Clark leads flying Fiestas in Finland.

Clark leads flying Fiestas in Finland.

18.08.2006: Clark leads flying Fiestas in Finland.

Fiesta SportingTrophy International, round 5/6 at Neste Oil Rally Finland

Scot Barry Clark leads the Fiesta SportingTrophy International (FSTi) after the opening leg of Neste Oil Rally Finland following a day long battle with series points leader Alessandro Bettega. Clark has been fastest on four of the eight stages to finish the opening leg with a lead of 23 seconds from his Italian rival.

TRT team supported Bettega was able to relax his pace over the latter stages after title rival Mathieu Biasion dropped out of the leg due to damaging his Fiesta ST on the fourth stage.

Frenchman Biasion had led the Fiesta STs on the short SS3 Laukaa by 1.6 seconds when on the very next test he clipped a rock and broke the bottom steering arm. He was forced to return to the Service Park to return with SupeRally penalties on Saturday.

The fifth round of the FSTi Trophy started on Thursday night with a short spectator Super Special Stage won by Finn Kalle Keskinen. The Rock and Race Festival promoter and fellow Finn Joni Arpiainen, contesting his first FSTi event, both hit problems on Fridayís opening stage with punctures and both drivers dropped over four minutes.

Whilst the Finns had a difficult day, Clark took the early lead with a time 18 seconds quicker than Bettega on SS2. Clark then lost time with a puncture on the third stage letting Bettega in front of him by 1.6 seconds.

The longest stage of the day, the 36 km Vellipohja, saw the battling duo only 1.4 seconds apart, with the next two competitors just 3 seconds behind. After Biasionís problems Bettega was able to relax but Clark kept his pace in as his entry in the JWRC means he is fighting for the Rookie title there as well.

The M-Sport designed Fiesta STs are so closely matched that after 146kms of competition motoring Russian Evgeniy Vertunov is only 5 seconds in front of Luxembourgís Gilles Schammel in third position. Vertunov has consistently been quicker than his rival but an early timing infringement cost him a minute. On only his second gravel rally Schammel has faced a steep learning curve on the tortuous Finnish roads and upped his pace in the second half of the day to build his confidence for an attack on Saturday.

Emma Gilmour in her Castrol/Dream Drive Promotions backed Fiesta ST impressed all of the regular competitors in the FSTi with her first fastest time on SS3. The Kiwi reckoned that the fast, smooth stages of Finland are very similar to the ones she contests at home and covered the 11.82kms 0.5 seconds faster than anyone else. Unfortunately the high of being on the pace and in a podium position did not last as long as she would have hoped, as a misconnected ECU in service and then a puncture on each run of the Vellipohja stage dropped her right down the leader board.

The winner of the previous weekendís counter, OMV ADAC Rallye Deutschland, Lambros Athanassoulas had planned to take things steady on his first visit to Finland. His plans went out the window, however, with a puncture costing him three minutes on only the second stage. Whilst fighting to regain position he crashed on a very fast section on the second run of Vellipohja. The car went a long way off the road, with both crew members uninjured although a little sore.

Saturday consists of 144 stage kilometres, including two runs at the world famous Ouninpohja stages. These stages include huge jumps that will see the Fiesta ST competitors flying high on the second leg of Rally Finland. The action gets under way at 07:06 local time.

Barry Clark #53 We punctured 4kms from the end of the third stage. There was rubber flying everywhere, thatís why the bumper has gone and most of the mirror on Scottís side. It was a right hander and there was a big rock embedded in the road and I couldnít avoid it. It was difficult to get round right handers from there on in. We didnít loose much time though, 20 seconds, I think.Iím just trying to judge the pace and to be careful of the rocks but our lead is increasing with every stage.

Alessandro Bettega #97 On the first stage I came over a big jump and part of the dashboard fell off. It landed under the brake pedal and it was not nice till I got it moved. On the same stage on a left hand corner I hit a rock in the road and the engine just died. For 2 or 3 kms I couldnít go faster than 20-30kph, then all of a sudden Ďbangí and it goes alright again. I donít understand it. Iím a bit more cautious now, we are in a good position to win the series; everything is perfect. It would be enjoyable to have a battle with Clark for first, but it would be too dangerous when I can win everything.

Kalle Keskinen #98 First stage I hit the tyres and punctured, we lost lots of time. Second and third stages the vibration was so bad I couldnít see the road or anything. I need to fit scrapers to the inside of the wheel to stop the mud sticking. I just wanted to do well here at home. I spun on the long stage and had to reverse three times to get round. Then on the last loop the front damper broke and I lost lots of time finishing the two stages. Tomorrow must be better.

Gilles Schammel #101
Itís been quite tricky in the rain. Iím trying to progress as this is only my second gravel rally. I have had too much respect for the jumps, itíll be flat out now, but Iím learning this too late now. In the first stages this morning I was 1.5 seconds a kilometre off the front, now it is down to a second so Iím learning and getting faster. I got a lot of vibration in the long stage, but this was mud sticking to the inside of the wheels. I didnít know what it was so I backed off and lost some time.

Lambros Athanassoulas #102 I hit a rock on a left hander, the same one as Alessandro I think, and I got a puncture. Look at the tyre, it is gone, just the wheel left. It was the only spare I took, so I had to take it easy in case something else happened. I just want to catch up the time I lost with the puncture, we would have been third if it wasnít for that. I was caught out on a 5th gear corner and the car went a long way off the road.

Emma Gilmour #104 This has been good fun. There are big rocks in the road and it is very rough in places, I have to be careful for punctures. In the fast stuff it is going really good I just need to learn how to drive the car more through the tight junctions. Iím delighted with the fastest time on SS3. It was a fast stage with few junctions, just like home. Stage four was the first one we recced and I didnít note the crests and jumps correctly so we never knew just how severe they were going to be.

The long stage was just sooooo rough. We got a puncture right near the start and we had to change it and this cost us five minutes on top of our penalties coming out of service. The ECU problem has dropped the car into Ďsafety modeí and it wonít rev. When you lift off, the revs die and this means that you have to be committed into the corners to keep the car going.


- Andy Stobart -
photos  Luc Depiesse  in Finland


18.08.2006 / MaP

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