I hadn’t planned on two weeks of radio silence following Porsche’s win at Le Mans, but such was the time absorbed by Le Mans and my schedule at this time of year. Having helped eldest offspring through some important exams, restarted a garage & office building project and completed a surge of Porsche insurance valuations, two weeks had passed in the blink of an eye. Suddenly it was time to go to Belgium for the legendary Ypres Rally: round two of the Delecour/Dumas rally Porsche battle.
Round one was the Monte Carlo Rally last January. There’s no love lost between these French drivers, so bundles of needle was brought to the Alps. Dumas’ advantage with the lighter, more powerful 4-litre 997 GT3 RS over Delecour’s 3.8-litre GT3 Cup was negated on the cold icy roads of the mountains around Monaco, and it almost came down to who took more risks.
At the end of three days, Delecour emerged as the winner, but not on great terms with his rivals. Despite more than five months to go round two, there was absolutely no way that things would calm down in the interim. So it was that Team Tuthill arrived in Ypres last Monday, with a dry weather forecast and an opponent keen to redress the balance.
Imagine the tension before the rally got started, and you’ll still be nowhere near how knife-edge it was over two days of racing. Delecour is mercurial: completely electric to be around. A proven rally winner, but always in the background lies that legendary temper. Dumas is also an exceptional talent: a world-class endurance racer with pitch-perfect poise in a rally car.
These guys are at the very peak of driving ability, so watching them literally go to war in two 911s across a rally stage is incredibly powerful. FIA rally radio revelled in each driver’s desperation to know the times at the end of a stage.
In qualifying, Dumas went quickest. This gave him a nice early slot in the running, out of harm’s way amongst the ERC front runners. But as the rally got started, it was clear that running up front was a double-edged sword. Dust and gravel strewn across the roads was not being cleared quickly enough for the wide 911s.
Running straight on at a junction on stage three wiped out Romain’s early advantage and handed the lead back to François. Dumas was apoplectic on radio at the end of the stage: not the sort of talk your mother wants to hear. Delecour set a quicker time on stage four, but after that it proved impossible to stay the four-litre. Delecour dropped back down to second, and Dumas claimed the overnight lead.
With four R-GT cars entered in Belgium, Ypres was the strongest round yet for the fledgling GT rally car series. Former Ypres Rally winners, Patrick Snijers and Marc Duez, had also entered R-GT Porsches. Snijers had not been able to test his car ahead of the event, so made a slow start, but his skills soon freed up more speed.
Day two was ten stages: one hundred and seventy kilometres of rallying. The pace was absolutely flat out: none could have made those cars go any faster. On the first stage, Dumas went straight on at a junction: advantage Delecour. Until the stage end, where we found out that François had done precisely the same. The stage times were identical.
Delecour then had another small off, and Dumas stretched his lead. Then disaster for Delecour: the Porsche cut out mid-stage and could not be restarted. Eight minutes passed before Delecour and co-driver Dominique Savignoni used the proper reset sequence to get the car going and finish the stage.
Delecour in Tuthill Porsche R-GT
Victory was now out of the question, but all was not lost in the championship. The FIA R-GT Cup has the same points structure as all FIA series’ including Formula 1, so there was still plenty to fight for. R-GT leader Delecour had to keep going. Francois returned with his war colours on, chasing Marc Duez for third position. Snijers was more than three minutes ahead, but Duez could be caught with some luck.
Then, as so often happens in motorsport, the wrecking ball swung away from the chaser and back to the leader. On the penultimate stage, Dumas’ Porsche overshot a junction and went head-on into a wall of hay bales, causing immediate retirement (video below). All Delecour now had to do was finish to earn fifteen points towards his championship lead. In the end, there was no stopping François, who powered past Duez to second.
“Hats off to Romain Dumas for a lion’s drive this weekend,” said Tuthill team boss, Richard Tuthill. “We would rather have won head-to-head, but survival is all part of rallying. Second place is a good result for the R-GT championship. Our cars have taken wins in both Ypres historic rallies, so we leave here satisfied.
“Now we look towards round three: WRC Rallye Deutschland. Tuthill Porsche brought the first R-GT car to this rally last year, and we’re delighted to see R-GT growing, with four cars fighting in Ypres. This series has just started and the energy this weekend has been incredible.”
While much of the Porsche glitterati rested on its laurels in Goodwood, polishing museum exhibits and reminiscing past winners, the diehards were racing. Dumas, Delecour and the Tuthill Porsche team were flat out in Belgium. Tandy, Bergmeister and co were on the US campaign trail, and the Falken Porsche RSR claimed another Porsche win in a series it departs this year.
Winterkorn’s Volkswagen may build, sell and discount all the new Porsche luxury it can produce, but the root of this Porsche cult is in competition. That will never be lost while the real racers stick with it. Ferdinand Piëch personnifies this connection, just as his uncle did, as do Delecour, Dumas, Tandy, Enzinger and so many more. Kudos to the motorsport brethren: you are the heartbeat.
Here’s some Delecour in-car video: watch the eyes.