still learning. I realized that you really start enjoying only when you learn to navigate, when you succeed to anticipate the next note on the roadbook. I look forward to challenge the desert and myself”
said Checa .
At the start of the Merzouga Rally there will also be Stefan Svitko, at his first participation to the Rally promoted by Edo Mossi.
One of the most promising rider of the new generation coming from the East Europe, the 33 year old Slovak rider will raise the level of the Merzouga Rally line up. Finished 5th at the 2015 Dakar on board of a KTM, Svitko is one of the favorite rider of the Merzouga Rally 2015. But he won’t be alone. Experienced riders such as Olivier Pain (10th at the Dakar 2015 and on the podium the previous year), the Spanish Txomin Arana (16th at the 2015 Dakar) and the Czech rider Ondrej Klimciv (20th at the 2015 Dakar), just to mention some names, will make his life difficult on the demanding Merzouga dunes that can reach 150 meters of height.
Going through the entry list there are many names that the Merzouga Rally is delighted to mention among the long list of riders that have already participated to the last editions and return again and again as they enjoyed the formula. Among them Chris Cork, Nathan Rafferty, Guillaume Martins, Tetsunori Sukenobu, Michael Ott-Eutelberg, Enric Marti Flix, Francesco Tarricone and Giorgio papa, just to mention some names among the bikers, the Spanish Fernandez Suarez Covadonga, Eduardo Marcos Echaniz and Diego Ortega Gil for the quads.
Regarding the SSV category we are ready to assist to a beautiful battle. The French crew Henrichy – Bersey (AT4R) winner of the MR 2014 in the SSV Lite Pro category re-launch the challenge to their countrymen of the Los Amigos Team, second last year with the duo Abel-Montagne, if front of Garrouste – Rouchouse (Xtrem Plus)
The Spaniards of Delfi Sport with Fidel Medero – Ventaja Cruz, second last year in the Rally Pro category behind Duclos – Lichtleuchter (XtremPlus) will aim at the first step of the podium. These years also the Spaniards of Enjoy Quads will be in the battle.
Among the Italian we mention the Dakar rider Checco Tonetti.