09 Jun 08
Two weeks after the last round in Greece, the FIA World Rally Championship stays hot and rough for the last in a trio of Mediterranean rallies - the Rally of Turkey - which runs between the 12th and 15th of June.
And with just one point deciding both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ title battles as the series reaches round eight, the competition is bound to be fierce this week as teams and drivers jostle to take the lead into the six week summer break.
Rally Turkey made its debut in the World Rally Championship in 2003 and returns to this year’s calendar after missing a year in 2007. The event is a rough and rocky gravel rally, although it is not generally as hard on the drivers and cars as the last round in Greece.
Turkey is not an easy event, though. The harsh environment of the Anatolian mountain speed tests, high above Turkey's southern coast holiday resorts, traditionally takes a high toll on competitors. The towering Taurus Mountains serve as an awe-inspiring geological backdrop to the Mediterranean beach resort of Kemer where the rally is based, but with peaks of 10,000 feet-plus, the weather can change in an instant on the special stages which wind into the foothills of the western-most section of the Himalayas.
The event’s twisty and steep roads have a clay base which breaks up to expose loose rocks, especially during the second pass. Conditions this year are expected to be dry and hot, but previous years have shown that rain quickly turns the clay roads into a muddy mess, cutting up quickly and becoming rutted. Temperatures in the rally base at Kemer will hover around 30║C but the cooler weather high in the mountains should make conditions easier for hard-working engines, transmissions and drivers.
This year’s route is virtually identical to the rally's last WRC appearance in 2006, with just minor modifications to a few stages. The action begins with a Superpecial stage on Thursday evening at the university in Antalya, 40km north of Kemer, which is repeated at the end of Saturday's second leg. The opening day is the longest with more than 154km of competition, while Sunday's final leg includes two passes over the 31.20km Olympos test, the longest of the event. In total drivers will tackle 19 tests covering 360.12km.
The rally also counts as round four of the 2008 Production Car World Rally Championship (P-WRC), and 23 competitors will be back in action after the last round in Greece. Click here to read our P-WRC preview: Turkey P-WRC preview
Who’s going to win?
Citroens have the best winning record in Turkey. Carlos Sainz got the ball rolling for the French team with a win in 2003, while Sebastien Loeb took victory in 2004 and 2005. Ford pair Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen took a memorable one - two in 2006, but it was impossible to know what Loeb might have done because he was at home nursing a broken shoulder after falling from a mountain bike.
This year’s route is almost identical to the 2006 one, which puts Mikko Hirvonen in a strong position to go the extra place and take his second win of the season. Loeb, on the other hand, doesn’t think missing the event in 2006 is a problem. “For sure it’s always better to have done all the last editions of the rallies in the series but with the experience we do have of the event it shouldn’t be a big handicap, he told wrc.com. “I think we are able to drive on the limit after just two passes on the recce. We have a good pace notes system so I don’t think we will have a problem.”
Like on the previous two rounds, road position will count for a lot in Turkey - especially if the conditions remain dry and dusty. This too should favour Hirvonen, who will benefit from a racing line swept slightly cleaner by stage opener, Loeb. Whether this will be enough for Hirvonen, or whether it will provide another performance springboard for Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo, both of whom are further back, remains to be seen.
The Subaru team remains another unknown quantity. Second place on the Greek debut of the new Impreza was a remarkable start, and Atkinson’s stage win on the final day while ‘trying a few new things’ hints that the team’s return to its rally winning days could be closer than we think.
The first stage gets underway on Thursday 12 June at 1725hrs. As usual you’ll find live stage times and all the news from Turkey here at wrc.com.
For more details on the start list of the Turkish Rally click here: Start list and nominations