For the team-- and for the pleasure The championship outcome may well already be settled but there is still one final battle to come, and that promises to be a particularly thrilling affair given that the main contenders will be free to drive...
For the team-- and for the pleasure
The championship outcome may well already be settled but there is still one final battle to come, and that promises to be a particularly thrilling affair given that the main contenders will be free to drive flat out, with no pressure or team considerations weighing in the balance. Marcus and Timo have every intention of profiting from the season's last chance to add a second win to the score of the team and the 307 WRC--
Marcus Gronholm: focused on victory!
Q: You won Rally Australia three times in a row between 2000 and 2002. Why do you like this event so much?
MG: "I sometimes wonder myself because it's a difficult event where you're driving over marble-like stones at high speed with trees lining the stages on both sides! Since we are only 5th in the championship, we won't have too bad a start position this year which means we won't spend the opening day sweeping the stones aside. The reason I like this rally so much is that its stages are fast and smooth -- a bit like Finland -- and because as long as you stay on the road they are a great pleasure to drive."
Q: The fight promises to be particularly fierce this year...
MG: "Absolutely. Both titles have already been decided so nobody will have anything to lose or defend. It's likely to be very open and the stakes will be a battle for the honour between us all. I believe the 307 WRC should enable us to fight at the sharp end and I will be doing all in my power to win."
Q: What strengths does a car need to be competitive on this sort of rally?
MG: "You need a car that is powerful -- and ours is -- as well as precise and stable to help you keep on the ideal line through the corners. We have worked hard on the latter in order to eliminate the hint of oversteer we still had. We will soon see whether we have succeeded in completely resolving this little problem. Apart from that, we haven't had any mechanical problems in the last two rallies so there doesn't appear to be any reason why we shouldn't be able to stay in the fight until the finish. And while I can still improve on asphalt, I feel at home on the stages of Rally Australia."
Q: Even on the celebrated Bannister stages which can be a bit contrived in places and which feature those spectacular downhill jumps?
MG: "The rally is based on genuine forest stages. OK, they may a little bit artificial in places with certain zones designed to make a show for the spectators, but you don't really notice them when you're driving. In Finland, we have a lot of natural spectacular and challenging jumps. Those of Sunday's stages in Australia are as impressive as they are because they are located on a steep downhill section. You obviously can't take them flat out but they are not an insurmountable challenge and I don't think they have ever decided the outcome of the rally."
Q: So what is the key to victory likely to be?
MG: "Everyone's motivation will be the same, so perhaps the outcome will be decided by the way we get over the jet lag and by who is in the best physical shape. I generally tend to recuperate quite well."
Timo Rautiainen: almost home ground
Q: You too are a big fan of Rally Australia--
TR: "That's right. I have some good memories of the event, notably my three wins there with Marcus and the 206 WRC. But it's not only that. The very first time I went to Australia, I enjoyed the country as much as the event itself. The people are hospitable and laid back, the weather is nice, the food's good and the hotels are comfortable. Perth is a place where I really feel at ease. As for the stages, it's preferable not to be first on the road on the first day because it's not much fun being 'road sweeper' and that role is probably more of a handicap here than anywhere else. For sure, the trees are very close and that's not always nice through the faster portions. However, whether you're driving or calling the notes, you tend not to notice because the stages are such a buzz from inside the car."
Q: Is this an easy rally for co-drivers?
TR: "I wouldn't go so far as to say that. Many crews complain about the road sections sometimes being very long, but the roads are straight, wide and have a reasonable speed limit so you can drive fairly quickly and that, to my mind, makes them more supportable. The thing that bothers me more is the fact that the organisers tend to profit from the proximity of so many stages in the same vicinity to mix and match bits of different tests to make the route different every year. That can be hell for co-drivers because we have to lift sections of notes from previous years and then rearrange them in a different order as a function of the new route. In Australia, there are thousands of junctions in the forests, so there really is a huge choice, but it's a job we could really do without..."
Q: Does that make experience of the terrain more important?
TR: "Doing this event for the first time is a big handicap. You need at least two years to feel comfortable with the stages. They are very fast and you don't really know how to approach the different hazards. Grip can change without warning too. At the sort of speeds we get up to, there really is no margin for error. You don't need a crystal ball to realise that only a handful of drivers are capable of winning this year. Marcus has the necessary experience and he is particularly fired up..."
Q: What does it feel like being inside a car alongside Marcus when his is 'particularly fired up'?
TR: "When he's totally confident, it's a sheer delight because you feel relaxed and confident yourself. His cornering is tight and tidy and that shows in his stage times. Sometimes, when the level of the fight makes it necessary to switch to 'flat plus' mode, it can be a little unsettling for the co-driver. But if Marcus is on form and happy with his car, 'absolute flat' is sufficient. In any case, I can't wait to get started!"