The 2009 Cyprus Rally is over, and it went much as expected. Loeb cruised to the win – despite his crying about having to go with gravel tyres on tarmac during the Friday stages, something that seemed to go pretty much just fine. Hirvonen in second is not a big surprise, much has happened since his Subaru struggle in 2004 and he now seems to be the only one really able to be even close to Loebs pace.
Another Subaru struggler that is happy is probably Petter Solberg. After some hard years and a retired works team, Petter is now back on the podium with a third place and two stage wins in Cyprus. To be honest, even this isn’t very unexpected. Cyprus is a rally where cautiousness, experience and reliability pays off – something that the Solberg+Xsara combination have quite a lot of. I expected Petter to be in the top 4-5, and he was – he even overshot my expectations a little. That’s fine – but in Portugal speeds will be much higher and the requirements are quite different. If I were Petter – I would make sure to switch from the Xsara now, despite the podium position. But switch to what…? Actually, I don’t think it matters wether he goes for a C4WRC or a Focus WRC. He will never get the absolutely hottest stuff if he’s not a works driver – and the cars are probably quite equal. Petter’s driving style should judge that choice. But one thing is clear – the Xsara wont be of much use in the upcoming, fast rallies of the season.
The PWRC fight was quite awesome, where Portugese driver Armindo Araujo made a stunning performance leading the rally into the last day. However, on the penultimate, super-long stage of the Sunday he was overtaken by Patrik Sandell who had followed him closely during the weekend. No matter that fact, I think Araujo should be really happy about the weekend and consider the fact that group N cars usually have no chance against the Super2000 cars – something that have been proven both in the PWRC and in the IRC. For Sandell, the victory is the second PWRC victory in a row, placing him in a pleasant championship lead 7 points ahead of Araujo and 12 points ahead of Brynhildsen. For PWRC, I still miss another Super2000 driver – preferrably a Skoda driver – that can provide a measure to prove the quality of Sandell’s performances. Sandell has always been a smart driver, but not the fastest – and to see a driver like Mikkelsen as his teammate would be really, really interesting.
A funny thing during the weekend was to follow Matthew Wilson, a guy that has been a real slow-runner in the championship for the last few years. For this rally, he seems to have adopted a conservative approach from the beginning increasing his self-confidence and experience – and then increasing speed to set good times. The result was a quite low average of placings on the stages (7 in average, to be exact), but a quite good fifth position in the final standings and also a stage win on the final stage.
So, of course most drivers probably backed off on the last stage opening the way for Wilsons win – but one certainly didn’t, and in fact he makes all pieces fall into place to understand both Matthew Wilson’s stage win and other things. With most other positions in the rally settled, Sebastien Ogier overtook Wilson on the penultimate stage – giving him a 5 second lead over Wilson. Ogier’s performance has been criticised by many people, but I think his performance until the 13th stage was very good – with an average stage position of 5,5. It’s far better than Wilson, who has been doing full championships for a few years with a car well as good as Ogier. Anyway, of course both Wilson and Ogier wanted that fifth place badly – and both put in an extensive attack on the final stage. For Ogier, it all ended beside the road just 200 meters from the finish – while it ended up with a stage win and a good rally performance for Wilson. Life isn’t really fair – and of course it’s hard for Ogier now. Anyway, if it helps, when praising Wilsons performance – I think one should keep in mind that Ogier made a far better performance despite less experience – if he just would have kept on the road for another 200 meters. I think Ogier will slowly get better when gaining more and more experience, and he may surely be podium contender within a year or two.