Of the three MINI WRC crews, Chris Atkinson fared best on a challenging second day of the Rally Deutschland, and goes into Sunday’s final leg in fifth place overall.
“Panzerplatte” – The name of the longest and most difficult special stage on the Rally Deutschland is legendary. This year the marathon stage again lived up to its expectations by comprehensively reshuffling the field, in the process unfortunately taking Dani Sordo out of contention after he had lain a strong third until the first pass of Panzerplatte. Dani had just driven a stormer on the eighth stage of the Rallye Deutschland in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC, posting the best time on the second test of the day to move up into third place overall – his minimum target for the Rally Deutschland after he last year finished in that position. This season Dani aimed to at least emulate that feat.
Then came the ninth stage of the rally, Panzerplatte – the tank testing track. The 46,54-kilometre marathon test is not only the longest stage of the Rally Deutschland, but by far the toughest. The course cutting through the military ranges demands full concentration and punishes driver error. Excursions invariably result in contact with massive “hinkel stones” – enormous blocks which seldom permit cars to return to service in one piece, so unyielding are they. Dani started the stage in spectacular fashion, recording a split times just slightly off that of world champion Sébastien Loeb, who had started first.
Chris Atkinson moves into the top 5.
Then Dani slowed markedly, eventually coming to a stop. Consternation within his Prodrive WRC Team, and naturally amongst MINI fans who had congregated on the Panzerplatte to experience the action first-hand. Then Dani continued, having lost valuable time. What happened? The answer came at the stage finish: “Tyre damage,” a disappointed Dani reported. Initially only slowly, then more serious. “We had to stop and change the tyre.” Third place and a potential podium place were lost, with Dani dropping down to sixth place, 1:52,1 minutes adrift of that podium place.
“Some real bad luck,” stated the Prodrive WRC Team after analysing the tyre damage, “as it seems Dani did not hit anything.” Yet, the main drama was still to come: During the second pass Dani made involuntary acquaintance with an uncharitable hinkel stone, and was forced to retire. On Saturday evening the damage to the MINI WRC was still being surveyed with a view to returning Dani to action on Sunday morning. Fortunately Dani and co-driver Carlos del Barrio were uninjured in the incident.
Atko set for the final day.
By comparison Chris Atkinson’s Saturday must have felt like a pleasant stroll through the park. Having started the day in ninth place, the WRC Team MINI Portugal’s latest addition to its driving strength moved up to seventh at the halfway point. After the second pass of the Panzerplatte, during which Peter Van Merksteijn rolled into retirement, Atko moved up to fifth overall. “We had a good run,” said the Australian at the finish. “I had not expected to end the day in fifth place, but we take it.”
Just how many MINI WRCs will contest the final leg of the Rally Deutschland on Sunday is still open. Atko is set; a decision on Dani will be taken overnight. A definite non-starter is Atko’s team-mate Paulo Nobre, who was forced to withdraw from the rally for personal reasons, heading back home to Brazil. Three stages totalling 65,89 timed kilometres are on the agenda for Sunday. The 13th stage starts at 9:13 CEST, and will be driven twice in succession. Then comes the grand finale: the Power Stage around the world famous Porta Nigra, with tens of thousands of fans expected to pack Trier’s inner city. The Power Stage starts at 13:21 local time (and CEST).
Top 5 (after day 2):
- Chris Atkinson testing for WRC Deutschland 2012
- Chris Atkinson signs with MINI for WRC
- Prodrive eyes success in Germany with MINI WRC
- Petter Solberg holds onto sixth overall despite four punctures on day two
- Daniel Sordo sprints into second place after day 1
- Van Merksteijn jr. survives toughest day in WRC Rallye Deutschland well
- Chris Atkinson extends lead in Asia Pacific Rally Championship
- WRC Team MINI Portugal Rallye Deutschland Day Two
- Daniel Sordo finished third with MINI WRC in Rallye Deutschland 2011
- Strong season start for the MINI WRC team