Turkey : Finish / JWRC - Summary
After one of the most eventful rallies of the J-WRC season, Estonian Urmo Aava (Suzuki) was handed a surprise victory his first of the season - after Swedish driver P-G Andersson (Suzuki) was excluded for an alleged service rule infringement.
If Andersson had won, he would have clinched the 2006 J-WRC title, so nerves were tested by those drivers who were in with a chance going into the final round, Wales Rally GB. Second in Turkey was Conrad Rautenbach (ZW, Renault) followed by Jozef Bére (SK, Suzuki) in third, recoding his highest place finish of his J-WRC career.
Andersson has appealed the exclusion and if the appeal is granted, his position will be reinstated and he will be awarded points for the rally victory, and be provisionally crowned 2006 J-WRC Champion.
Aava now heads to GB at the top of the standings but the championship is still wide open, with five other drivers challenging him Andersson, Patrik Sandell (S, Renault), Guy Wilks (GB, Suzuki), Bére and Kris Meeke (GB, Citroën).
Normally a hot, dry and dusty event, this year's Rally of Turkey took on an entirely different characteristic as torrential storms hit the region, turning the stages into a tricky mud bath and plaguing even the best with tough challenges. As a result, several stages (SS1, SS2 and SS4) were cancelled as the inclement weather would not permit an emergency helicopter to fly if it were required.
Britain's Wilks set the pace amongst the J-WRC runners and led the pack for the first half of the rally, despite adopting two minutes-worth of penalties early on for an longer-than-planned gearbox change. Kris Meeke (GB, Citroën), Pavel Valousek (CZ, Suzuki), Jozef Bére (SK, Suzuki) and Urmo Aava (EE, Suzuki) all challenged for second place during this time, with local driver Fatih Kara (TR, Renault) defending his third spot successfully.
But with problems rife, the leaderboard quickly changed and on SS12 a broken exhaust for Wilks meant he struggled to hear his co-driver, and an over-zealous push on the next stage saw him roll his Swift, losing time waiting for help to be righted, allowing Aava to step into the lead. Then a puncture on SS14 and a similar exhaust problem to Wilks' on the stage following saw the Estonian hand the lead to Andersson.
The Swede's journey to the top was quite remarkable. He fought his way back from 12th, where he dropped to on leg one after spinning off the road and adopted a number of penalties, and ended the event in the lead and theoretical winner of the J-WRC championship. Luck dealt a fierce blow however, as he was excluded for a technical infringement that happened on leg two, thus leaving first place available and the championship wide open.
Devastation struck for Bére, who would have taken his debut J-WRC win, when his rear suspension broke on the final road section before service and penalties for late arrival into service allowed Aava passed him into the victory spot.
Wilks fought back after his accident, taking three stage wins, to finally finish in fourth. Meeke had a difficult start as his wipers stopped working on SS3 and his co-driver had to keep jumping out of the car to clean the windscreen. But a couple of stage wins (SS6 and SS7) saw him pull himself into second until a collapsed front right suspension on SS8 only three kilometres after the start saw him eventually drop back to 11th after incurring time penalties for the last two non-contested stages. But the Ulsterman is made of tough stuff as he fought his way back to sixth by the end of day two, despite a broken a damper a couple of punctures, eventually finishing in fifth.
Czech driver Martin Prokop (CZ, Citroën) amazingly managed to stay relatively clear of trouble compared to some his fellow Junior competitors, although he did pick up some time penalties after a gearbox change over-ran on leg one, a few punctures and an overheating engine on the final day. He finished sixth.
Former circuit driver Julien Pressac (F, Citroën) was a on a steep learning curve in such muddy conditions and a double puncture on SS8 pulled him back to 14th. But he reached eighth overall by the end of leg two and eventually took two points for seventh.
Bernd Casier (B, Renault) spent the first stage of the rally with mud smeared all over the windscreen as his water bottle ran dry, impairing visibility. Then he was visually challenged again on SS15 as his windscreen was misting up throughout, forcing him to slow down. A steady drive on the final day saw him take the final point for eighth.
Fatih Kara (TR, Renault) reached as high as third place until a wheel came off his Clio on SS11. He stopped to find the wheel and had to re-fit it using wheel nuts borrowed from other wheels to make it to the end of the stage. On top of that, Kara won the prize for the highest number of punctures on leg two as he had three to deal with, although only Bére and Rautenbach managed to escape punctures on the second day. He finished ninth.
Polish driver Michal Kosciuszko's (POL, Suzuki) dropped almost two and a half minutes on the first stage with a puncture which wasn't a welcomed start. On leg two, Like Aava and Wilks, he damaged his exhaust, sidelining him with an under-performing engine, and saw him collect three stages worth of penalties. He brought his Suzuki Ignis home in tenth.
Patrik Sandell (S, Renault), who started the rally only one point behind Andersson in the J-WRC standings, had a problem with a broken gear cable on SS5. He fixed it on the road section, only for it to break again on the next stage. Then the Swede went off the road at a corner on SS8, which saw him collect time penalties for not completing the last two stages of the day and pulling him down to 13th. A puncture and overheating engine on leg two caused some difficulty but some good stage times saw him pull back a little. Then a broken driveshaft during the whole of leg three stripped him of any hope of gaining a point as he dropped back to eleventh.
Aaron Burkart (D, Citroën) struggled to find a rhythm but the first problem he suffered was a broken driveshaft during SS8, sidelining him for the day with penalties pulling him down to 14th. He fought back from there to twelfth but ever the philosophical driver, Burkart took a lot of experience from this event, promising to us it to full advantage in GB.
Pavel Valousek (CZ, Suzuki) started well, finishing the first day in second overall but a burnt out clutch at the start of SS10 gave his difficulty and pulled him back. A whole host of problems were thrown his way and on leg three he lost his place in his notes on two occasions, which was the home run en route to 13th. Frenchman Fabien Fiandino had transmission failure on his Citroën only 10km after the start of the rally so he started accumulating time penalties before he had even run a stage competitively. Thankfully he had no problems on leg two and continued steadily through the final day to finish 14th.
Jaan Mölder (Suzuki) was sidelined when his alternator wire broke early on leg one. Even more unfortunately, the alternator itself broke on the second day so the young Estonian accumulated a total of 45 minutes in time penalties before the final day started, and he drove steadily simply to get to the finish in 15th.
Andrea Cortinovis' (I, Renault) rally got off to a bad start when he got stuck on the first stage with a broken front suspension, blocking the road so, like many others, he started leg two with a huge total of time penalties. As the only Rookie driver running in Turkey, he scored maximum points meaning that Barry Clark (GB, Ford), who was not contesting this rally, is the only other Rookie who can now beat Cortinovis in the Rookie Standings in GB.
Italians Filippo Bordignon (Opel) and Luca Betti (Renault) were both excused from starting for medical reason. Bordignon was a passenger involved in a road accident and Betti had an accident on his enduro bike.