A battle of nerves with a happy ending
At the IRC series' Rally Azores, Austrians Franz Wittmann/Bernhard Ettel reached an excellent sixth overall place in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX and crossed the finish line in Ponta Delgada as the second-best non-S2000 car.
special notoce: for the first time within the IRC, the Interwetten Racing driver scored points – at his only second assignment in this learning year – and thereby produced the best result of an Austrian in the history of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
It has to be said that this sixth place actually dangled on a string... The weather conditions on Saturday morning were playing topsy-turvy: storm, rain and fog demanded everything of the teams.
During a spin off the road on SS13 the left side of Wittmann's car had been damaged. But the Stohl Racing team was able to exchange the front and back transverse control arm, as well as the left rear suspension in the alloted time.
Thus the Interwetten Racing driver entered stages 14 to 16 and reached 10th, 8th and 11th place. This meant seventh overall place prior to the last special stage, SS17, as SS18 had been cancelled due to adverse road conditions.
Wittmann's lead on Conrad Rautenbach (Peugeot S2000) added up to only 2.6 seconds and to eight seconds on Portuguese driver Ricardo Moura (Mitsubishi Evo IX), setting up the makings of a classic showdown.
Which, alas, didn't happen. Following a rollover from Anton Alen's Abarth team car (Grande Punto S2000) the following cars stopped and subsequently merely ambled along on the road.
At this moment Wittmann was still at the start. When it was his time to take up the stage, though, spectators were already walking from the special stage in the dense fog in the opposite direction of traffic. Starting therefore became impossible.
The stewarts neutralised the stage – and for Wittmann sixth overall place became joyful reality.
"In a way it is a pity that it didn't come to a sportive heart-stopping finish," said Wittmann. "I was motivated to a fault. But in the end it would have been too dangerous."
"My balance is definitely positive even though there were many ups and downs. It was a most difficult rally and Bernhard did a brilliant job. I'd like to thank the whole team that had a lot of work to do following my slips," he added.
Co-driver Bernhard Ettel said: "It was a wonderful rally, and I am really glad about this result, especially since this event was completely unchartered territory for us. Naturally, I would also like to thank the team and our sponsors."