|Spanish win for Riedemann - but Hunt still leads series|
GERMAN driver Christian Riedemann had good reason to celebrate at the Rally de España after taking victory in the penultimate round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) series.
Riedemann and co-driver Josefine Beinke finished 16th overall on the event, the highest recorded placing for a Ford Fiesta R2 in the FIA World Rally Championship, as he took his second series win of the year by over three minutes from Bader Al Jabri, with British driver Harry Hunt completing the podium.
Third-place in Spain also gave Hunt cause to celebrate as he was crowned Rookie champion in the Junior World Rally Championship (J-WRC).
For Riedemann, his win takes him to third place in the FSTi series standings, but he is expected to sit out the final round at the Wales Rally GB next month. So the battle for the title will see Al Jabri going head-to-head with Hunt, who holds a slender three-point lead in the series.
Nine Ford Fiesta R2 cars entered the Rally de España with four crews registered for FSTi series points, with Majed Al Shamsi finishing fourth behind Riedemann, Al Jabri and Hunt to go fourth overall in the FSTi series standings.
The three-day rally featured 16 special stages covering 355.30 km and began with a popular ceremonial start in central Salou on Thursday 21 October. Friday's stages provided an interesting challenge for the FSTi crews as they consisted of a mix of gravel and asphalt road surfaces, but Saturday and Sunday's route featured the traditional asphalt tests only.
The first full day of action began on Friday 22 October with two passes over a three stage loop in the wine-producing region of Montsant. The 35.94 km Terra Alta mixed gravel and asphalt stage started the morning and afternoon loop and was followed by a 14.97 km all-gravel test. A 17.28 km mixed gravel and asphalt test rounded off the loop.
Saturday consisted of asphalt stages only and took the FSTi crews north-west of Salou to complete another repeat loop of three stages totalling 126.62 km. At just 92.30 km, Sunday was the shortest day but included a repeat pass of El Priorat, the longest test of the rally at 42.04 km which wound its way rounds the cherry orchards high in the hills above Gratallops. The rally concluded with SS16, a sprint over the 4.11 km La Serra d'Almos test.
Christian Riedemann won the Muc-Off Best Presented Car Award on the rally.
No.73 - Christian Riedemann (23) & Josefine Beinke (18) - Fiesta R2
FSTi - P1
Christian Riedemann and Josefine Beinke had a good run through Friday's opening stage and produced the quickest time out of the FSTi entries. Stage 2 was littered with big stones so the young German drove more cautiously but he pulled into Service A, leading the series with a good feeling on the tarmac using the gravel set-up. Riedemann had no issues on Friday afternoon and pulled into the end of day service on exactly the same time as Britain's Harry Hunt - a remarkable feat after 136.38 kms of special stages.
Saturday morning fared well for Riedemann as he produced three fastest stage times and took the lead over Hunt. However, after Hunt retired on Stage 9 the young driver decided he no longer needed to push as he was leading the championship by over three minutes. Saturday afternoon provided no problems for Riedemann as he set a further two fastest stage times and reporting the car was running perfectly.
Day 3 started well for Riedemann as he was more than three minutes ahead of Bader Al Jabri and had no pressure from behind. The German driver reported that Stage 14 was rough due to the amount of gravel that had been dragged onto the road from the cars ahead but he still set two fastest stage times. This was then followed by another fastest stage time on the event's penultimate stage and apart from an intermittent problem with the gear cut on the gearbox he had no other problems. Riedemann's strong performance over the weekend has launched the young German into the top three but as he is not planning to contest Wales Rally GB, he is unable to fight for the title.
FSTi winner Christian Riedemann said:
"We were more than three minutes ahead of Bader [Al Jabri] going into the final day so we knew that if we could drive safely we did not need to push to ensure a win. I was a bit nervous this morning because in the past we've been very unlucky on the final day. We were cautious driving on the final stages to the finish and apart from a small problem with the gearbox we had no other problems. I've been impressed with the improvement that has been made to the brakes after the other tarmac rounds and it's been a really good event. I've really enjoyed myself and the car has been working very well. It's been a perfect finish to a great event."
