Last weekend the Racing 21 team crew of Vojtěch Štajf and Marcela Ehlová underwent the toughest competition of their careers when they competed in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 car in this year's 41st annual Rally of Lebanon.
In spite of it being their first time on the highly specific surface of the Lebanese competition's route, which is part of the Middle East Rally Championship series, they managed to improve their overall placing, especially towards the end, and thus gain the necessary points for the aforementioned Middle Eastern championship.
This year's 41st Rally of Lebanon was also the fourth event in the MERC series and offered approximately thirty competing crews, mostly local ones, a total of eleven speed trials with overall distance of 223 km over three days. The timed sections had a tarmac surface, which in this area is called "Black Ice". In the end its slippery, difficult to handle surface was the greatest advantage for the experienced local drivers with R5 specification cars, but also a massive challenge for the Czech crew.
On Friday all the competitors had to face only one super special trial at the karting circuit in Mtein, where competing pairs took part. Vojtěch Štajf and Marcela Ehlová came in with a very promising second time here in a ŠKODA Fabia R5, just 0.6 seconds down against the thirteen-times winner of this competition, the local driver Roger Feghali, also driving the same car.
But the Saturday stage, divided into two sections, was an extraordinarily demanding part of this competition for the Czech crew, not only due to the high air temperatures of around 36°C, but mainly because of the aforementioned composition of the tarmac surface with constantly varying adhesion. Driving for the first time in Lebanon, Vojtěch Štajf attempted to utilise his newly acquired experience on this type of surface as fast as possible in order to hold onto and then improve on his overall sixth place after seven speed trials.
In the end the Racing 21 team crew succeeded in this in the Sunday stage, which although consisting of only four timed segments, once again over two sections, offered only the possibility of refuelling, without noon servicing of vehicle. In the last three mountain speed trials, held at heights of up to 1800 metres above sea level, Štajf and Ehlová managed to drive to the very limits of their Fabia R5 car twice with the third fastest times, which in the end put them in a valuable fifth place in the competition's overall classification. Moreover they gained essential points in the rating of the MERC series.
"At the risk of sounding clichéd, in my sporting career I really never have competed in such a tough competition. The Friday introduction at the super special worked out well for me and Marcela, and we were really grateful for such a starting position for the subsequent track events. But the Saturday speed trials were sheer hell. We didn't have experience with this type of tarmac, and I was constantly searching for the optimal braking points on the constantly changing grip of our tyres. It was crazy, and we had plenty of hot moments in the car, and not just because of the high air temperature. And of course the choice of the right tyres was difficult too. I now know that experience with handling a car on this surface is a basic precondition for success in Lebanon. In the end we came to be convinced of this by the local legend and this year's clear overall winner Roger Feghali, who deserves congratulations and our respect," said Vojtěch Štajf at the finish line, who was happy in spite of everything.
Results of Rally of Lebanon 2018:
1. Feghali – Matar (LBN), ŠKODA Fabia R5
2. Al-Attiyah – Baumel (QAT, FRA), FORD Fiesta R5, + 1:24.4
3. Asmar – Chehab (LBN), ŠKODA Fabia R5, + 6:23.3
4. Abou-Karam – Kmeid (LBN), HYUNDAI i20 R5, + 6:49.4
5. ŠTAJF – EHLOVÁ (CZE), ŠKODA Fabia R5, + 6:56.4
The team's next event will be the Barum Czech Rally, which will be held in Zlín on the dates 24. – 26. 8. 2018.
PR manager, RACING 21
Mobile: +420 734 313 315
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