WRC

Neste Rally Finland: End of Leg 1

51st Neste Rally Finland Official Site: http://www.akkry.fi/nesterallyfinland/ Round 9 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 24-26 August Friday, 24 August 2001 Peugeot drivers Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have been fighting off a...

51st Neste Rally Finland Official Site: http://www.akkry.fi/nesterallyfinland/ Round 9 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 24-26 August

Friday, 24 August 2001

Peugeot drivers Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have been fighting off a stiff challenge from Briton Richard Burns on the opening day of the ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Finland. Clear blue skies and dry conditions made the super-fast stages near the university town of Jyvaskyla quicker than ever but also handed later runners a small advantage with roads swept clean by the first few cars.

By early afternoon the leading trio had inched clear of Burns's Subaru team-mate Markko Martin and the privateer Ford Focus WRC of local driver Jani Paasonen. But there was an early surprise when world championship leader Tommi Mäkinen damaged his Mitsubishi on a tree stump barely four kilometres into the opening stage. The Finn - widely tipped to fight for victory on home turf - had to retire on the spot. The final few stages of today's schedule threw the top of the leaderboard on its head. Grönholm had to cope with two punctures and dropped to second, while Rovanperä suffered from broken right-front suspension and slipped to fifth, behind Martin and his Peugeot team-mate Didier Auriol. As a result, Burns assumed the overnight lead and the top five bunched together - they will start tomorrow's test separated by just over half a minute.

PEUGEOT

Technical: All three works Peugeot 206 WRCs have performed reliably today.

Sporting: Peugeot's two Finnish drivers have blocked out the top position today - Harri Rovanperä grabbed the lead on the opening stage and held it until SS3, when reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm took over. Rovanperä still held second, only a few seconds behind his team-mate. Didier Auriol lost a few seconds in SS2 when he became unsure of his car's handling but the 1994 world champion soon recovered and he held a top six position throughout the day.

Marcus Gronholm said: "It's a bit strange, because I still don't have complete confidence in the car on high-speed stretches, but it's obviously going quite well. This is a long rally, though, and tomorrow's stages will be very tough. Harri and Richard are both driving quickly enough to make sure that a mistake will be punished too."

Harri Rovanpera said: "We're pushing pretty hard but I'm still trying not to take any big risks. Position on the road might make a difference tomorrow if it stays dry but since I'm running ahead of Richard and Marcus today, there's not much that I can do about that. I just have to concentrate on driving and leave things like that up to them."

Didier Auriol said: "When I have a strong feeling with the car my times have been quite good. I'm not sure in some places that I could match Marcus or Harri, but we're still in a good position."

SUBARU

Technical: The Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns and Markko Martin have been reliable, but Petter Solberg hit both rear suspension and centre differential problems in today's fourth stage.

Sporting: Subaru looks the most likely threat to Peugeot on this event, thanks to fast times from both Richard Burns and Markko Martin. Burns set fastest times on SS4 and SS5 to keep his Impreza in third and close on Harri Rovanperä's 206 WRC. Martin, meanwhile, set a string of top six times to hold fourth. Petter Solberg moved into the top ten before he hit suspension and transmission problems in SS4.

Richard Burns said: "We're running at 100 percent, not 98 percent. There isn't a lot left. I think the first couple of cars are probably cleaning the road a little but after that it doesn't make so much of a difference. I adjusted the rear differential at the first service and I feel more comfortable, more secure with the car now."

Petter Solberg said: "The problems were bad luck but I just have to keep concentration. Before that I was quite happy with how we were going."

Markko Martin said: "I made a few mistakes this morning - at some flat crests I lifted off and I even backed off at the pre-finish boards in SS2. But of course I'm happy to be putting in competitive times after a while away from the world championship."

FORD

Technical: The Ford Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and François Delecour have been generally reliable today. Sainz did struggle to find reverse gear, though, when he suffered a slight overshoot in SS5.

Sporting: Perhaps hampered by running near the front of the field, Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae have struggled to match their rivals' pace today. McRae was able to hold a top ten position throughout, but Sainz dropped to 11th when he overshot in SS5 and a similar mistake from François Delecour kept the Frenchman in 12th . In fact, the top Focus was driven by privateer Finn Jani Paasonen - a number of top three times kept him in the points-scoring positions for much of the day.

Colin McRae said: "We're concentrating on keeping a good speed and not making mistakes - the guys who are fighting for the lead aren't as involved in the championship as we are. Ideally, of course, we'd like to be a bit quicker but we've had no major problems with the car so it's been good in that respect. If we're running further down the field tomorrow it could be better because then we can watch the front guys' lines over jumps and into corners."

Carlos Sainz said: "The overshoot was very annoying. I just missed my braking point and we went three or four metres too far, but I couldn't find reverse gear to get back on the stage. I stalled twice, then tried to go forwards and because the road was narrow I stalled again. If I'd managed to find reverse it would have cost me three or four seconds instead of 20."

