WRC: Atko struggles while VW Dominates
THE Volkswagen steamroller crushed the life out of the opposition in the world championship Rally Australia with the German squad powering to a rare one-two-three dominance of the podium to seal the Manufacturers’ title with three events still to be decided.
Reigning world champ Sebastien Ogier claimed the 19th win for the Polo WRC in just its 23rd start, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen. It was the first podium clean sweep by a manufacturer in 25 years.
The three Volkswagen crews also top the standings for drivers and co-drivers Championship. Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and Latvala/Miikka Anttila will battle out the remaining three rallies to determine who is crowned world champion at the end of the season.
The two have a history of tight battles and in Australia 6.8 seconds was all that separated the champion and his challenger.
“There is no better way to come back for the team,” said Ogier, with a nod to the disaster in the last rally in Germany when first he then Latvala crashed out of the lead and let Hyundai through for a win.
Mikkelsen, the young Norwegian females have voted the rally star they would most like to have a slip and slide with, continued to impress with another podium, 1m18s from the lead.
The reigning world championship team didn’t allow the Ford, Hyundai and Citroen teams even a sniff of success in the three-day event in the Coffs Harbour region.
Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke was fourth for Citroen in what he suggested was his best driving performance at the WRC level. But for an audacious corner cut, after which officials docked him 61 seconds, he may have been on the podium.
Finn Mikko Hirvonen, a three-time Rally Australia winner, finished fifth for Ford amid strong speculation that he will be let go after failing to impress this season.
Sixth was the exciting 27-year-old Kiwi Hayden Paddon in a Hyundai i20. He looks WRC quality and, urged on my many spectating countrymen, was the first of the Hyundai trio to finish, ahead of lead driver Thierry Neuville.
Finishing ninth behind Welshman Elfyn Evans’ Ford was the brave former F1 star Robert Kubica, in another Fiesta. Clearly still without the full use of his right arm, badly hurt in a crash in 2011, the Pole set some swift stage times and never lacked commitment.
Australia’s returning WRC driver Chris Atkinson was brutally savage on his own his lack of competitiveness against the championship regulars, blaming his lack of seat time at the top level. Also contributing were some poor tyre choices and the disadvantage of being first into every stage on Saturday and Sunday, playing a reluctant road ‘sweeper’.
“I just haven’t clicked,” he admitted after finishing just in the points in 10th.
“Nothing beats racing,” said Atkinson, a Hyundai test driver who competed in only one previous WRC event this year, in Mexico.
“Okay, sometimes you jump back in after a break and you’re immediately quick. But one second a kilometre is a shit-load in this sport. Every time I pushed to the limit, I lost that rhythm. It’s frustrating; I don’t want to turn up just to make up the numbers.”
Atkinson also said he really didn’t want to destroy the i20: “I think the team wanted me to bring it home and score points.”
On Saturday, and acting on some incorrect weather forecasting, Atkinson opted for soft tyres, ruefully declaring afterwards: “I turned them into slicks.”
He said the car was all over the road under braking and scrambling to get traction out of corners. “When they wear, the speed difference is massive.”
Asked if he expected to be back in the WRC in 2015, Atkinson said: “I hope so. I’d like to come back to Rally Australia and take a crack at getting on the podium.”
V8 SUPERCARS: Mercedes extension deal close
FLAMBOYANT team owner Betty Klimenko’s Erebus Motorsport V8 is moving close to a deal that will allow the squad to continue to race Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs beyond this season.
With relations between Erebus and the factory sporadically frosty, there has been speculation that Mercedes-Benz Australia may not ratify an extension beyond the current two-year arrangement.
But both sides are reportedly increasingly comfortable with an extension.
AMG Customer Sports boss Jochen Bitzer was at the Sandown 500 at the weekend accompanied by Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific marketing general manager Jason Nomikos and PR chief David McCarthy.
“Negotiations with Erebus are still going, but it’s all good from our perspective,” said McCarthy, despite making the point that prestige brands were conspicuously rare sightings in the car parks at Sandown.
