British Female Rally Champion Louise Cook contested the 2nd round of her World Rally Championship career this weekend, her toughest to date, the WRC Acropolis Rally Greece, based in Loutraki, Corinthia.
To come away from the event with a remarkable 6th place in the Production World Rally Championship and 29th overall from the 54 starters was an amazing result.
The start line was really impressive: there were 1000s of people outside the famous Zappeion landmark, and they continued through the streets of Athens standing and cheering on most corners.
I found the recce schedule too tight for me on the first day so I only managed to gain one pass through. To be honest I really need more like 5 passes at moment with my experience so less than the 2 given was not a good place to be.
I needed to get used to the surface and try to dial my eyes in to the rough areas. The last time I drove down a gravel road prior to the recce was September 2011 where I had to simply finish to become Fiesta Sport Trophy UK Vice Champion. I have not turned a wheel on the loose stuff since.
This season is about learning for me, learning the events, learning to write good pace notes for these stages and gradually improving in small steps to where I want to be. I am not trying to go for gold, just calmly learn the basics first. This was only my 7th gravel rally and only my 9th time on gravel so there was an awful lot to learn.
Having no money to practice meant I had not even seen a gravel road since September last year, a crazy situation, but with raising this massive WRC budget, the priorities have to lie with getting to the 6 nominated events to avoid the 16,000 Euro fine and loss of licence.
It was really difficult to get the right balance because I just wanted to go flat out, but I knew if I sacrificed seeing the stages for extra speed and fun on one stage, I would miss out on vital experience the Acropolis Rally had to give. If the car is on the trailer, I would learn nothing.
The first full day was epic. Over 170 stage km and 540 road km. It started badly with my Co-Driver suffering from some sort of food poisoning in the morning and he was vomiting most of the way to the 1st stage. I had to stop a few times on the way whilst he did his bit to making the car lighter! He did well to carry on.
The notes worked well in the Bauxites stage with only around four really wrong, which is good for me. I found I need a little more detail in the notes on the fast corners to maximise the speed so I can work on that for the next rally. It was a nice stage and it was nice not to be smashing the car through the rough terrain of the other stages. The last couple of stages we were struggling with power. The little Fiesta was not pulling up the hills at all. I reset the main power switch and it would cure for a little while, but then it kept coming back. Little did I know this would cause retirement on the next day.
The 3rd day, Saturday, was the roughest of the rally. I was lying in an amazing 5th place in the Production World Rally Championship and had 8 minutes over the chasing Subaru behind me so there was a slim chance I could hold him off.
It was not fun avoiding the sharp bed rock and massive boulders, it was a different type of driving. The Fiesta took some serious impacts despite my best efforts. I knew my car was not fit for this and took it cautiously. Some corners I had STOP in the notes to literally roll slowly over the sharp bedrock, like you would an aggressive speed bump to avoid bursting a tyre or cause suspension failure.
I came to one rough hairpin, and it wouldn’t rev to get going again. I re-set the ECU and got going again only to be hindered a few km later with a rear right puncture. Tyre changed and back on the road, the engine electrics were now killing the car again. We continued for another 3 km, but it was clear that the Fiesta was not having any more of the punishment the day could throw. Nightmare – it was a retirement for the day and a whopping 35 minutes of time penalties.
After retrieving the car from stage 11, the service crew had a maximum of 3 hours to find the electric issue and get the car in shape for the final day of the rally. The mechanics found a sensor plug had come apart and this was causing the car to cut out.
With the car fixed, I had to finish the last day to be in the classification and more importantly to gain the points: a non-finish would mean zero on the scoreboard. I had dropped to 8th place but this would still be good points.
Ligato had some problems with his Subaru Impreza on the rough stages and did not start the final day so I now had points for 7th. I had to give extra caution through the last day, I had an 8 minute gap ahead of the driver behind me. I decided to push when safe, but when in any doubt gave extra caution. At the end of the first stage I could not believe that the PWRC class leader Nicolas Fuchs had fallen victim of the rough conditions with only 5 stages to go. The rear suspension had failed and Nicolas, who had a massive 5 minute lead going into the final day, was now leaving the rally with 0 points. It just reinforced my strategy to go safe and bring the car home. This now gave us an extra 2 points, an amazing 8 in total.
To be 6th in the Production World Rally Championship in a rally like this was something I never imagined, I was convinced that the Fiesta would not sustain the impacts the rally had to offer. It would be great to return next year with a stronger car.
Louise now looks on to the long haul to Rally New Zealand in 4 weeks’ time where she will take the wheel of a rented Fiesta ST to gain experience of the cambered New Zealand roads.
2012 FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Drivers – Overall Standings
|3||Valeriy Gorban *||pass||pass||15||25||40|
|11||R. Salgado °||-||10||-||-||10|
|13||E. Campos °||-||-||8||-||8|
|14||O. Kikireshko *||pass||pass||R/m||R/a||0|
* Team entry
Pass: not nominated rally
Pos: position out of points
° Guest entry
Excl: excluded from the event
DNS: not started
R/a : retired-accident