Sata Rallye Acores

Sata Rallye Acores

Nový příspěvekod PLuto » sob 03.03.2012 03:14

Sata Rallye Acores

Back home from Azores, I believe it is the first time that a retirement leaves some positive feelings as usually disappointment and frustration prevail. But I’d better start from the beginning: ten days before the rally, on the closing day for entries I receive a phone call. Do I want to go to Rally Azores, opening round for the IRC, codriving an Ukrainian driver, Alex Tamrazov, in a Fiesta Super 2000?

There are many interesting aspects in this proposal, which fits in a 2012 schedule which is getting definitely too busy: a new driver, which is always an interesting challenge; the Fiesta, in which I never sat before, actually I have never been in a S2000 on gravel; the Rally Azores, which would be new to me and the Azores itself.

On this last point I have to explain something: on my “normal” life I do work as a weather forecaster in the meteorological office of my native region, Liguria, in North-western Italy. The Azores anticyclone has often a crucial role in granting fine weather above us and the chance of being in a place I often quote is something very appealing.

Taking into account all these factors, how could I say “no”? I simply couldn’t!

We travel on Sunday and in Frankfurt airport I get to know Alex, my driver, and our team mates, Alexander Salyuk and Pavel Cherepin which I know a little bit for having run some PWRC events where they were driving. The team, named Ukrainian Dream Team, plans to run two identical Fiesta in 10 IRC events, promoting the image of the country around the world, thanks to the extensive TV coverage of which the IRC benefits.

San Miguel, the more eastern islands of the Azores, where the rally will be run, looks quite small when seen from the plane. The landscape is very green and reminds me of Ireland, seeing all these green fields separated by walls made with stones.

Monday is devoted to testing, it’s a good chance to getting acquainted with the car, with the driver and with the island roads. It’s not an easy task the one we are facing: it’s the first time that Alex has a foreign codriver, it will not be easy for him to listen to pacenotes in English. In this occasion we also apply some modifications to his pacenotes system and, with some minor adjustments during the recce, I believe we did a pretty good job. The notes were not perfect but were reasonable and the road was well described.

Let’s go back to talk about weather. The fact that in all the promotional material I could see about Azores I could hardly see fully blue skies was the first alert, the landscape from the plane window when landing was shiny green, too shiny and too green… everything was suggesting the fact that in this island is raining too much. And it was true! The weather can be really weird over there: it can be raining in a place all day long and be dry just few km away. Ponta Delgada, the main town of the island, looks to have been built in the drier corner of the island. Quite a clever choice from the first inhabitants.

Recce begins on Tuesday and I can appreciate the awesome landscape that opens in front of us in many places. This island is really beautiful and it’s a shame that we are on February and flowers have still to bloom, they would add extra colours to the scenery. The stages are really nice too, the gravel roads are in the average quite slow, with only few fast sections, but the surface is always very smooth and there are no stones. The only problem is that in case of rain we believe they might become quite muddy and slippery, and this is what will happen.

On the first stage of the day there’s something unusual happening: we turn left leaving the main road and have to stop behind a long queue of cars. An iron bar with a lock is blocking the road. Who did put it? The owner of the road? The organizers to prevent illegal recce? We don’t know but we are all stuck there. A few attempts in breaking the lock don’t succeed, finally is Alex that solves the situation: with a big stone he hits the lock for quite a while until it breaks down. The bar is removed and we all can go!

In the afternoon we complete the recce of the long Sete Cidades stage. It’s the longest stage of the rally but it’s peculiarity is that it runs on the edge of a volcano for most of its length. The volcano is not active anymore, in the crater there is now a village and a few lakes which offer a wonderful contrast with their different tones of blue, the green of the vegetation and the ocean in background. The only thing I dislike of this stage is that the first 5 km, added this year, run on a place where the crater side is very steep. All I can see from my window between the clouds during the recce is houses and fields, some hundred meters below… and I can’t see any slope, the vegetation simply disappears. Very scary!

In the late afternoon there is an uncommon ceremony in a forest next to Ponta Delgada. Every rally participant will plant a tree. It’s a good way of combining motorsport and ecology and it’s my chance to say “I planted a tree”. Isn’t it one of the things that a man should do in his life?
Tuesday is the last day of Carnival and the way it is celebrated in Ponta Delgada is really surprising. There is a huge street fight in the town centre. Which fight? Water fight! Everybody has small plastic bags filled with water and everybody throws them on people around, regardless if they are involved in the fight or just careless pedestrians. There are trucks filled with guys wearing motorbike helmets and driving the streets hunting for potential targets. The whole of the scenery reminds me of some movies like Mad Max or Warriors but globally it is a very funny and unusual situation.

