A nail-biting finish on the 2014 Midnight Sun Rally yesterday, as the 911 legends at Tuthill Porsche claimed another European rally victory, this time by just six seconds after three days of hard fought, flat-out rallying.
Even more impressive was that driver, Patrik Sandell, was on his first ever rally in a Porsche 911, and catching some very experienced drivers ahead of him despite zero pace notes, their supreme local knowledge and proven speed as previous winners. Also the fact that he was driving a 3-litre Tuthill 911 normally found on the Below Zero Ice Driving school! Awesome job all round.
Sandell started the day over forty seconds down on the leader, with just forty kilometres of stages remaining. So Sandell needed to take a second a kilometre out of previous rally winner and former WRC driver, Kenneth Bäcklund, in a very quick Escort RS. As anyone who has rallied will tell you, this is almost impossible.
“Second place is infinitely doable, but to win we will need others to face misfortune. However, the completion rate at this level is very high,” said a cautious Richard Tuthill at the start of day three. The Tuthill mechanics had made quite a few setup changes overnight, so would the car be quick enough? We were about to find out.
The first stage of the day was SS13 Ramsjöhult: a nine-kilometre thrasher. Sandell won the stage, finishing 8.8 seconds faster than the leader. The day was off to a proper start. “I’m in love with this car right now! It’s close to perfect,” said Patrik at the end of stage thirteen. Next stage was Vallavägen at 8.8 kilometres. Sandell was five seconds faster than the next quickest Porsche, but only six-tenths up on Bäcklund.
Then came Viggaren: 13 kilometres long. Bäcklund held nothing in reserve, but Sandell was first, six seconds quicker than Kenneth. The next stage was Forssjö, five kilometres long. Sandell took a further eight seconds off the leader and with two stages left was just fourteen seconds down.
Penultimate stage was by far the longest of the two remaining: Härad at 6,240 metres long. Over six kilometres, Sandell stuck to his second-a-kilometre rhythm and finished the stage just under nine seconds down on the Escort. Heading into the last stage, a win was looking unlikely. Semi-resigned to finishing second, which would still have been a great Porsche debut for the Red Bull Global Rallycross winner, Patrik left the start with all guns blazing for the 1.5 kilometre stage.
Then, who knows what happened – a burst of nerves, a slippy clutch foot, a distraction in the corner of his mind – but Bäcklund blew the start. False starts earn a ten second penalty: one more than Sandell needed to win. Bäcklund finished eight seconds down, and Sandell finished on top.
“I had a fantastic weekend with Tuthills and the car was awesome to drive,” said Patrik (above, right) at the finish. “The car gave me great feedback all weekend, and I don’t think people understand the speed you can get from a historic Tuthill Porsche. The team have been so professional the whole race and we have really worked together to get this win!”
I know how delighted everyone in the team is to see a fresh face take to the car and bring it home undamaged, on top of the podium. Tuthill Porsche has a groundbreaking rally project coming out soon – it could be amazing if they can get Sandell in that. I will be there to cover it!
Pics courtesy of Midnattssolsrallyt/Fotogubben