The latest round of the Solberg World Cup made DirtFish instructors Sam Albert and Jack Harrison feel in their “natural element” and yielded Harrison’s best result to date.
Harrison emphatically smashed his target of a top 1000 finish with 468th place in DiRT Rally 2.0’s virtual US forests, while Albert bounced back from retirement in Greece to finish 101st on the OMP Racing New England Rally.
“[I] didn’t expect to do as well as that, it really did come together,” Harrison says. “We didn’t have any major moments, no punctures or anything; just staying at a consistent eight or nine tenths kind of [pace which] worked out. It felt a lot more consistent and I felt a little bit more at home and in my natural element.”
Harrison didn’t achieve it alone though. He needed Howard – his Ford Fiesta R5 – to be on song, and Howard duly delivered.
“Howard’s doing great,” Harrison adds. “We changed some of the toe angle on the rear which added a little more bite on corner exit but nothing crazy. That’s made a big difference in my cornering so [I’m] feeling a lot more confident in Howard.”
Albert’s drive – in his thus far unnamed Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 – was something of a rescue mission after a disastrous opening stage. But he was in good company, as a small mistake was put paid to 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg’s run.
Albert recounts: “I didn’t do any practice for it aside from three or four warm up stages, I felt pretty familiar with them as it tends to be a rally that always pops us when you’re playing with other people.
“So I felt fairly comfortable and I knew if I started practicing I’d start pushing for more time trial type times which could lead to a big off, which ended up happening anyway right in the very first stage. Not even a kilometer in and I bumped an edge and rolled the car a bunch of times and rolled into a spectator area, got us a nice penalty so I think it put me 600th on the first stage and then I just clawed my way back.
“Being able to just hop in and knock out the rally and still get a pretty decent result was good. I don’t think that’s going to be the case for Finland though because you can’t rely on the notes so much.”
Finland, or Castrol Rally Jämsä to be precise, has already begun with Solberg World Cup players having just one week to complete the roller-coaster challenge.
Speaking ahead of his run through the first batch of stages, Harrison said: “It’s one of my favorite rallies. It’s always exciting, it’s always fast it’s going to be a spectacular rally for sure.
“But with that the width of the road is quite wide so it’s quite tempting to carry a lot of speed. There’s no run off area so I think there’s going to be a lot of really high speed sections followed by an immediate accident.”
Albert adds: “It’s such a fast rally, you have to be so committed. If you’re hesitant going over a crest and it’s a flat out corner, you back off a little you give up so much time and if you continue to do that throughout the rally you can really penalise yourself without that commitment. That’s kind of what that rally’s about.”
Unlike Harrison, who is relatively unfamiliar with this nature of stages, Albert can call on his real-life experience from the famous Concord Pond stage on the New England Forest Rally.
“There’s a stage in the actual New England Forest Rally called Concord Pond, it has a very similar feel and pace; jumps, lots of crests,” he says.
“It’s a fantastic stage, not particularly long but it’s just flat out, big jumps. That’s probably the closest [thing] I’ve done [to Finland] but it’s still in the forest, not as open like Finland.”
Out at the front, Robin Jonsson took a crucial victory in New England to extend his championship lead over Lukáš Matêja. Frenchman Jonathan Schaeffer split the pair on the rally, handing Jonsson a handy points buffer for Finland.