No.75 - Bader Al Jabri (25) & Stephen McAuley - Fiesta R2
FSTi - P2
Bader Al Jabri and Stephen McAuley adopted a cautious driving approach on the opening morning of Rally de España as they felt the set up they had adopted promoted a lot of oversteer at the rear end of their Fiesta R2. Al Jabri's confidence had improved by Stage 3 and he was third as he pulled into Service A. The rear ride height of the car was lowered during service on Friday afternoon and the Emirate driver was keen to improve on his times for the afternoon pass. On SS5, Al Jabri had a spin and on SS7 he found it hard to judge the correct pace on the tarmac sections but reported that he was looking forward to driving on pure asphalt on Saturday. The 25-year-old driver pulled into the end of the first day third out of the four FSTi crews.
Al Jabri had problems with pacenotes on SS8 and brake fade towards the end of SS9 but by the end of the morning he was able to take advantage of Hunt's crash to move into second place. During Service D the young Emirate driver reported he was happy to be back competing on tarmac. The afternoon proved trouble-free for Al Jabri and he set his first FSTi fastest stage time on Stage 11. He finished the day in second position.
Day 3 started well for Al Jabri but on Stage 13 the front tyres of his Fiesta R2 were overheating so he swapped the front and rear tyres round for the morning's final stage. The rest of the day proved no major dramas for Al Jabri and he finished second overall. The 25-year-old's strong performance from the weekend means he is only three points adrift of Hunt and still within title contention. The Emirate driver will be looking to push hard at Wales Rally GB as he chases the championship.
No.28 - Harry Hunt (22) & Sebastian Marshall (22) - Fiesta R2
FSTi - P3
British pairing Harry Hunt and Sebastian Marshall marked their sixth outing piloting the Ford Fiesta R2 on tarmac this weekend and the duo were looking for a victory to try and secure their chances of winning the championship. Hunt lost time on the opening 10 km of Friday's first stage due to foggy conditions. He also struggled to find the right rhythm as the car was too loose because of the gravel set-up. Stage 2 ran more smoothly for the young Briton as he set the fastest stage time and closed the gap on Riedemann. On Stage 3, the 22-year-old lost time when a stone got caught in the rear brakes but he still finished the 17.28 km stage only 0.5 seconds adrift of Riedemann and pulled into Service A in second place. On Stage 4, Hunt had a close shave with an Armco barrier. Before the next stage Hunt softened the car's suspension and he went on to produce his second fastest stage time of the day. The young Briton pulled into the end of day service jointly leading the FSTi with Christian Riedemann and feeling confident going into Day 2.
Hunt drove more cautiously on Saturday morning and dropped 20 seconds to Riedemann, knocking him back into second position. However, disaster struck on Stage 9 when Hunt was forced to retire for the day after damaging the front and rear suspension when his Fiesta R2 slid off the road and collided with a concrete barrier.
Hunt returned to the final day of Rally de España under SupeRally regulations but struggled with car handling due to the damage sustained from Saturday's incident. The young Briton adopted a safe driving approach in order to rack up as many points as possible to ensure he was still within title contention. He set the fastest stage time on the day's closing test and pulled into service third overall. Hunt continues to lead the championship but has it all to play for at Wales Rally GB for the final FSTi round of the season where he and Bader Al Jabri will battle for the title.
No.74 - Majed Al Shamsi & Allan Harryman - Fiesta R2
FSTi - P4
Majed Al Shamsi and Alan Harryman struggled with car handling on Friday's opening stage as their Fiesta R2 felt very loose especially on fast corners. On Stage 2, Al Shamsi had a spin on a gravel corner and lost over 30 seconds. The duo pulled into Service A fourth overall. Friday afternoon did not bode well for Al Shamsi as he hit a rock on Stage 4 which bent the rear beam of his Fiesta R2 and forced the Emirate to retire for the day.
Al Shamsi returned for the second day of Rally de España under SupeRally regulations and the Emirate steadily improved his times throughout the morning. On Stage 7 he caught the car ahead but pulled into Service D third overall and reported to be enjoying the asphalt stages.
Day 3 proved relatively trouble-free for Al Shamsi, the Emirate pulled into the final service fourth overall and now sits fourth in the overall championship standings.