Monday, September 03, 2007

Edge of the seat

Although I abandoned "weekend review" posts last year, it seems only right that I should reflect on a cracking weekend's racing in the ALMS and WRC. Having a three-day weekend to enjoy it also helped, especially with the lovely weather we've had here in San Francisco (finally...)

Marcus Gronholm and Seb Loeb delivered a complete nail-biter of a rally in New Zealand, featuring the closest finish ever in the history of the World Rally Championship, a scant 0.3 seconds. This is not how rallies are supposed to work. Generally you expect the bloke in second place to back off in the last few stages once it's clear he's not going to catch the leader. Not yesterday...

Marcus started the day about one second behind the Frenchman, and the lead see-sawed until the final stage. Seb went in 0.7 seconds behind, claimed back 0.4 seconds and ended up just missing out on the victory. It now leaves him one rally win (10 points) behind Gronholm. The balance of power is finely poised. The next two events are tarmac rallies that typically favour Seb: Catalunya and Corsica. After that is Rally Japan, which could go either way. The penultimate round is in Ireland. Although the surface is tarmac, and in theory should be best suited to Loeb, both drivers have done exploratory rallies in the Emerald Isle, making for a much more even playing field. The final rally will be in Wales, with the slippery gravel that might just be more Gronholm's cup of tea. The key for both of them will be to keep it on the road. If Marcus has a DNF with a corresponding win for Seb, they'll be even on points. If the opposite occurs, Seb might just have to kiss the championship goodbye.

Although the setting couldn't have been more different, the American Le Mans race in Detroit was very nearly as exciting as the WRC in New Zealand.

As much as I dislike seeing Audi win, due to their massive domination in Le Mans racing, I'm not too happy seeing them endure such a long losing streak (now 8 straight races). Part of it is down to the fact they've had some bad luck, but the bigger issue is that according to the rules, they shouldn't be losing. LMP2 cars, like the Penske Porsches that are so successful right now, are not supposed to win. They can be expected to challenge very occasionally on tight, slow tracks, but according to the ACO's rule book, LMP1 cars should rarely lose, especially when they are as highly-developed as the Audi R10.

Porsche were too frightened of Audi to enter LMP1. This was a bad decision for the fans who wanted to see a straight fight. To see Porsche win with an LMP2 car is like watching a badly-behaved kid get rewarded for beating up a classmate.

However, it has made for some great racing, in a season where it was expected that Audi would win everything! In Detroit on Saturday, where it was expected the Porsches would take advantage of the tight street layout, Audi looked to be taking a surprise win. However, with two laps to go, Romain Dumas in the Porsche managed to make a pass on Emanuele Pirro's Audi, and held on for the win. Pirro will have to take the blame after carelessly leaving the door open at one of the few points on the circuit where a pass was theoretically possible. Any of Pirro's three team-mates would probably not have made that same mistake.

All good fun stuff to watch....

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