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Rocky road Iceman - Following Kimi Räikkönen's rally races in Portugal

Published by Lady Snowcat

Last weekend I headed south for sun, sea and spectacle when attending the latest rallying lesson for a certain Finnish superstar. I am now an old hand and know that we start off with shakedown early on Thursday morning.

Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindström kick up the dirt during the WRC Rally Portugal, 2010.
Credit: GEPA pictures/ Citroen

In amongst the low hills not far from Faro we trample over the rocks and aromatic scrub covering the low hills to find a vantage point to spot our quarry. And when I say “we” I mean what appears to be half the local population! This excellent turnout is here for a couple of hours when the WRC pass through a short section pursuing the perfect set-up for the days ahead. But the spectator numbers and small trees and shrubs (some very prickly!) mean that getting a good sighting place for my own view is not easy.

The need for a clear shot means that the small trees gradually take on shapes reminiscent of oddly tailored topiary as branches and twigs are “appropriately” pruned. The tracks are strewn with rocks and make you feel that the Pirellis will have their work cut out... and so it proves in the days to come.

Finally the moment arrives. A distant growl and the dust cloud rising above the bushy shrubs on the hillside above means the first sighting is imminent. But is it Kimi? Shakedown means all cars do at least 3 passes but the order and timing is up to them. You can’t tell unless you get a brief glimpse of bodywork on the hill and even that will only identify it as a possibility if it’s one of the four works Citroens. So shutters click and I end up slightly disappointed that a six times World Champion has just gone by.

A sense of anticipation greets each car that passes but after half an hour I am wondering if Kimi has stayed in bed today. As each WRC car goes by the pink dust blooms high and then widens as it drifts to ground, much as a debutante’s ball-gown skirt would flare across the floor when she drops into an elaborate curtsey.

In the aftermath all goes quiet. I can’t help grinning because the crowd, as one, lower their heads to protect their eyes and their hands to protect their cameras, and I am struck by our likeness to a congregation at prayer. But when they lift their heads I am still praying and waiting in the warm morning for the guy in car number 8. Luckily he never disappoints me and I don’t know whether to be relieved or worried as he thunders by.

In the warm evening it’s onto the real thing and the first stage is a bit of fun in the Faro stadium. In a “Race of Champions” format the gladiators come into the ring two by two and Kimi is paired against Ken Block. After the first run through Ken is quite a bit in front but Kimi now has the measure of the challenge, his second sector is blistering, and they cross the line on the same times. But this is only an introduction for the crowds and the real business starts tomorrow.

Kimi talks to MTV 3 and others in Portugal.
Credit: GEPA pictures/ Citroen

The next day could not be more different. We climb up into the mountains in an early somewhat cloudy Friday morning for the first day of serious rallying activity. From the motorway we travel on you can see the most inviting tracks across the hillsides with only a small village or odd white walled house in sight. Occasional glimpses of activity below our road denotes a rally stage and builds our anticipation. Getting close to our chosen viewing area is a challenge in itself as the road is clogged with cars and spectators. Jordan wasn’t like this!

Our first spot is by a downhill left hand hairpin and, despite the warning noise, I jump as the first car appears over the crest above me. It literally seems to explode towards us over the hill and as it slides sideways into the turn the dust boils up under the left wheel arches, the tyres straining for grip. Suddenly at the apex the driver stops torturing the tyres, straightens and launches down the hill and away. I breathe again.

We stay a little while on a hillside spotted with the many variegated colours donned by motorsports fans the worldwide. A starting theme to the event’s catering options becomes evident with small beer dispensing stations as well as ice cream stands being the order of the day. We watch the WRC cars and a few in the next class before moving on. I have urgently scanned the live timing feed to check that Kimi made it to the end before we can leave.

This sets the tone of the weekend. Friends spot where we are heading for each day and we bundle into the car to sometimes fight to get near to a stage, watch the WRC and a few others rush by in a storm of dust and stones, drink the odd beer, wait for Kimi’s time and move on to our next vantage point. Kimi is playing it “relatively” safe on this very tricky rally where turns just after the crests are designed to catch out the unwary novice. He ends the day a respectable 10th.

The second day is similar terrain but to the beer and ice cream you should also add pig. Also add more sun and a nice breeze which tempts guys to give their torsos an airing, which is not always a pretty sight. The regular sight of spit roasted pig (slices of which are delicious served in a large bread roll) is welcome but, when you arrive as the latest victim is hauled over the fire, the juxtaposition of pink pig and pink spectators is a little off-putting to say the least.

The final day arrives and the route in the mountains just north of Faro is more spectacular today. Sometimes you are driving along a ridge with steep drops either side. That’s the main roads, so goodness knows what the rally drivers face. Kimi does well this morning as poor Henning Solberg comes to grief. So we are now 8th. Hurrah!! (Sorry Henning). But then the afternoon and a rock jumps out and tips Kimi onto two wheels briefly. Having recovered, his Pirellis have a slow puncture, so he’s left nursing them through two long stages before getting back to Faro for the final Super Special.

The 8th place dissolves away into 10th but at least that’s a WRC point! The story for most is that after cutting Ogier’s lead by half in the morning there is too big a deficit before the final Super Special stage and Loeb is going to come second.

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia make a splash and dash, during the WRC Rally Portugal, 30 May 2010.
Credit: GEPA pictures/ Citroen

So we come back to the stadium and Kimi, with fresh rubber, comes 3rd on the stage but still 10th overall. However the day belongs to his teammate, a certain Frenchman called Seb. This time it’s not Mr Loeb but Mr Ogier on the top spot. One day I’ll probably tell people that I was there when Sebastien Ogier got his first win on his way to a ton of WRC titles, but why oh why does he have to be another French guy??

And as for Kimi? Well, he was still there at the end, and he looks more determined and less like a rookie on each outing. This time I was there for Ogier’s first win. I just want to be there for Kimi’s.