After one of the most dramatic events the World Rally Championship has seen for decades, Evgeny Novikov was rewarded for a sensational drive with his best ever result and the first podium ever for a Russian driver.
The day was to get better for the Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver, however, as third place became second when Rally de Portugal 'winner' Mikko Hirvonen was excluded for running a clutch that did not conform to the regulations. While Mads Ostberg was promoted to first place, Novikov moved up to second, with veteran Petter Solberg completing a now all-Ford podium.
In what had been far from a trouble-free rally, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet kept their composure throughout. Suffering intercom problems on day two, the pair were forced to use the road head-set, with Giraudet using all of his expertise with one hand on the microphone and one on his notes throughout the morning loop! The following day, an issue with a misfiring engine recurred to blight the duo but, unfazed by the problems, Novikov thrived in the tricky conditions to lay third overall heading into the final day - when the ALM Russia and ALM Rally.ru
-supported Fiesta suffered late dramas with a loose throttle pedal just 500 metres into SS20.
Losing time, but making it through the 21.42km test, the pedal had come completely off by the end of the stage, and it again took all of Giraudet's know-how to try to fix the problem on the ensuing road section. Although Ostberg was ailing out front, there would be no maximum attack from Novikov as he nursed his Fiesta through the final two stages to hold off a resurgent Solberg in the factory Fiesta.
Giraudet's ingenuity paid dividends for the long 31.04km of SS21. Despite losing over a minute-and-a-half to Solberg, Novikov still held a 34.2secs advantage going into the final Power Stage and, while his throttle problem hindered any chance of bonus points over the final test, the elated Russian made it through the stage to become the first Russian - and youngest driver - ever to stand on the WRC podium, while Giraudet returned to the top three for the first time since 2002.
“I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time, and I am really very happy that we could achieve such a strong result," Novikov enthused afterwards, “We had a scary moment on SS21 when the throttle pedal came off completely and we could only fix it on the road section. But we did so, using cable-ties and some tape!
“This really is an incredible achievement for me. I am very happy but to discover it is second place [and not third], it is the maximum we could have hoped for. Obviously, I am very sorry for Mikko, as he had a very good rally, but both Denis and I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time and it has been an amazing weekend for us both.”