As we head for the business end of this fascinating, intriguing, most unpredictable of seasons, the next stop is the return of Rally Turkey, for a journey into the unknown.
Looking ahead to round ten of the FIA World Rally Championship season, heading into the final third of the campaign with the return to Turkey, back on the calendar for the first time since 2010, but with a new location for its return, based in the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris on the Turkish Riviera in the southwest of the country.
The popular watersports destination, courtesy of almost 1500 kilometres of coastline, with rough and rocky stages awaiting the drivers, in and around Muğla in the north.
With just four rounds to go now, we now have three drivers, each with three wins, Sebastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Tänak after his victory in Germany.
So, the championship is back in Turkey, but it is a new location for the return, which means that it will be a new experience for the entire WRC field, for the first time in a decade.
Uncharted territory, pace notes made from scratch and the champion, for one is looking forward to the new challenge, “I’m looking forward to it a lot, new stages, take your pace notes and go for it,” said Sebastien Ogier.
“It is the same for everyone, you have to do a good job during recce, but for sure it’s going to be demanding when you have the full rally to take the new notes. I think that it is mentally not so easy, and you need to be concentrated during recce, so it’s going to be a challenging and interesting rally!”.
All of the drivers agree that it is going to be an exciting new adventure, but a new event means an extra workload for the crews, all of those new stages call for all new pace notes, as they prepare to tackle the Turkish terrain.
“It will be a big job for us again, so far, when we are doing rallies which we have done many times before, obviously we have pace-notes, and all we have to do is make some small adjustments to them”, said Ott Tänak.
“Making new notes is tough, takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, but that’s how it is, and it is a bit of new challenge”.
The Hyundai squad go into this rally, confident that their car will perform well on the twisty roads. Thierry Neuville had this to say about this all-new Turkish experience, “I’m really looking forward to a new challenge, something new, we get to see a different part of the world, and different stages as well. With my experiences of the past, it shouldn’t be that difficult, but for sure, it’s an additional challenge, and always something new is exciting”.
It’s a new challenge, but what kind of challenge exactly? Rally Turkey is on gravel, so what sort of terrain and what sort of conditions are the crews expecting?
Craig Breen explained his approach to Turkey, “Well, we’re all taking a bit of a leap into the unknown; I’ve done the old Rally Turkey when it was based in Istanbul, but this is a completely new event. About as much as I know is that it is going to be hot and dusty, with the stages being quite twisty and quite narrow, and above all abrasive and rough, so it will be a bit of a challenge I think”.
The general feeling is that the rally will be similar to the Acropolis Rally in Greece, which is notoriously rough and rocky, and that may well suit a certain Finnish driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, who won the last time that the WRC visited Greece.
Taking that win in Greece with VW five years ago, Latvala will be drawing on that experience in Turkey, “The last time I won in Greece in 2013, I wasn’t the fastest, I didn’t even start very fast, but I didn’t make any mistakes, and I didn’t break the car. It is more endurance than the high speeds, and you have to understand where you can attack, and where you have to keep the car safe”, he said.
Rally HQ is in Marmaris, from where the crews will venture out to take on 17 stages, 312 km against the clock. The action gets underway on Thursday evening, with a 2km street stage along the marina in Marmaris, and there are huge crowds expected for that one.
Friday’s first full day takes the crews northeast towards Muğla for two loops of three stages; the first is Çetibeli at just over 38 km is the longest of the rally, with Thierry Neuville, as championship leader, acting as road sweeper on the Turkish gravel.
Saturday, once again, is two loops of three stages either side of a lunchtime service, this time heading west of Marmaris, the roads smoother than Friday, by all accounts, and then Sunday there will be four more stages, starting and finishing with Marmaris, at just over 7km it is also the end of rally power stage.
The fight for the WRC 2 championship is expected to be one of the highlights at this weekend’s Rally Turkey, as series pacesetters Jan Kopecký and Pontus Tidemand go head-to-head for the first time this season.
Kopecký holds a slender seven-point advantage over his Skoda Motorsport team-mate in the drivers’ standings, having won four times this season. Tidemand has taken maximum points on three occasions.
ADAC Rallye Deutschland winner Kopecký is confident his relationship with long-time co-driver Pavel Dresler will be an advantage as he looks to break clear of the title threat fellow Fabia R5 competitor Tidemand poses with four events remaining.
“On the fast sections, you have to be really sure about the pace notes you made, so teamwork with your co-driver is even more important,” the Czech driver said.
“I’ve been with Pavel a long time – I could trust him even if I was blindfolded. On the rough sections, you have to be careful not to collect a puncture.”
Gus Greensmith holds third place in the series as he heads to the Marmaris-based event. With regular co-driver Craig Parry continuing to recuperate after a pre-event testing crash in Germany, the Briton will be partnered by Alex Gelsomino this weekend in his Ford Fiesta R5.
Eight drivers have a chance of sealing the 2018 FIA Junior WRC title at this weekend’s rally Turkey.
Leader Emil Bergkvist holds a 14-point advantage over fellow Swede Dennis Rådström ahead of the double-points finale. With 50 points for the winner, plus a point for each stage victory up for grabs, the title battle is wide open.
Consistency has been key to 24-year-old Bergkvist’s season so far. Although he is yet to win a round, three podiums from the last four events enabled him to steal the top spot from Rådström when his rival crashed at Neste Rally Finland.
“I’ve really enjoyed this championship, but it’s not over yet,” Bergkvist acknowledged. “The goal from the beginning was to win the prize, and that is what we will try to do this week.”
Eager to regain his position at the top, 22-year-old Rådström won his home event and Vodafone Rally de Portugal and believed the new route for Turkey’s WRC return makes the competition more level.
Jean-Baptiste Franceschi is third in the standings, 26 points off the lead, and needs to rekindle his Corsica linea – Tour de Corse-winning form if he is to overhaul Bergkvist.
An outsider for the championship is Ken Torn. A win in Finland moved him into title contention, and the Estonian is now fourth in the standings, needing to claw back 39 points to take the title.
On the periphery of the hunt are Julius Tannert, Callum Devine, Enrico Oldrati and Bugra Banaz. They will need the top four to hit trouble to have a realistic chance at Junior WRC glory.