MITSUBISHI

Technical: Tommi Mäkinen's hopes of breaking the all-time wins record by scoring a sixth victory on the Rally Finland ended after barely four kilometres. The Finn clipped a tree stump hidden by long grass on the inside of a corner and damaged his Lancer's suspension beyond repair. The other Lancer driver nominated for manufacturers' points, Toni Gardemeister, has been less than satisfied with his car's handling and played with suspension settings in an attempt to improve the situation. He lost his front brakes in SS5, though, and spun as a result. Third Lancer pilot Freddy Loix also felt that his car was too unstable in fast corners.

Sporting: World championship leader Tommi Mäkinen retired from the Rally Finland four kilometres into the first stage. The Finn clipped a tree stump that was hidden in long grass and damaged his suspension. Toni Gardemeister and Freddy Loix have struggled to get their Lancers into the top ten, thanks mainly to dissatisfaction with the car's handling in high-speed corners. Both held top 20 positions, however, by this afternoon's tests.

Tommi Mäkinen said: "It was our own mistake. We didn't have the stump marked our pacenotes and we hit it. It broke the left front suspension. Because we were turning the components were more exposed and it broke."

Toni Gardemeister said: "I was happy with the car after testing but for some reason, it doesn't feel quite the same. We'll have to try to find some different settings because it's not as easy to drive at the moment. We're going sideways everywhere."

HYUNDAI

Technical: Alister McRae's and Juha Kankkunen's Accent WRC2 s have been reliable today, but Kenneth Eriksson suffered when a union broke and he lost centre and front differential pressure, and his power steering, in SS2. He repaired the problem for SS3 but still had to cope without front differential pressure, and since the team had insufficient time to effect repairs at the following service the Swede had to continue with the same symptoms for another two stages.

Sporting: Alister McRae and Juha Kankkunen have generally been closely matched on pace, and both drivers have fought hard to keep the Accent ahead of the local drivers in World Rally Cars. Kankkunen occupied ninth by early afternoon, with McRae less than 20s behind in 15th. Kenneth Eriksson started strongest of the trio but dropped out of contention when he hit transmission and steering problems.

Kenneth Eriksson said: "It's a shame that we couldn't do anything about the front diff because the car felt fine on the first stage."

Juha Kankkunen said: "It's like I said after the testing. We're going pretty quickly but others are going more quickly! The team does need to do a lot of work but I think the basic Accent package is pretty good. We'll keep trying and see what happens."

Alister McRae: "We had one overshoot today but otherwise it's been going okay. I picked the harder tyres for this morning's stages and I reckon a softer compound would have been better, but it was a small difference."

SKODA

Technical: Armin Schwarz struggled with tail-happy handling in his Octavia WRC this morning, while Bruno Thiry felt that his example needed slightly stiffer suspension.

Sporting: A mixture of small mechanical problems and a lack of sheer grunt needed for the fast Finnish stages meant that Armin Schwarz, Bruno Thiry and Stig Blomqvist struggled to hold down top 20 placings amid one of the WRC's strongest ever entries. Schwarz's cause wasn't helped by poor handling and a continuing inner ear infection that left the German deaf in one ear and suffering from poor balance. Blomqvist dropped outside the top 30 by early afternoon.

Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "I think we had a centre differential problem this morning because the car was oversteering like hell. But it was hard to really feel what was going on because the inner ear problem meant I had poor balance. All we can do is go at a speed where we don't make mistakes, and see what happens."

Bruno Thiry said: "It's been hard for Georges Biar to settle in to navigating me on such a quick rally."

OTHER TEAMS

Outside of the factory entries, Jani Paasonen placed his privately-entered Ford Focus WRC into the top six for much of the day, despite spinning and stalling in SS5. Other fancied WRC runners hit problems - Sebastian Lindholm's Peugeot 206 suffered from brake difficulties and then lost its power steering, while Gilles Panizzi's Peugeot suffered from transmission glitches. The other local driver to feature strongly in a World Rally Car was Juuso Pykalisto, who placed his Corolla ninth after the opening five tests.

In the FIA Super 1600 Cup section, Sebastien Loeb took a narrow lead over fellow Citroen driver Niall McShea on this morning's opening test. The French driver eased clear before first service, but a spin in SS5 handed the category lead to Italian Andrea Dallavilla. McShea lost time when he was held up by the dust from Larry Cols, while Norwegian driver Martin Stenshorne and Finn Jussi Valimaki both suffered from gearbox problems. Belgian Francois Duval held third in the category, behind Dallavilla and Loeb.

As expected, the Group N category (for more standard machinery) is being led by local drivers, with Jouko Puhakka topping the timesheets in his Mitsubishi. Jouni Ampuja and Juha Salo rounded off the class podium by this afternoon's test.

-www.worldrallychampionship.com

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team