The 2017 FIA Junior World Rally Championship got off to a sunny start as super Spaniards Nil Solans and Miki Ibanez shone brightest to take victory on the opening round at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse this weekend. They won four of the 10 stages and finished 43.5 seconds ahead of Nicolas Ciamin to take an early nine-point series lead.
The new-look championship, backed by tyre manufacturer DMACK, saw drivers battle in identical Ford Fiesta R2T rally cars for the huge prize of a full season in WRC 2. The world’s top young rally talent fought it out from the opening test on the Mediterranean island of Corsica with three different drivers taking stage victories.
Solans used his superior experience to lead the rally from start to finish. He opened up a 40.1s overnight lead after day one and controlled the pace to the end, scoring four extra points for stage victories along the way.
He was chased for much of the event by French pairing Terry Folb and Christopher Guieu who steadily got faster over the three-day rally as they become better acquainted with the Fiesta and it’s all-new DMACK tyres. Despite also claiming four fastest times, Folb couldn’t reel in Solans and a final-day broken driveshaft saw him drop over three minutes and fall back to third.
That let 19-year-old Nicolas Ciamin and co-driver Tibo de la Haye into second after a mistake-free weekend. They were unbeaten on two speed tests to hold third for much of the event but Folb’s problem elevated Ciamin to a career-best result.
German Julius Tannert finished fourth with Dennis Rådström fifth and top Rookie on his WRC debut. William Wagner was the only retirement after crashing his Fiesta on Saturday – he will remain in hospital for a few days for medical checks.
Dubbed the ‘rally of 10,000 corners’, the Tour de Corse was a tough opening event for many of the Junior WRC drivers. Soaked in warm, spring sunshine throughout the weekend, the mountain roads remained dry but corner-cutting dragged out mud and gravel.
The stages were difficult to make pacenotes for and more experienced asphalt drivers excelled. Competitors used a completely new range of DMACK tyres, upgraded with a number of performance enhancements, which proved to be extremely competitive for the R2 machines.
The prize structure of this year’s Junior WRC sees events paired together with the driver scoring the most points over each pair of events winning two prize drives in next year’s WRC 2. An additional prize event will be handed to the championship winner.
Maciek Woda, M-Sport’s Junior WRC manager, said:
“I’m extremely pleased that almost everyone finished without any major issues and we all hope that William makes a quick recovery. There was fantastic competition between Nil Solans and the French drivers and we saw a number of other drivers with great potential so we’re certainly in for an exciting season.”
Dick Cormack, DMACK managing director, said:
“The opening Junior WRC round demonstrated that our new 16” asphalt tyre is a massive step forward in performance and is a class-leading product for R2 cars. Once again the championship is set to provide a season of close competition and congratulations must go to Nil and Miki for a fantastic victory in Corsica.”
Top-Three Driver Comments
“We went fast from the start to establish a gap and then aimed to just maintain that. It was about driving an intelligent rally, we drove fast when we needed to and were cautious when it was tricky. The long stages were tough, difficult to get right, but we are both very happy with this result and to get the championship off to the best possible start.”
“I came here to fight for the win and we were fastest over the stages on Saturday to close the gap to Solans. This morning I was pushing hard to get first place but the transmission problem today was disappointing. It was good to hold on to third and, with four fastest stage times, we have also shown that we have the pace to win.”
“It has been a difficult rally but we concentrated on having a clean drive and not making any mistakes. When things felt good we also pushed harder and that strategy paid off. It was unlucky for Terry but second is a fantastic result for us.”
Individual Competitor News
Sebastian Careaga / Claudio Bustos
It was a challenging debut WRC event for Careaga. His first asphalt rally was one of the toughest to make pacenotes for, with unrelenting corners and driving lines difficult to get right. However, he had the correct approach and finished every stage without any major problems to get maximum experience.
Nicolas Ciamin / Thibault de la Haye
On his home WRC event, Ciamin showed leading pace and consistency. He scored stage victories on both Friday and Saturday and, while not quite able to match the top-two on outright pace, he benefitted from Folb’s final stage problem to finish second, a career-best result for the young driver.
Robert Duggan / Gerard Conway
The Irish pair struggled a little with set-up during the weekend but had a strong start to the rally with a second fastest time. Duggan found the long stages very tough and went off the road on stage seven on Saturday after getting caught out on gravel. He returned today to finish sixth.
Terry Folb / Christopher Guieu
Folb used his experience and a steady head to build his pace over the weekend. Never outside the top-three fastest drivers on every stage, he chased down winner Solans during Saturday. A broken driveshaft saw him drop over three minutes and slip back to third but he still picked up four stage wins.
Miko Niinemäe / Martin Valter
The Estonians had an unfortunate start to the rally when a turbo problem on the second stage on Friday saw them retire for the day. But they fought back with some improved times on Saturday as they got to grips with the Fiesta and built up both their speed and Tarmac experience over the weekend.
Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson
The Swedes were competing on their first WRC event and first Tarmac rally. It was always going to be a difficult rally but they really enjoyed the experience and completed the stages without any major problems. That resulted in a strong fifth place and top Rookie crew.
Nil Solans / Miki Ibanez
Solans and Ibanez are the most experienced crew in the championship and used that advantage to win the opening round after leading from start to finish. Tarmac is Solans’ preferred surface and he controlled the pace after building up a healthy day one advantage. He also took four fastest stage times along the way.
Julius Tannert / Jurgen Heigl
Tannert’s rally didn’t get off to the best of starts after hitting a rock and damaging a tyre on the very first stage. But he got back on track and built up the speed over the weekend, getting more used to the new car and tyres. He increased the pace as things started to work and scored some solid times on his way to fourth place.
Dillon Van Way / Dai Roberts
On their first rally together, and Van Way’s first all-Tarmac event, they struggled to match the more experienced drivers but had a solid weekend and built up their speed slowly. Their focus was to gain as much experience and as many miles as possible – so from that point of view it was a successful weekend.
William Wagner / Kevin Parent
The young pair had a strong opening day, finishing in the top-five on every stage. They improved during Saturday, going second fastest on stage six, but had a heavy impact after going off the road on the following test. Wagner received precautionary medical attention but their Fiesta was too badly damaged to continue.
1. Nil Solans / Miguel Ibanez, 3h 53m 44.4s
2. Nicolas Ciamin / Thibault de la Haye, 3h 54m 27.9s
3. Terry Folb / Christopher Guieu, 3h 57m 46.3s
4. Julius Tannert / Jurgen Heigl, 4h 03m 38.5s
5. Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson, 4h 08m 25.9s
6. Robert Duggan / Gerard Conway, 4h 12m 25.6s
7. Sebastian Careaga / Claudio Bustos, 4h 18m 25.5s
8. Dillon Van Way / Dai Roberts, 4h 21m 42.9s
9. Miko Niinemäe / Martin Valter, 4h 26m 10.0s
Championship Points after round 1
1. Nil Solans / Miguel Ibanez 29
2. Nicolas Ciamin / Thibault de la Haye 20
3. Terry Folb / Christopher Guieu 19
4. Julius Tannert / Jurgen Heigl 12
5. Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson 10 Rookie
6. Robert Duggan / Gerard Conway 8
7. Sebastian Careaga / Claudio Bustos 6
8. Dillon Van Way / Dai Roberts 4
9. Miko Niinemäe / Martin Valter 2
10. William Wagner / Kevin Parent 0