“Feel the Gravel” is the slogan of the 74th Rally Poland 2017. But on the opening Friday leg of the eighth round of World Rally Championship it was more about: “Feel the Mud.” Heavy rain falls in the area of the Masurian Lake District in the north of Poland turned the fast and sandy stages into a mix of mud and water. The grip level changed all the time. “It was all about ‘reading’ the road to find the right speed for the various conditions and grip level, and where to take a risk or not,” described WRC 2 championship leader Pontus Tidemand.
Right from the start the WRC 2 competition was a tough fight between the ŠKODA works team Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson (SWE/SWE), the private Printsport youngster team Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermœn (both ŠKODA FABIA R5) and the Ford pairing Gus Greensmith/Craig Parry (GBR/GBR).
On the first special stage on Thursday evening, the rather short show stage close to the service park in Mikolajki, Tidemand scored the first fastest time. On Friday morning heavy rainfalls turned the special stages into a mud bath. On stage 2 Norwegian youngster O.C. Veiby was fastest ahead of stablemate Pontus Tidemand and moved into the lead. On the next stage Gus Greensmith took the second position. But two stages later Pontus Tidemand fought back into second place again, trailing leader Veiby by just around seven seconds. “It is very difficult in these conditions, we have struggled to find a good rhythm. There is so much rain that the wipers could not go fast enough, there was aquaplaning everywhere. The last time I drove in conditions like this was in Wales,” said Pontus Tidemand after five stages.
After the regrouping in Mikolajki the teams were heading for the repetition of the four stages of the morning plus another run of the show stage. For the second run the road conditions promised to be even tougher. With the deep ruts of the gravel roads are now filled with water, on some places there was even aquaplaning waiting for the drivers. Stage 6 was cancelled due to spectator safety reasons, only four were left. While O.C. Veiby could maintain his lead, Pontus Tidemand was reducing the gap up to 5.1 seconds behind his young stablemate. Ford driver Greensmith had to retire on special stage 8 after he went off the road and damaged the suspension of his car.
“It was a good fight with Ole Christian. For me, it was all about finding the right balance between fighting and safety,” said Pontus Tidemand at the finish of leg 1 in Mikolajki. Saturday will feature the longest leg of the rally covering around 150 Kilometres on sandy, fast and narrow roads. The weather forecast promises a partially sunny day.
Standings Rally Poland after leg 1 (WRC 2)
1. Veiby/Skjaermœn (N/N), ŠKODA FABIA R5, 1:00.41,7 h
2. Tidemand/Andersson (S/S) ŠKODA FABIA R5, +5,1 s
3. Gilbert/Jamoul (F/B), ŠKODA FABIA R5, +2.09,5 min
4. Guerra/Cué (MEX/E), ŠKODA FABIA R5, +3.04,1 min
5. Bonato/Boulloud (F/F), Citroën DS3 R5, +3.25,5 min
6. Chuchala/Rozwadowski (PL/PL), Ford Fiesta R5, +3.37,7 min
Number of the day: 5.1
After 109,64 kilometres and nine stages (one stage was cancelled) under challenging conditions, the ŠKODA drivers Ole Christian Veiby and Pontus Tidemand are separated by just 5.1 seconds.
The 2017 calendar of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC 2)
Rally Monte Carlo; 19/01/–22/01/2017
Rally Sweden; 09/02/–12/02/2017
Rally Mexico; 09/03/–12/03/2017
Rally France; 06/04/–09/04/2017
Rally Argentina; 27/04/–30/04/2017
Rally Portugal; 18/05/–21/05/2017
Rally Italy Sardinia; 08/06/–11/06/2017
Rally Poland; 29/06/–02/07/2017
Rally Finland; 27/07/–30/07/2017
Rally Germany; 17/08/–20/08/2017
Rally Spain; 05/10/–08/10/2017
Rally Great Britain; 26/10/–29/10/2017
Rally Australia; 16/11/–19/11/2017