From Chris Biewer [ 23/04/2006 ].
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Nicolas Vouilloz in the Yacco-BSA Peugeot 307 WRC (using the car Alex Bengué drove in Catalunya and Corsica recently) took a convincing victory on the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières, the opening round of the French Rallye Championship. After a short leg1 Nicolas Vouilloz/Nicolas Klinger already had a 22s lead over Citroën Xsara T4 crew Patrick Henry/Magali Lombard. Throughout the event all stage wins were shared between these two teams. Maybe Nicolas Vouilloz even took out some speed as over the remaining 10 stages of leg2 (yes, 10 stages in 1 day) he only increased his lead by a further 15.9s. However there is no guarantee that this will be the order of all the FRC events 2006. Alex Bengué and French gravel champ Jean-Marie Cuoq will also enter some FRC events, both in Peugeot 307 WRC.
In Lyon-Charbo the more gripping battle was for 3rd place. We reported that after leg1 newcomer David Salanon in a Peugeot 206 WRC was 3rd. However his navigator Céline Combronde booked in to late at the time control of SS3, which gave the team a 30sec time penalty and dropped them to 9th position after leg1. This moved Patrick Rouillard/Guilhem Zazurca and Jérome Galpin/Denis Giraudet into a tie(!) for 3rd place after the first stage of leg2. Already in this opening 25km stage David Salanon moved up from 9th to 6th, and it became clear he was still fighting his claim for podium. Salanon moved past Hervé Knapick, who then parked his Subaru Impreza WRC with mechanical problems after SS6. Patrick Rouillard already surprised with his speed in the FRC last year. Rouillard drives a stone age Toyota Celica ST205 – to be exact the works car that Armin Schwarz used in the Rallye Monte Carlo and Rally Sweden 1995, so Rouillard’s machine is on a technical stand of over 10 years ago, fighting modern WRCars! In the next 3 stages Rouillard fought well to drop only 10.5s to Jérome Galpin in a Peugeot 206 WRC Evo3. However the Toyota driver failed to profit from Jérome Galpin’s retirement in SS9, as David Salanon in the 206 WRC Evo1 has moved past Rouillard and back onto the podium position he had the night before. The top4 should remain like that. But some interesting stage times started to come from Jérome Grosset-Janin, Vouilloz’s BSA team mate in another 307 WRC. Grosset-Janin is another new name to the FRC and WRCars, he started the event very slow and carefully. But top5 stage times towards the finish moved him from 18th to 11th place during the day.
The F2 category was as exciting as it possibly could be. First of all I have to admit to another mistake in the leg1 report: Gilles Nantet in the F2 BMW 318 did not retire. And in the FFSA organised FRC there is no system that if you retire we throw a dize, guess a time penalty and let you re-join. Anyway both the front running BMW 318 were heavily delayed after leg1 and it was Thierry Lagarrigue to retire in the 1st stage of leg2. Nantet in return showed what an exciting car the RWD, 6-cylinder F2 BMW could be. And indeed there is an interesting selection of cars that are amazingly closely matched (though the Citroen Xsara Kit Car and the pair of ex-works Renault Maxi Megane didn't figure that close to the top and the ex-works Vauxhall Astra Kit Car retired). During leg2 the list of F2 stage winners reads like that:
Gilles Nantet, BMW 318: 1
Jacques Maraval, Peugeot 306: 5
Yves Pezzutti, Peugeot 306: 2
Pascal Enjolras, Peugeot 206: 2
Gilles Nantet may not have had a chance on a good final position any longer, but in this hot battle during the day’s 10 stages the BMW 318 posted 1 stage win and 6 2nd fastest times!
After leg1 we reported that in F2 Pascal Enjolras was leading in the new 206 F2, but there was no forgone conclusion as 2 Peugeot 306 Maxi, Jacques Maraval and Guy Mottard, were within 5.8s of him! And indeed the whole day we saw split second fights. In the 1st stage of leg2 Nantet won F2, Enjolras was “only” 4th, but the 206 driver could still hang on to his lead by 1.1s! But already on the next stage Jacques Maraval postet a stunning time and took the lead. Enjolras in the 206 F2 was now in 2nd and chased by Guy Mottard, Yves Pezzutti and Patrick Artru, all in 306 Maxi, all within 16seconds! The battle was that hot that in SS6 a spin cost Guy Mottard only 20secs, which was enough for him to drop out of the frame. In SS7 Enjolras was fastest of the F2 drivers and moved within 0.5s of the lead! Meanwhile the leading F2 car was in 8th position overall. SS8 once again showed how exciting a battle can be. Leader Maraval won the stage, Enjolras only posted the 5th quickest F2 time, yet the gap between these two was still less than 5s! And French rally stages are traditionally long. In SS9 we then saw a change of the lead, Enjolras now ahead of 4 Peugeot 306 Maxis! But already on the next stage Maraval replied the call and got back into the lead by 1.8s! Two stages later, with one stage remaining, the F2 order was: 1st Maraval, 2nd Enjolras +2.6s, 3rd Pezzutti +3.9s! At the finish this order was confirmed with the gaps slightly increased.
Altogether it was interesting how the excitement stayed until the very last stage and in fact some new car/driver combinations got better and better. This should make for a few exciting FRC events to come. When newcomer Jérome Grosset-Janin in the 307 WRC started to post top5 stage times to move from 18th to 11th, the leading groupN crew did even better! It is the first time Nicolas Bernardi drove a works supported Porsche. And the rear-engined RWD 911 is often reported to be a tricky car to get used to. Bernardi lead groupN throughout the weekend. But the overall result is what he was battling for in day2. It wasn’t really expected to post top10 times with a groupN car in a field with so many WRCar entries. Plus the production class in France is a production class. Obvious you say? Well, at WRC level, in the PWRC, Subaru Impreza WRXs start with a dog-gearbox, composite materials, lightened roof, lightened windows. None of this is production, none of this is allowed in France, and a glance at the entry list seems to prove that this means no point even starting with a groupN Subaru! However these same rules apply to the N-GT Porsche. Interesting that then in the last 3 stages Bernardi in the 911 posted 6th, 4th and 3rd fastest times overall! After leg1 Bernardi was 16th overall, with three stages to go he was 11th overall and at the finish he was 7th overall!
And finally, what car did Prodrive create for Stéphane Sarrazin? Sarrazin started the event in an N-GT Aston Martin Vantage V8! This Prodrive built car ran reliably and consistant throughout the weekend. Only the heavy, powerful rumbler mad ethe Pirellis smoke a lot! Sarrazin came 17th overall, which is 2nd groupN and ahead of the second Porsche 911 with Hervé Vericel. Before the last leg Sarrazin in the Aston Martin was still 4th groupN, behind 2 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. But both these Japanese machines hit mechanical problems.