Salinas gets the better of Clutier

Romain Salinas ended Laurent Clutier’s perfect start to the Twingo R2 France Trophy season by coming home first in the 39th “Rouergue – Midi-Pyrenees” Rallye Aveyron. Taking third on a breathless weekend of rally action was Georges Gonon, just ahead of Yann Clairay.

A winner in the first two Twingo R2 France Trophy races of the season, Clutier picked up where he left off in the last round, going fastest in the first three stages to open out an 18.6 second lead over Salinas and a 45.2 second advantage over Gonon. Meanwhile, Thierry Monnet, one of the pre-race favourites, was forced to retire on SS2.

Looking altogether more at ease in the night-time SS4, Salinas trimmed 11 seconds off Clutier’s lead to return to Rodez just 7.6 seconds off the pace. Gonon was nearly a whole minute behind by this time, ahead of Clairay, Jonathan Fra, Laurent Wilkin and Mathieu Sentis, who lost time when he went off in SS3.

Salinas kept the pressure on Clutier throughout day two, slicing the championship leader’s cushion to just 2.8 seconds by the end of the second stage.

As the top two battled it out, Gonon made light of electrical problems to hold off Clairay, while Jonathan Fra went wide on SS7, the same stage on which Laurent Wilkin’s debut Twingo R2 France Trophy drive came to a premature end, the culprit being a malfunctioning gearbox.

Salinas finally moved into the lead on Sunday, setting the fastest time in Cassagnes and then going quickest in the next two stages to move into the final 13.4 km timed stage with a lead of just 3.4 seconds. And that was the distance that separated Salinas and Clutier when it was all over, the two men posting the same time in a thrilling final act.

The tussle for third between Gonon and Clairay was no less gripping, with the 2010 Twingo R2 France Trophy champion hanging on to third place on the podium by a mere 1.6 seconds. Elsewhere, Fra and Sentis also finished in the points.

“We drove a crazy race,” an elated Salinas later said. “What a fight. We gave it all we had right till the end. Laurent was a little bit quicker in the longer specials but I was able to take some time from him in the shorter timed stages. After cutting the deficit in the night-time special I said to myself that I could win. I’m really happy with this victory. It all went down to the last special and the last corner.”

Clutier had this to say: “I gave it my all. I took some risks but not too many because it was also important to pick up some big points for the overall standings. There’s no doubt I would have settled for second before the start, though as the race went on my mind was set on getting the win here in Rouergue. Even so, we’re leading the championship at the mid-season break, and that means we can enjoy the summer before preparing for the rest of the year.”

“We made a good start to the rally and then we had an electrical problem,” commented third-placed Gonon. “We stopped right in the middle of a special and then the engine started up again after a 40-second delay. I had to really put my foot down to try and make up the time. It was a great battle at the end of the race and we drove hard all the way to the end to hold on to third, which sets us up nicely for the rest of the season.”

Rallye Aveyron “Rouergue – Midi-Pyrenees”
Fastest times: Romain Salinas, 9; Laurent Clutier 6. Both drivers also shared one fastest time.
Race leaders: Laurent Clutier (SS1 to 10); Romain Salinas (SS11 to 14 – finish).

Final standings
1. Romain SALINAS/Benjamin MICHELI: 2:28.106
2. Laurent CLUTIER/Brice BRUN: +0:03.4
3. Georges GONON/Valerie GONON: +3:27.6
4. Yann CLAIRAY/Thomas ROUX: +3:29.2
5. Jonathan FRA/Thierry SALVA: +8:01.3
6. Mathieu SENTIS/Gil VALETTE: +18:42.6

Twingo R2 France: Overall standings
1. Laurent CLUTIER: 68 pts
2. Romain SALINAS: 55
3. Georges GONON: 31
4. Thierry MONNET and Yann CLAIRAY: 30
6. Jonathan FRA: 22
7. Mathieu SENTIS: 16
8. Anthony BALESTER: 14
9. Lloyd SEMINARA: 10