|Overdrive Racing’s Tapio Suominen and Toni Nasman narrowly missed out on taking outright victory in Baja Russia Northern Forest ’15 and finished second overall behind their rival all-Finnish crew of Jouni-Matti Ampuja and Markku Antero Hurskainen.|
Snowdrifts, deep ruts and treacherous conditions made the event a real test of man and machine and a fitting way to kick start the 2015 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
The Brazilian Overdrive Racing crew of Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin reached the finish in fourth overall, but a final stage accident cost Poles, Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor, valuable time and they slipped to 10th place. Race winner Ampuja was not registered for the FIA World Cup, however, and Suominen, Varela and Dabrowski claimed FIA World Cup points for first, third and ninth overall finishes, respectively.
“We made a good race with no mistakes and no problems,” said Varela. “We kept on the track and everything was fine. The weather conditions were better on the last stage, so we could go faster.”
Dabrowski was a little disappointed not to finish higher: “We had a small accident. It was difficult to keep the car on the road in one of the drifts and we dropped on the roof and lost some time.”
“I would compare this with the Arctic Rally, where you can go off the track so easily,” said Suominen from Hyvinkää, in Finland. “I was pleased with our performance and know that I was on a competitive pace from the start to the finish.”
“It would have been nice to take the outright win and retain the crown we took last year,” said Overdrive Racing’s team director Jean-Marc Fortin. “But our drivers performed very well and we had no problems with the cars at all in these very difficult conditions. Under the circumstances, this was a good start to a busy season for us.”
Russian Andrey Zhigunov edged into a slender five-second lead over Suominen through the opening 9.5km Prologue stage on Friday afternoon. Dabrowski was fourth, 19 seconds behind, and Varela carded the 12th quickest time and dropped 54 seconds to the leading Russian on the slippery, snowy stage.
Soft snow, deep ruts and slippery conditions made the opening 158km selective section demanding for the entire field, despite studded tyres, and Suominen held on to take the fastest time and the outright lead, as the route wound its way through the Republic of Karelia and close to the Finnish border, near Yartsevo.
The flying Finn clocked the third fastest time of 1hr 48min 38sec and that pushed him into the outright lead in front of the surprise Finnish performers, Tapio Lauronen and Jouni-Matti Ampuja, who were chasing points in the Russian Championship.
Varela was fourth and Dabrowski was seventh after a puncture in the Team Orlen Toyota. But it meant that the three-strong Toyota team was in a superb position to challenge for the win heading into Sunday’s third selective section that wound its way north towards the district of Suojärvi.
“It was a nice special and we are going quite well,” said Suominen. “We drifted two times into snow banks and lost something like 30 seconds, but no drama. I enjoy.” There were numerous spins, drifts and accidents amongst the chasing group. Defending FIA World Cup champion Vladimir Vasilyev clouted a rock and lost three minutes changing a wheel.
Three crews failed to start the third 158.38km selective section and Suominen took a seven-second lead over Ampuja into the timed test. Lauronen was the early pacesetter after 34km, from Vasilyev, Ampuja and Suominen, but Dabrowski inverted the Team Orlen Toyota and lost his chance of taking a podium finish and Lauronen’s rally ended in a ditch.
Ampuja managed to stay in front of Vasilyev and Suominen to confirm the stage win and outright victory over Suominen by the margin of 1min 58sec. But Suominen’s consolation was a useful haul of FIA World Cup points.