“Betty is a long-time customer of ours and we respect our customers. We expect the deal will proceed and then Erebus can move ahead with some certainty.”
If done, the deal will allow Erebus to continue racing the E63 AMG in V8 Supercars, but neither AMG nor Mercedes will be financial backers of the race program.
Klimenko and her family have been long-time adherents of the Mercedes brand and its products.
NASCAR: Ambrose heads home...
MARCOS Ambrose will shut down his NASCAR career phase after a nine-year stint in the United States to virtually confirm nagging speculation that he will return to Australia in 2015.
Dual V8 Supercars’ champion Ambrose has been associated with a return home to drive for a long-mooted V8 team to be fielded by American businessman Roger Penske.
On Tuesday, it is expected Penske will announced Ambrose as the driver of Penske's new V8 entry, to be run in association with the existing Dick Johnson Racing.
Penske’s operation is believed to have bought one of Johnson’s two V8 Supercar licences.
“There has been a lot of conjecture through the years, but I just want to get my kids home to enjoy the Australian lifestyle as well so they can make a good choice when they grow up,” Ambrose said in a US interview.
“This is really a racing choice for me and I feel like the time is right for me to stop in the US and personally I think it is a great time to move back home to Australia with my family.
“Today is not the day to talk about anything about my racing future. I feel like personally this is the right choice for myself and my family to call it a day here in the US and move on to our next chapter.”
Ambrose was more than honest in assessing his present situation in NASCAR.
“I feel like my level has plateaued at the Sprint Cup level. I haven’t kicked off the next level.”
Ambrose was inevitably competitive on road courses, and won two such events. But he failed to realise his target of winning on the ovals that are the essence of NASCAR racing.
Penske is one of America's largest and most successful outfits, winning in Indycars, NASCAR and sports car racing.
Ambrose, now 38, is likely to discover the local scene has changed dramatically since he abandoned Australia to pursue his NASCAR dream. Many of his old adversaries, such as Mark Skaife, Greg Murphy, Steve Richards and Mark Larkham, are no longer regulars in a sport full of quick young up-and-comers with no respect for reputations.
WRC: 2015 calendar firmed
THE FIA has announced a 13-round calendar for the 2015 World Rally Championship, with Rally Australia locked in for 10-13 September.
The Argentine round will be in mid-April, when conditions are likely to be warmer and drier, with Portugal moving back to late May. The changes mean Italy’s round will be a week later in mid-June.
Portugal’s fixture will return to its traditional fan base in the north after 10 years in the southern Algarve area and swaps places with Argentina.
Poland, which successfully returned to the championship in 2014 after a five-year absence, retains its place for next season.
MOTO: Rossi miracle with Miller third in Moto3
LEGIONS of Valentino Rossi fans were thrilled to watch their hero turn back the clock to win the MotoGP round at the Grand Prix of San Marino in Misano on Sunday, with Jorge Lorenzo making it a rare Yamaha one-two finish.
The Doctor made his intentions clear with a flying start to move up from third to second into the first corner, behind pole man Lorenzo.
An early attack by Honda’s Marc Marquez was quickly dispensed with and then with 25 laps to go Rossi was able to pass Lorenzo to lead the race.
Championship leader Marquez also passed Lorenzo soon after and remained within half a second of Rossi until, with 19 laps remaining, he lost the front trying to keep up and crashed out of contention. He remounted and was classified 15th.
The win was Rossi’s first since Assen last year, and Yamaha’s first MotoGP win of the season.
In the Moto3 GP, Alex Rins scored his second win in as many races after a daring move on the final lap handed him victory by 0.042sec from Honda team-mate Alex Marquez.
Australian Jack Miller was third after qualifying his KTM on pole. His lead in the world championship has been reduced to nine points.
Remy Gardner, the 16-year-old son of 1987 world 500cc champ Wayne, had no easy GP initiation after his late call up to the Kiefer racing KTM. He finished 27th of the survivors, importantly one place ahead of his teammate.
Qualifying was fraught for Gardner due to a lack of bike familiarity and track knowledge, coupled with rain and equipment failure in the free practice sessions. He started 33rd on a 35-strong grid.