WRC

Catalunya: Event preview

Rallye Catalunya - Costa Brava Round 4 of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship 21-24th March 2002 After a one-two-three for French manufacturer Peugeot on home turf in Corsica earlier this month, the FIA World Rally Championship stays with ...

Rallye Catalunya - Costa Brava
Round 4 of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship
21-24th March 2002

After a one-two-three for French manufacturer Peugeot on home turf in Corsica earlier this month, the FIA World Rally Championship stays with asphalt for its fourth round of the season, the Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava in Spain. The roads north and west of host town Lloret de Mar are likely to be packed with huge crowds drawn by one of the best entry lists ever seen on a world championship rally, and the fans' local hero Carlos Sainz.

Sainz has played his part in a dramatic build-up to this event. Just over a week after his team-mate Colin McRae broke a finger in an accident in Corsica, the Spaniard crashed during testing on Monday, injuring both himself and navigator Luis Moya. Moya suffered broken ribs in the accident and he will be replaced by Marc Marti for his home rally. There was even drama during the pre-event reconnaissance - Hyundai's third Accent WRC3 driver Tomasz Kuchar was involved in a road accident and hospitalised. After taking advice from doctors, the Pole will not start the rally.

PEUGEOT (1st - 36 points)

Technical: Peugeot has made no significant changes to the 206 WRCs since Corsica. The three factory cars will run in the same basic specification that took them to a one-two-three finish on the Mediterranean island two weeks ago. All of the team's cars will use three 'active' differentials, but only the 206s of Richard Burns and Gilles Panizzi will use the team's hydraulic anti-roll bars. Marcus Grönholm retains a more conventional specification.

Sporting: Peugeot fields the same three drivers who filled the top three places in Corsica - Gilles Panizzi, Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns - for this event. The team's fourth regular driver, Harri Rovanperä, will again use a 206 WRC run by private team Bozian as he continues to build experience on asphalt.

Quotes: Richard Burns said: "I've got a very good feeling here. This morning at the shakedown I got into the car, did two runs and could have stopped there and then. It felt great. We carried on to experiment with tyres as the temperatures rose further but I think the basic package is working well and I've got good confidence in the car now."

Gilles Panizzi said: "I know that many people are making me favourite for this rally - especially after Corsica - but you can never believe that the rally is won before it even starts. We've done good testing, I've got the same excellent feeling for the car that I had two weeks ago and I'm going to try my hardest."

FORD (2nd - 20 points)

Technical: Ford introduces a new design of roll cage to the Focus RS WRC02 for this event, although it had been planned long before Colin McRae's accident in Corsica. McRae's car features a couple of other innovations - navigator Nicky Grist now sits so low for weight distribution reasons that he can barely see over the dashboard. And Ford has also introduced two 'joystick' gear levers - one either side of the steering wheel - to allow McRae to cover all options depending on how his injured left hand feels in action.

Sporting: Ford sends its three regular drivers to this event - Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin. McRae will drive with his left hand heavily strapped and bandaged as he continues to recover from his Corsican accident. Sainz, meanwhile, crashed heavily at a test on Monday and he will be without regular navigator Luis Moya for his home rally. Although the double world champion escaped the heavy impact with whiplash, Moya suffered two broken ribs, a broken tooth and a cut tongue in the incident and he will not take the start. His place will be taken by countryman Marc Marti, a veteran of SEAT's two-litre world championship campaign a few years ago and winner of the Tour de Corse last year with Citroen's Jesus Puras. When he drives over the ramp at this evening's ceremonial start, Sainz will set a new record for world championship rally starts - Catalunya will be the 155th in his career.

Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "It's not easy to settle into working with a new co-driver but Marc and I have been working hard. This was going to be difficult even before I had the accident - all we can do is try our best and hope that we can get a good result."

Colin McRae said: "I really only started to use my hand again during the recce and although I felt the odd twinge, I think it'll be fine for the rally. The team have got gear joysticks at either side of the dashboard because even though I should be using the left hand to change gear now, there's still a chance that I might grab the right-hand stick in a quick reaction to a situation. The stages look good - even in the long stage in the Tarragona region they've resurfaced and re-aligned a lot of the road. That's a 48-kilometre stage and I had to change about 20 kilometres of pacenotes there."

SUBARU (3rd - 16 points)

Technical: Subaru has made only minor changes to its Impreza WRC2002 for this event, concentrating instead on work with tyre partner Pirelli last week. Both drivers report small improvements to the balance and handling as a result. After Mäkinen's accident in Corsica, Subaru has been forced to update his Monte Carlo-winning WRC2001 and bring it to Spain.

Sporting: Subaru enters two Impreza WRC2002s in Corsica, for regular drivers Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg. Mäkinen's regular navigator Risto Mannisenmaki sat in a rally car for the first time since his Corsica 2001 accident at Subaru's pre-event test last week, but the Finn still felt discomfort afterwards and elected not to return in Spain. He is likely to reclaim his place alongside the four-times world champion in either Cyprus or Argentina. Kaj Lindstrom will continue to deputise on this event.

Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "I must say that we had a pretty good test with the tyres last week. The car is better again now than it was in Corsica and we were quite close to the pace there so let's see. I think that judging by Corsica, damp conditions would probably suit us better but even in the dry we should be able to challenge."

MITSUBISHI (4th - 5 points)

Technical: Mitsubishi Ralliart believes that it has found improvements to the Lancer Evo WRCs' set-ups in the short time since Corsica. In particular, the team's engineers hope that work on the differentials will make the car more stable under acceleration out of corners. The cars of Alister McRae and François Delecour are otherwise unchanged.

Sporting: Mitsubishi enters its regular two-Lancer line-up for Corsica, with Alister McRae and François Delecour behind the wheel. The team confirmed just before this event that Finn Jani Paasonen - who starred for Mitsubishi in Sweden earlier this season - will get another chance to drive the third Lancer on the Cyprus Rally next month.

Quotes: Alister McRae said: "We've made some improvements but I'm still expecting this to be a tough rally. The best hope is that even though we've got quicker, the other teams haven't made the same sort of gain so we'd be a bit further up the fight."

HYUNDAI (5th - 1 point)

Technical: Hyundai has introduced no major changes to the Accent WRC3s since their debut in Corsica two weeks ago. The team has concentrated instead on fine-tuning the car's set-up for the Spanish roads, although pre-event tests found only small improvements.

Sporting: Hyundai had entered three Accent WRC3s for Catalunya, but only two will take the start. Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix will drive as usual but the team's third entry Tomasz Kuchar (a first-stage retirement in Corsica) suffered further bad luck with a road accident during the recce. A truck rolled onto his recce car on Wednesday morning and the Polish driver was taken to hospital as a result. He and navigator Maciej Szczepaniak suffered severe bruising and after consultations with team doctors they will not start the event.

Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "I didn't have such a good test for this event because we had a few small problems and it was hard to get serious miles in such a short space of time. This morning at shakedown I tried some of the things that Armin had found during his test, but I didn't think it was such a big difference. If we can be on the same pace as we were on the last day in Corsica and then build on that, then it'll be encouraging for us."

SKODA (6th - 0 points)

Technical: Skoda has made small changes to the Octavia WRC for Catalunya. The Czech team has switched to a new spring manufacturer, H+R, and the cars will also feature lighter safety harnesses. All three of the Octavias have seen previous action, with Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson each using their Corsican cars.

Sporting: Skoda brings back the 1984 world champion Stig Blomqvist for this event. The Swede will join regular drivers Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson in a three-car line-up. The reigning Group N world champion Gabriel Pozzo will also use an Octavia WRC run by private British team David Sutton Motorsport.

Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "We found a few small things in the test. In Corsica we had quite good turn-in in corners but then the differentials felt like they were slipping when we got back on the power. We've played around with the differential mapping and I think we've found a solution to that. It makes the car a bit more sideways but in the test it was definitely quicker. It'll be hard to get into the points here, especially with such a strong manufacturer entry and a lot of good privateer World Rally Cars, but I'm going to concentrate on not making any mistakes or taking silly risks and see what happens."

CITROEN (not scoring championship points)

Technical: Citroen introduces the 2002-specification Xsara WRC as a works entry for the first time in Catalunya, although the car effectively made its debut as a 'privateer' entry with Philippe Bugalski in Corsica two weeks ago. Ironically, all three of the factory cars - driven by Bugalski, Sebastien Loeb and Thomas Rådström - are old Xsaras fitted with the new parts, while Jesus Puras's privately entered car is brand new but in 2001 specification. The new homologation concentrates on the engine, featuring revised inlet manifold, turbo and flywheel.

Sporting: Citroen enters its three regular works drivers for Catalunya - Sebastien Loeb, Philippe Bugalski and Thomas Radstrom. The team is already looking ahead to forthcoming gravel outings - it recently tested in Kenya in preparation for the Safari, and a Xsara test car is likely to be sent to Argentina to rack up miles just before the world championship event there in May, even though Citroen isn't tackling the rally until 2003.

Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "I think this rally could be quite difficult for me, because I don't have so much experience of the roads in Spain. Of course I know I can be quick on that surface and the Xsara works well on asphalt, but the other guys might have a little more confidence at the start and that could make the difference. I'm looking forward to it, though."

OTHER ENTRIES

Catalunya is the second round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, and series leader François Duval will have a new specification of Ford Puma for the event. The latest homologation of the 1600cc car features a heavily-revised engine that boasts a better spread of torque, plus closer gear ratios and greater suspension travel. The young Belgian will start as favourite, but rivals like Andrea Dallavilla (Citroen), Nicola Caldani (Peugeot), Daniel Carlsson (Ford) and Gianluigi Galli (Fiat) will be aiming to stop him from emulating Sebastien Loeb's domination of the category last season.

There are plenty of privateer World Rally Car drivers hoping to break into the points. Multiple Spanish champion Jesus Puras brings a 2001 specification Xsara WRC, while Bruno Thiry, Achim Mörtl and Miguel Campos all use Peugeot 206 WRCs. Germany's Armin Kremer will use a Ford Focus RS WRC01, meanwhile.

-www.worldrallychampionship.com-
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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team