The curtain dropped on our opening World Championship round of the season, taking place in none-other than one of rallying's greatest gifts in the form of a stage - Turini.
16 stages awaited the drivers, to which had 254 starters - a new Crest Autosport record!
But who were the drivers we had to look out for coming into the weekend's rally? To note but a few:
- Jon Terje Houmsmoen (aka. MangoJon) was last season's R5 top category champion. With a new team under his alias in Scandi Flick racing whom last season achieved the record of the most teams championship wins, are here to prove why they're still one of the top sim rally teams around, despite the intense competition this year. But in regards to Houmsmoen, he blitzed through the 2020 season as one of the toughest drivers to beat, and there's nothing suggesting he wouldn't repeat that reputation this year.
- Alex Everitt, whilst Alex is without an outright CA win since the first DiRT Rally edition days, Alex holds the Crest Autosport record for the most victories at any one rally, that rally being Monte-Carlo. With 6 past wins to his name, Alex was undoubtedly someone to keep a keen on this weekend.
- Any of the FRT and Corsica SimRacing drivers. Well, why wouldn't you put some of your money on a French team based driver winning the rally featured entirely on French province stages? French drivers pepper the top of the leaderboards for these stages - FRT and Corsica SimRacing return for another season, and house some very reputable drivers.
Let's get down to it then - here's what happened.
R5 Pro category.
Like we said, you'd be a fool not to put money on a french driver to take the rally closest to their home. Florian Bonnet (aka. Flobonrallye) of the FRT SimRacing team baring the MRF tyres as their sponsor took the win in the rally, having taken a lead as early as stage one, Florian took 9 stage wins in the 16 stage rally - stretch his lead to as far as 33 seconds. Despite missing out on full points with the power stage to consider - it was a truly dominant display from Florian.
Second place came Miika Salonen - somewhat of a surprise to most, but Miika is notoriously excellent in his past time on the faster loose surface rallies. However, in recent years, Salonen has honed his skills on tarmac - particular towards the end of last year where he scored 4 top 5 finishes on tarmac rallies. Miika drove is fast and consistent rally, not winning any stages, but putting all the pieces together to keep himself second in the overall standings from stage 2 onward to the end. Could this be the year Miika challenges for his first ever World Championship?
Florian wasn't the only driver of the FRT outfit to stand out in the cold Monaco mountains - Leo Wallon, whom like Miika drove a super consistent rally. With shared setups and stage knowledge as Florian (I presume), Florian took third on the 4th stage and remained there to the end - whereas florian only managed a top 3 stage classification in 2 of the 16 stages - Leo showed that consistency and composure is key for the Monte.
R5 Am category.
To put it into context for new viewers - Crest Autosport is not a championship all about the outright winners, we pride ourselves onn everyone having a crack at the whip to score points and wins. The Am categories feature drivers of lesser experience, and drivers with potential less beneficial equipment.
It was somewhat of an interesting watch seeing the Am category contest for position, particularly in the opening leg - as an early lead was taken by the Belarusian driver Vitali Krupenka of the Ice Team, whose opening stage was a blistering 13 seconds quicker than any of his category competitors. A scrappy following few stages had paid the price, as Baptiste Bouhot of the ATR team burst into action on stage 2, jumping up 24 positions on the one stage alone, and eventually taking the lead in category on stage 3. his lead endured until stage 8 where what appears to be a puncture as he plunged back down the order to ninth in category. Vitali resumed the lead as leg 1 came to a close. Vitali was however under significant pressure coming into the final 8 stages by baring only a 2 seconds lead above returning past-time multiple sim rally champion Kevin Edward, whom took a one-year break - was back with some amazing pace, fighting for victory right from the get go. The spectators around Turini were highly invested in the leg 2 battle that was about to go down, however, it was Krupenka who came out the blocks fighting, steam rolling away from Edwards with times of +5 seconds faster than the Brit. Vitali Krupenka went on to take what seemed like a dominant win and full points with the power stage win under his belt, vitali had to put in the shift to open that time gap out, and remain consistent, but a great start for the Ice Team with a gold trophy in their cabinet for their first ever CA World Championship rally. Kevin Edwards, despite dropping off from Krupenka, battled ferociously to hang onto second place, but was taken away from him on the final stage with Sébastien Zob of the ATR team, rejoicing the descent of Bouhot - scored a power stage time nearly 3 seconds faster than Kevin Edward, which was enough to take second in the category rally results by only half a second!
R2 Pro category.
Top tier drivers of the privateer category were left in disbelief as Nicoló Ardizzone of QLASH Simracing and Andrew Slack Tower (aka. The Taigher) of EXR Rally, stormed off into the lead early on, squabbling for first position in category for some time - not even a dent on their times through this great battle that went on as far as Stage 11. Stage 12 saw the gasp of drama, as Tower retired from the rally. Leaving Ardizzone to cruise to the finish, with a one minute leading cushion to ease his efforts, but, world championship contending drivers being World Championship drivers never want to slow down - as Ardizzone took the power stage win as well as the category win, maximum points for the Italian on his debut to the World Championship. Quentin Marinho of the Authentics Rally Team, Przemek Rudzki of Simracing Team Poland, and Lorenzo Bartolomei of EXR Rally made up the head of the excitement in the R2 field battling to the end for silver in category. The battle had by a small amount stage by stage edged away from Bartolomei who came through fourth in classification. Despite Quentin Marinho heading the three-way battle for the majority of the rally, Przemek Rudzki burst into more life (if that's possible) for the closing stages of the rally, swiping second place one stage 15, but still only three seconds clear of Marinho. A great battle in this category and one we're keen to watch throughout the season.
R2 Am category.
Ryan Wainwright, Kostas Karathanassis of the DiRT Hellenic Community, and Yoann Florin in the third FRT team all came out the blocks fighting hard amongst the top three - substantially ahead of the rest of the Am category drivers. But, none of the aforementioned drivers would go on to win the rally - the R2 Am category turned into quite the spectacle as all three hit drama at the mid stages of the rally. Leaving Greg Jacquin of the VBR - Virtual Best Racing outfit to inherit the rally lead, and then extend it from his rivals to take the rally win - despite a rather below par power stage, Greg takes VBR's first rally win in Crest Autosport since season 7 back in 2018. MajeStick Gaming, Daniel Charles Elliott, and Gurraj Ghaley of the Crest Autosport team - battled to the end for the podium spots, with Ghaley heading the battle going into the final stage, Ghaley hit unfortunate drama on the final stage, dropping approximately 25 seconds and the podium positions. MajeStick took second after some highly impressive driving on the final two stages to jump from fourth to second, and becoming the first Madagascan driver to win a virtual trophy in Crest Autosport history. Daniel Charles Elliot splitting the two driver what were ahead of him coming into the final stage, taking his first virtual trophy too.
It was a great rally to watch - with many forms of drama taking place, many battles, and some stunning views in the Turini region, we leave feeling great about the opening round. We next head to Scandinavia for what will be our rendition of what should have been the Rally Sweden taking place on the week of the 18th February.
See you all then!