Three weeks ago, me and my team set out to compete in the opening round of the Icelandic championship. We actually managed to do some testing before we started for once, a bit of brake testing and getting those diff settings dieled in to my head before we attack the stages.
The plan for the season had been to drive the Evo X for the entire championship and aim for the Icelandic championship title. The lead up to the champoinship was mostly positive, the car was ready nice and early and we had gotten increased support from sponsors.
Poulsen ehf. was back and offering some much needed supplies for the summer. Domino’s Pizza joined as well as GT Akademían and Red Bull. Merking supplied all the decals and logos for the car and it could be argued that it is one of the most eyecatching cars of the Icelandic field.
Me and the car were primed and ready to head into the championship. However, once again, I was having slight co-driver problems. George Gwynn who I have the most experience driving with unfortunetely could’t make it. So we had to make a quick decicion about who would go as my co-driver. At the end it was Ísak Sigfússon who decicded to hopjump into the car with me, and this was a slightly risky decicion although also one which made sence on some levels. Obviously we had to make the most out the situation with most experienced co-drivers in the country unable to compete on such short notice. Despite a lack of experience, Ísak has shown that he has a lot of potential in the co-driver seat. We already had two events under our belt one of wich being a class win in this very rally 3 years ago, more inportantly I knew that I felt comfortable and relaxed with him in the car. We have known each other since 4’th grade and always been very good friends, the deciding factor at the end was how well the two of us work together and on the opening day of the rally he really surprised me with just how quickly he was up to pace on the notes. It wasn’t until the second day when we had some minor issues with the notes but we blaim that mostly on the fact that we were using notes from last year and not freshly writen notes on the longest stage of the rally, Djúpavatn. For the next rally we will write entirely new notes that we can both get to grips with quickly.
As for the rally it self, we took it a bit carefully on the first stage “Nikkel” who can be nutoriusly rough and rocky, we ended up loosing 5 seconds to the leaders but the next two stages we started pushing and gained the lead of the rally. The cars behind were close by, especially Ragnar Bjarni and Emilía driving an Evo 6,5. Me and Ísak managed to keep our lead and win most of the days stages finishing the day 11 seconds ahead of Ragnar and Emilía despite a 10 second time pennalty for nudging a chicane on SS Patterson. The fight was very close between the two of us where as Baldur and Heimir had droped back a little bit.
We did expect Baldur and Heimir to be quick on the second day perhaps even the quickest but we had built a small gap and so the plan for day two was to drive clean and push enough to keep the others behind.
The second day started well, only losing a second on the first stage and wining the next one, but then we moved on to the main course, if you will.
Three runs over the demanding and rough Djúpavatn stage. The road was patched were there were a lot of puddles last year but instead the roads were extremely rough and rocky in places.
The car was doing okay to begin with even though the car was taking a beating over the very rough stuff, but half way through the stage on a very fast section doing around 160kmh the car started bouncing on the front where I emidetely realised there was something wrong. At first I thought the dampers had just overheated so I started driving less agressively and breaking less as to not dip the nose of the car into the ground. The car just got worse however and the turn in grip was becoming very unpredictable when the car was bouncing on the pothole filled road. We managed to get the car to the end of the stage but we were emidietely greated with smoke from burning oil from the dampers and our worst fears were realised when we opened the bonnet. The topmounts had snapped on both sides and the gas reservoars had come of as well.
At this stage of the rally things were not looking good at all but luckily we had spare dampers. Howerer those dampers were standard Evo X dampers not suited for rally racing and having yet to drive through Djúpavatn two more times. It was clear that we now had to drive clever The win was out of the question but maybe we could still hang on to a podium.
We drove the two remaining Djúpavatn stages with caution, losing precious time but mostly focusing on getting to the finish wich was all the more inportant once we realised Ragnar and Emilía who were leading the rally suffered a mechanical failure that put them out of contention.
After the “Djúpavatn” stages we still had two stages to run through the Patterson airfield, the later of which being the rally powerstage granting 3 extra championship points for the crew with the quickest time, 2 points for second and a single point for the third fastest time.
Baldur and Heimir had driven very quickly and consistantly through Djúpavatn and now held a lead of over a minute. Somehow, me and Ísak had found ourselves in 3’rd and trailing 2’nd by only 19 seconds. We had been quick on this stage earlier in the rally and so even if taking back 19 seconds in only 8.4kms with standard front dampers was a tall order, we were not going to give up and went flat out on the remaining two stages.
On our fist run we took back 6 seconds from 2’nd place Sigurður Pálsson and Svavar Smárason but more inportantly they had nudged a cone in the stage and were given a 10 second time penalty much like me and Ísak on that same stage the previous day. Now the gap was just 3 seconds going into the powerstage, we managed to win the stage and get the 3 extra points but had run a little wide on the last haipin and lost a little time. But we had done enough, we cought back the 3 seconds we needed which put me and Ísak and Sigurður and Svavar on the exact same overall time, 1:18:58. The rules state that in these cases, wich ever crew wins the first stage gets the place at the end and luckily for me and Ísak we were two seconds faster on that one.
We increased our total points score from the event by 6 whole points in one stage, moving from 3’rd to 2’nd thus gaining 3 points and gaining another 3 points by winning the powerstage. Which means that we are only trailing the championship leaders by 2 points. (20-18)
A solid start to the season, outside of one large bill for a suspension rebuild, the race went much better than how it was looking on saturday morning the feeling in the car is good and I have a lot of confidence in the co-driver for our next outing.
I am also really happy to have such a fantastic service team with me brimming with experience and mechanical ‘know how’, I have full confidence in the team going into the second round on the 29’th of June.