All the top three positions secured by MINI ALL4 Racing drivers. Mikko Hirvonen makes a great debut by finishing third
X-raid remains undefeated, in the Baja Aragon: for the eighth consecutive time, a vehicle built by X-raid secured the win in the Spanish race. Nani Roma and his navigator Alex Haro (both ESP) repeated the success they had celebrated in 2014, with Argentinean pairing Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Ronnie Graue finishing runner-up. At the same time, Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) made a successful off-road rallying debut. Together with his French co-driver Michel Périn, he took his MINI ALL4 Racing to the really fine third place. Dutch pairing Erik van Loon /Wouter Rosegaar came sixth while Harry Hunt (GBR) and Xavier Panseri (FRA) finished 13th. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and Mathieu Baumel (FRA) were hampered by technical problems on Saturday and did not start on Sunday.
The event around the Spanish city of Teruel was short but represented a true challenge, nevertheless as the organisers picked extremely winding and rocky roads. This did not only result in a low average speed of about 70kph but also made for several damaged tyres. This added to the pressure for the drivers involved as only 10 tyres per car are allowed in a Baja. They had to race fully focused and find a good compromise between being fast and careful. Furthermore, the numerous tight corners took the brakes to their limit.
On Saturday, Roma was the first to start into the two special stages. “Being the first to start into a special stage is anything but easy, here,” said the 2014 Dakar winner. “The grass partially is very long and you can’t see the stones and rocks.” Nonetheless, he won the first special stage and finished runner-up in the second. With these result he gained a lead big enough to allow him to opt for a tactical approach for the third and last special stage – a stage he once again had to take the pathfinder position in. “I slightly held off in the opening stages to go easy on my tyres. And this strategy paid off. In this race it wasn’t only about going as fast as possible but you also had to make good decisions regarding where you should really push and where you’d better back off. I knew the second special stage from last year and was aware that you quickly can suffer a puncture, here. The MINI once again delivered in great style and I’m really delighted with having won the event.”
Behind the winner, Hirvonen and Terranova entertained the crowds with a fierce battle for second position. Prior to the final special stage, the Finn held a lead of about a minute over his Argentinean team-mate. They both had to stop once for a tyre change. In the end, Terranova was slightly faster and secured second place, with Hirvonen finishing 23 seconds behind him in third. “It was big fun although I expected a slightly better result,” revealed Terranova. “But we didn’t contest the event without making mistakes and had to cope with three damaged tyres. The pressure was extremely high, this year, and this resulted in higher speed. Compared to last year we were faster as a team.”
Meanwhile, Hirvonen also was happy with having finished third. “It goes without saying that I would have loved to come second but it’s great that we made it to the podium. It was tough for me, with the long special stages and without my pace notes. And I was really surprised that you have to push that hard.”
For van Loon, the Baja began with a disappointing 14th place in the prologue.
“Consequently, we had to start into the other stages from a midfield position,” said the Dutchman. “And a mistake in special stage one also didn’t help.” Nonetheless, it looked for quite a while as if van Loon should be able to finish fifth but in the final special stage, he lost time behind an opponent. “With some 55 kilometres covered, we drove in the dust of Varela who was driving rather slowly.” van Loon described the situation. “We lost a lot of time behind him and consequently, Dos Santos could pass us in the overall standings.”
With the experience of two desert rallies under his belt, Hunt now contested his first Baja. And the event represented a bigger challenge for the Briton than expected by him. “This was my toughest rally to date,” he admitted. “I had too many tyre damages on Saturday and afterwards, I had to be very careful. I thought I would feel more at home at these WRC-like tracks but the MINI is another car and the special stages are far longer. It was fun but it also was really tough.”
At the same time, Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and Mathieu Baumel (FRA) had to cope with a massive dose of bad luck. On Saturday afternoon, in the second special stage, they had problems with their tyres, with one of them even catching fire. Fortunately, Al-Attiyah was able to dismount the tyre in time. Afterwards, the mechanics had to help right on site and as the time penalty for this help would have amounted to several hours, team and driver decided not doing the final special stage on Sunday. As World Cup leader Vladimir Vasilyev didn’t contest the Baja Aragon, the gap between him and Al-Attiyah still amounts to 21 points.
The next FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup round, the Baja Poland, will be held from 13th to 16th August, 2015.