Wednesday is a very hectic day. The recce schedule is quite busy, when we are back to Ponta Delgada we will have to do the recce of the so called Demo City Stage. This is the first time ever I do something like this: it’s a city super special stage, which will be run that night after the ceremonial start, and is not counting for the classification. The track is more a gymkhana, we must drive up and down for the same road, going around some obstacles and driving in some occasions full loops around them. It’s actually quite complicated! The organization will be very optimistic in planning that night, so we will have to wait for hours before running the stage, but it will be good fun anyway, and the crowd of spectators is impressive. It looks like all the island is here to watch!
Thursday begins early with the shakedown followed by the official start of the rally at 13.30. There are only three short stages scheduled. We spin on the first one, we drive well on the second and on the third and we complete the day in 10th position overall. Not bad, we are happy.

The third stage of the day was the Grupo Marques super special stage. It’s a special stage run into a quarry (belonging to Grupo Marques) which looks like a big hole in the ground, about 30-50 meters deep. On the bottom of the quarry it is setup a very nice circuit where two cars start on parallel tracks. All the spectators can watch from the top of the quarry, seeing all the circuit at one time and in a very safe position (unless they fall down from the cliff, of course). This stage has a quite big jump and this year there will be a prize for the longest jump. We take the jump flat out and the result is a very impressive flight, other competitors were keeping their cars lower as it is actually a waste of time to fly for too long as you can’t accelerate in the meanwhile. But the show we can offer to spectators is definitely greater!

Friday begins (and goes on) in horrible weather… it’s raining and low clouds reduce visibility in the highest areas of the stages. First braking point of the day, 100 meters after the start of stage 4, shows us how slippery can this mud be: wheels lock and we are able to turn at the last second before hitting the bank. The young Welsh driver Harry Hunt won’t be so lucky and will stop in the same place after braking the radiator.

We manage to reach the second stage, which is the long Sete Cidades. Clouds hide most of the landscape, there is just this muddy track in front of us. But after 4 km things go wrong. A left corner which probably tightens more than we expect, a puddle of mud… The slide off the track is minimal but leaves no hope: the back of the car is down the ditch and the bottom is leaning on the loose gravel on the side of the road. Game over. The same corner has already taken its toll on the Emirates driver Rashid Al Ketbi, he is 50 meters ahead with a broken arm after hitting the stump of a tree.

The following hours will be spent in the fog and in the light rain, trying to slow down upcoming competitors and to prevent any damage to our car, which doesn’t have a single scratch. Even in this we are not very lucky. The decision from the organizers not to pull us out of the ditch between the two runs of the stage gives everybody a second chance to hit our poor Fiesta and one of the last competitors of the group, arriving very slowly in a road which is getting worse and worse, decides inexplicably to accelerate after he passes me signalling to slow down. The impact is not big, we end up with a damaged door, but he has to stop with a broken steering. Three cars out in the same corner is not a bad result, for a rally with a limited number of starters.

We receive scattered news from the rest of the rally: Mikkelsen leading, Magalhaes and Tempestini crashing out of the event. Finally we are back to Ponta Delgada driving our own car after a tractor pulls us out from the uncomfortable position. Tomorrow we are restarting under super rally rules, but unfortunately we will be allowed to start but not to appear in the final classification of the event.
Saturday: a shining sun and blue skies give us a great surprise when waking up. It will be a very enjoyable day. Also the stages are really enjoyable: two runs over two medium length stages (20 and 22 km) with a second run in the super special Grupo Marques in between.

Things go much better for us. The roads are still slippery but we are getting used to them and we can have fun finding a good rhythm. In the super special the jump is taken even more flat out than on Thursday and the following flight is long, long, long… 24,3 meters. The award for the longest jump will be our!

We complete the day stages without problems. It has been a very encouraging day and it has been a very good experience for Alex as he didn’t drive many gravel rallies in his career. Our team mate Saliuk finishes the rally in a good 6th overall. To be his first time in a S2000 is a good result. Tonight we will have to celebrate the team results in its first appearance in front of some bottles of Vodka!

The final prizegiving on the podium in Ponta Delgada takes a lot of time, but on the other hand it leaves us a lot of time the enjoy the warmth and the passion of the Azorean spectators, which fill the Podium square and the surrounding streets.

It’s time to go home, the programme of the Dream Team Ukraine will see us starting the next IRC round in Canarias. For me there will be even another rally before; while I writing these lines I am heading for WRC Rally Mexico where I will codrive the Italian gentleman driver Linari in a group N Subaru. Yes, it really is a very busy year!

Nicola Arena ; AutoSport.CZ
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